Cover image for The black room at Longwood : Napoleon's exile on Saint Helena
The black room at Longwood : Napoleon's exile on Saint Helena
Kauffmann, Jean-Paul.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Chambre noire de Longwood. English
Publication Information:
New York : Four Walls Eight Windows, [1999]

Physical Description:
xviii, 297 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : color illustrations ; 22 cm
Reading Level:
900 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DC211 .K38 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Like his subject, Napoleon, author Jean-Paul Kauffmann has experienced captivity, as a three-year hostage in Beirut. He brings his insider's knowledge to this moving account of the most famous French soldier's last years in seclusion on a tropical island. After his defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon was exiled and imprisoned by the British on the island of St. Helena. He became increasingly withdrawn, surviving on a diet of memories that he recounted to the few people around him. But the book -- part history, part travelogue -- portrays the leader as a prisoner also of his mind, poisoned by nostalgia for his triumphs and grief over his defeats. "A haunting, unforgettable book....Kauffmann captures the desolate atmosphere of Napoleon's last home with evocative precision." -- Boston Globe

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Kauffmann, a French journalist, admits that he is no admirer of Napoleon as a political figure. However, Kauffmann, who spent three years (1985^-1988) as a captive of Shiite Muslims in Beirut, is understandably fascinated by the emperor's sad and rather rapid decline during his six years of exile on a remote island in the south Atlantic. With the journalist's refined grasp of the human drama behind the broad sweep of history, Kauffmann has provided a combination of travelogue and tragedy. Given his personal experience, his speculations on the slow rot the confinement forced upon Napoleon's spirit must be given considerable credence. This is an engrossing and frequently moving chronicle that can be appreciated by historians, travelers, and anyone sensitive to the tricks life plays on both the mighty and the ordinary among us. --Jay Freeman

Publisher's Weekly Review

A bestseller in France and winner of that country's Prix Femina, this stark meditation on Napoleon's confinement on the South Atlantic island of St. Helena is haunted by the fact that Kauffmann, too, has been a prisoner. In 1985, while he was working as a reporter for a French weekly, he was captured by Shiite Muslims in Beirut and imprisoned for three years. He never mentions it in the book, but this experience colors the entire text. Lured by the idea "that the upheaval caused by a disaster or a tragedy leaves a mark, or at the very least a ripple in the air" at its site, Kauffmann traveled to Napoleon's final home, Longwood, to reimagine the emperor's last five and a half years, which were spent in a draughty, damp house. With "300 meter-high cliffs that fall sheer into the ocean" and no port, St. Helena is so inescapable that, once he arrived, Napoleon was never actually imprisoned. Yet he spent much of his time in his bedroom, which measured only 17 square meters. In a series of eight diary-like sections, Kauffmann discusses Napoleon's career and the corrosive effects the boredom of captivity had on his health. Kauffmann has an eye for telling detail: he notices that St. Helena has been rubbed off of the globe in Longwood's sitting room. As he flits between imagining Napoleon's last days and describing Longwood as it is today (a strange, Conrad-like backwater held by the U.K., though the French own Longwood), his text remains, despite some truly beautiful writing, oddly static, imprisoned within the plush walls of its melancholy sentences. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

From 1815, the year of his final defeat, to 1821, the year of his death, Napoleon lived in exile on the island of Saint Helena. From May 1985 to May 1988, author Kauffmann was imprisoned in Beirut by Shi'ite Muslims. So begins this account of the last six years of Napoleon's life, with its underlying theme of human isolation. Part travelog and part history, the book is written in diary format, as Kauffmann details his journey to present-day Saint Helena and his research into Napoleon's life there. Using Napoleon and himself as examples, Kauffmann illustrates the effects of captivity on humans, past and present. Clancy, a Victorian Premier Prize-winner for literary translation, has done a wonderful job with this spellbinding book. Kauffmann, formerly a foreign correspondent for a French weekly, won the Prix Femina award for this French best seller. Recommended for larger libraries.ÄStephanie Papa, Baltimore Cty. Circuit Court Law Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. xiii
Prologuep. 1
The First Dayp. 5
The Second Dayp. 39
The Third Dayp. 65
The Fourth Dayp. 89
The Fifth Dayp. 127
The Sixth Dayp. 187
The Seventh Dayp. 215
The Eighth Dayp. 247
The Ninth Dayp. 279
Epiloguep. 285
Endnotesp. 289
Bibliographyp. 293
Acknowledgementsp. 297