If indeed Charlotte Brontë (1816-55) wrote this short-short-story in 1833, it is the work of a highly precocious seventeen-year-old, predating both Poems (1846) and Jane Eyre (1847) by over a decade and written even before she returned to her old school, Roe Head (the model for the later Lowood scenes in Jane Eyre), as a teacher in 1835.

Reading and Discussion Questions on Charlotte Brontë's "Napoleon and the Spectre" (1833)

1.When the Emperor threatens to "blow out the brains" of whoever is hiding in his closet, why is the only response that he receives "a short, sharp laugh"?

2. What does the opening line suggest about the nature of the story that we are about to read?

3. Why does Charlotte Brontë use the term "robe-de-chambre" in preference to the term "dressing-gown"?

4. Since the narrator has described Napoleon as "sweating with terror," how may we regard the Spectre's addressing him by the honorific "lifter of the Eagle Standard" ironic? Explain whether this is simply verbal irony, or whether it is ironic at a higher level (i. e., situational or dramatic irony).

5. Identify which of the following narrative points of view Charlotte Brontë has employed, then speculate as to why she chose it over any of the others:

A. Subjective: First person, major character; First person, minor character; Limited omniscient, major character; Limited omniscient, minor character; Omniscient.

B. Objective or dramatic.

6. Why does Brontë delay actually showing us the Spectre until the bottom of the second page?

7. What effect does the narrator's calling Napoleon I, Emperor of France, "Nap" have on your reception of the story?

8. We may regard "Napoleon and the Spectre" as young Charlotte Brontë's response to the Gothic tale, as exemplified by Anne Radcliffe's romance The Mysteries of Udolpho (1796), in which characterization and theme are very much subordinate to setting, atmosphere, mood, and plot. Although published after "Napoleon and the Spectre" was supposedly written, Poe's horror stories are also very much in the this "Gothic" tradition, with their focus on mystery and disturbed or altered mental states. If you have any familiarity with the Gothic tale or horror story, analyze "Napoleon and the Spectre" in terms of Charlotte Brontë's handling of setting, atmosphere, mood, and plot.

9. What is mysterious about the Spectre's appearance and Napoleon's attitude towards it? What else in the story serves as a source of suspense? Explain.

10. Why does Charlotte Brontë not identify Piché and Marie Louise for her reader?

11. Explain where in the story the dream sequence ends and reality returns.

12. Since this is a juvenile work, albeit by a canonical author, we may expect a certain ineptitude in the writer's handling of her materials, an awkwardness of construction, an infelicity of expression. Identify such a problem, justifying your response, or defend the story as being free of such slips.

13. Marie Louise was an eighteen-year-old Austrian archduchess who married Napoleon I in December 1809 after he had divorced his former political and social mentor the Empress Josephine because the latter was unable to provide him with an heir. On 20 March 1811, when Napoleon was 41 years old, his young wife produced the desired male heir, whom Napoleon created "The King of Rome." After a brilliant military career checked only by the British Navy and the Russian winter and a devious political rise to power, Napoleon was defeated and forced into exile in 1814, only to break out of his island "kingdom," Elba, for a further hundred days of power before his defeat by the combined forces of Great Britain and Prussia under Wellington and Blücher at Waterloo in 1815.

Why might Charlotte Brontë as an intellectual young Englishwoman (and perhaps, even at as an adolescent, a proto-feminist) have regarded Napoleon Bonaparte in a negative light?

14. Napoleon Bonaparte was certainly one of the greatest forces in the history of nineteenth-century Europe. However, how does Charlotte Brontë characterize him in this story?

15. "Napoleon and the Spectre" might be variously classified as a tale, an anecdote, a sketch, or a short-short story. Choose the category into which you would place it, providing a rationale.


"Napoleon and the Spectre" (1833) from The Twelve Adventurers and Other Stories, ed. C. K. Shorter and E. W. Hatfield (1925)

Last updated 26 August 2003