Editorial: An imperial past that the French can't quite escape

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France has not lost its love-hate fascination with Napoleon Bonaparte, if the furious competition to buy one of his wartime letters is a guide. In the letter, written in code in 1812, the French Emperor, signing himself "Nap", reveals his bitter frustration with the failure of the Russian campaign and his intention to blow up the Kremlin on 22 May at 3am. It was expected to fetch up to £12,000 but, following some fierce bidding, instead went under the hammer to the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Paris for 10 times that amount.

It all suggests that we in Britain are not quite as unusual as we tend to think in our obsession with a glorious and heavily mythologised past. In France the cult of Napoleon endures, an eternal paradox for a nation that takes pride in its revolutions, but can't quite escape the shadow of its great imperial and monarchical figures.

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