Today in Special Collections, we are exploring a new addition to the Napoleon Collection which led catalogers on an interesting research journey. Recently, a book titled The Historical and Unrevealed Memoirs of the Political and Private Life of Napoleon Buonaparte, printed in 1821, found its way into Special Collections’ Napoleon Collection. While the text itself contained riddles about the author’s identity and the source’s authenticity, it also contained a letter addressed to the book’s previous owner, Proctor P. Jones, who donated the book to FSU. The text and letter led Cataloger Elizabeth Richey to consider the possibility of fabricated memoirs and how to catalog such things.
At a quick look, The Historical and Unrevealed Memoirs of the Political and Private Life of Napoleon Buonaparte looks like a normal memoir. However, a closer look at the memoir from a cataloger’s perspective raises questions about its accuracy, which leads to the question of how do we catalog a possibly fabricated book?
Elizabeth recognized some possible hints that made her question the memoir’s authority and accuracy. For example, the book’s publisher is listed as “Is only to be had of the author, No. 27, Cirencester Place, Portland, Place, April 1821”, while further research shows that the book was printed by Fargues of Berwick Street, Soho.
Even more interesting is the attributed author of the text: Mademoiselle R. d’Ancemont. After much research and exploration, Elizabeth and other catalogers could not locate any information about this mysterious author; instead, she found evidence that this author may have used a pseudonym. This was supported by a letter found in the book. The writer of the letter argues that due to two references within the text, the memoir was written by “Dangeais”, not R. d’Ancemont. He continues to argue that this name may also have been a pseudonym, and that we may never know who the true author is. Without the author’s real name and background, we are left to wonder if the author is a reliable writer.
As a result of questionable information in the book as well as doubts about the author and publisher, the writer of the letter believes the entire book may be “a fake.” In the letter, the writer states that he thinks the memoir is “completely fabricated”, as was the case for many memoirs written during this period. He and other researchers go as far as to believe that the entire text is not only a fake, but also a fake originally created in English, not a French to English translation as the title page suggests. Other catalogers and researchers seem to share this opinion about this mysterious text. Whether or not the book is a “fake”, it still belongs in Special Collections since it provides insight to this historic era and is a perfect example of a potentially fake memoir.
This interesting find illustrates the amount of time and research a cataloger must devote to cataloging all resources. Without proper information and detailed records, it is difficult for library users to locate sources. Sometimes, the item itself does not present enough information for a proper record. In some cases, particularly with older and donated books, catalogers are lucky enough to find outside sources of information within a book, such as the letter found within this book. In either case, Special Collections catalogers strive to make accurate records so that the collections rare and interesting items can be found and explored by FSU students and faculty.