A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Corsican Hellebore & St. Helena
Monday, March 19, 2007

"St Helena, the place on earth farthest from any other place." The Monsters of St Helena
Brooks Hansen

I have been reading a delightful novel about Napoleon's days in St Helena and it has coincided with the emergence in my garden of Helleborus argutifolius sometimes called the Corsican Rose since it can be found in Corsica and the Balearic islands. I like the plant because it is all apple green. We seem to ignore flowers that don't have lots of colour. The Corsican hellebore brings me the promise of the greenness of spring.

The novel is The Monsters of St Helena by Brooks Hansen and it is full of detailed information on how Boney spent his last days in exile. True or not he befriends a teenage girl, Betsy Balcombe (the only one on the island who is not afraid of the "monster") and they indulge in pleasant conversation which transforms Napoleon into a delightful old man (true or not). In one of my favourite discourses:

His hair is so fine, she thinks, and silky. Like an infant's. "We had a tutor, Jane and I, but she left."
"This is not good. You will be ignorant." He sits up straight.
"What is the capital of France?"
"And Italy?"
He thinks. "And what is the capital of Russia?"
"Petersburg now. Moscow formerly."
"Very good." He pauses, slyly. "But do you know who set it on fire?" He leans towards her and his eyes glower. "Qui lá brûlé?"
She sits back. I do not know, sir."
Then they soften just as quickly. He smiles. "Yes, you do. You know very well that it was I who set Moscow on fire." He puffs his chest out like such a silly bird she cannot help herself.
"Oh, no, now I remember. It wasn't you. It was the Russians who burned it, to be rid of the French."
She is correct, and so he sits back with half a smile, conceding defeat. For now.


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