Nigel Jones

The Toy Soldier’s Story

A Model Victory: Waterloo and the Battle for History

By

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In Stendhal's masterpiece The Charterhouse of Parma, the hero, Fabrice, although at the scene of the action, spends most of the battle of Waterloo asleep, and the rest in a fog of bewilderment about what exactly is going on in his particular corner of a foreign field. He ends the day unsure as to what kind of historical event he has witnessed, and unaware of the famous victory that is being trumpeted. If such a jaundiced view can only be expected from that embittered old Bonapartist, the novelist nevertheless puts his finger on the great problem of military history: who has the eagle's-eye view of battle to enable the emergence of the omniscient, official, 'true' account of what actually happened?

This problem lies at the heart of Malcolm Balen's lucid take on what might have been a footnote to the historiography of the battle, but in his skilled hands becomes a compelling meditation on the true nature of war, and the vitally important question

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