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Reviewed by:
  • Œuvres: Mémoires sur la guerre des Français en Espagne (1814); La Campagne de Walcheren (1817); Le Mal du pays (1817–1818, inédit) by Albert-Jean-Michel Rocca
  • Daniel Rosenberg
Albert-Jean-Michel Rocca, Œuvres: Mémoires sur la guerre des Français en Espagne (1814); La Campagne de Walcheren (1817); Le Mal du pays (1817–1818, inédit). Textes présentés et établis par Stéphanie Genand, avec la collaboration d' Aline Hodroge. (Tournant des Lumières.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2017. 296 pp.

The volume contains three works by Albert-Jean-Michel Rocca (1788–1818), a Geneva-born officer in the French army who is known especially for his published memoirs as lieutenant in the Napoleonic army, where he served until his injury in 1812, and for his relationship with Germaine de Staël, whom he married in 1811. The publication of this volume amends an important omission in the field of literary history: despite his esteemed position in Staël's milieu, Rocca's writings have too often been relegated to the field of specialized military history and were largely overlooked by general intellectual historiography. This is the first time that these writings have been gathered in a single volume, and Stéphanie Genand, a specialist of Staël and of late-eighteenth-century literature, here provides us with the first scholarly annotated compilation of Rocca's writings. The first work included in the volume, Mémoires sur la guerre des Français en Espagne (published initially in 1814), is the most extensive and arguably the most historically important of the three compiled texts. The Mémoires, which gained wide circulation in France in the early nineteenth century and were translated into English and German, depict Rocca's experience of serving as a lieutenant in the Spanish campaign of the Grand Armée, and provide one of the first intimate accounts of the Peninsular Wars. Rocca's account of warfare and military life is an early portrayal of what would come to be known as the Napoleonic guerre totale: the blurring of lines between soldiers and civilians and the full engagement of national resources on both sides of the fray. Special attention is granted to the quelling of Spanish guerrilla fighters by the occupying force, which is treated in a somewhat dispassionate manner. Echoing the perspective developed by the pamphlets of the various political writings of the Groupe de Coppet, especially of authors such as Staël and Benjamin Constant, Rocca coldly describes the revolutionary zeal with which the French occupation dismantled the old Iberian political and religious institutions, only to sow bitterness and alienation among the Spanish population and bring about informal resistance. Rocca portrays the spontaneous resistance efforts of the Spanish citizenry, and contrasts these with the Grande Armée, which was rendered ineffective and inert due to its size and to logistical problems, as well as by problems involving its internal national and cultural heterogeneity. The second work included in the volume, an account of the Dutch expedition of 1809, is far more focused on immediate military and tactical aspects of the campaign and touches only briefly on the social context of the French occupation. The short novel Le Mal du pays, which recounts the experience of a young Swiss soldier, complements these accounts by offering more personal psychological insights into Rocca, whose style is more often clinical. The volume includes an extensive preface by the editor of the volume, describing the publication history of Rocca's works. It also includes three briefer prefaces by other scholars, who elaborate on Rocca's Helvetic background and the unique status of Switzerland in the Napoleonic system. The volume, the quality of which [End Page 440] is to be commended, is important for scholars of the Napoleonic era, in its military as well as literary aspects.

Daniel Rosenberg
Hebrew University of Jerusalem


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