Thursday, April 07, 2016

'The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale' by Leona Francombe (2015)

I finished reading a quietly poetic, subtly philosophical and imaginative novel of life and war, past and present told from the perspective of the Hougemont bunnies. Leona Francombe's The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2015) empathizes and sympathizes with her rabbits, yes, but she also muses about people and horses, birds and landscapes, architecture and moonlight. I found it refreshing and engaging.  

Besides her rabbit characters -- Old Lavender, William, Spode, Caillou, Boomerang, and others -- Francombe makes a compelling case for women writing about war. More, please.

"The 'glory' of war is often manufactured afterwards by male writers, after all, and not by the women, who are invariably left behind to pick up the pieces of their broken men, but who can read entire human stories in the torn sleeve or bloody hat in which men can only comprehend victory or defeat" (pages 197-198). 

In describing some of the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815), Francombe notes that 10,000 horses died. I wondered. Doing a little extra research, I came across this same figure, and another account that claims, given that wounded horses were almost invariably "put out of their misery," a total of 20,000 horses died as a result of the battle. (See here).
The Battle of Waterloo was so cataclysmic that no one seems to be able to figure out how many human beings perished as a result of it, let alone horses and bunnies. 

Paul O'Keeffe is helpful in setting the scale via Waterloo: The Aftermath (N.Y.: The Overlook Press, 2015), page 50:

". . . the actual fighting was confined to a front just two miles long. This meant that for little more than ten hours, some 200,000 men, 60,000 horses and 537 guns [artillery pieces] were in action on a piece of land measuring five square miles . . .

See also Bernard Cornwell's Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles (Harper, 2014), page 324:

"As night fell on 18 June [1815] there were probably around 12,000 [human] corpses on the battlefield and between thirty and forty thousand wounded men, all within three square miles. Many of the wounded were to die in subsequent days." 

Any way you dice it, Waterloo was brutal -- as Belgian bunnies know so well.

Today's Rune: Warrior. 


Charles Gramlich said...

I love animal narrated tales. Or should that be "tails"

the walking man said...

If Tolstoy had gone further in his War and Peace i think he would have found a way to chronicle a battle that was mirrored more than once during the American Civil war.

jodi said...

Erik-I am a dunce that has learned about Waterloo from ABBA!