Elizabeth Browning Letter to Napoleon
In her Letter to Napoleon III, the brilliant writer Elizabeth Barrett Browning asks on behalf of her contemporary Victor Hugo for a hopeful pardon for his possibly seditious novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In writing this personal letter, she sets out to convince the Emperor that Hugo’s forgiveness will improve his own approval of the citizens. Through her gentle tone and focus on her audience’s needs for how he will benefit from her advice, she effectively sets a sense of urgency for Napoleon to act sooner rather than later.
From the very first paragraphs of the letter, Browning strokes Napoleon’s ego to persuade him to move on to his point of view. Claiming to have read “a book called“ Contemplation ”of a man who deeply sinned against [Napoleon] in [Hugo’s] political writings,” she cleverly makes concessions to Napoleon that Hugo’s decision to speak badly about the leader was provocative, so the impending punishment Hugo was not shocking. This use of procalepsis confirms its plausibility in the argument, as it shows that it is fair, but still concludes that Hugo should be excused. In fact, this usage explains why Hugo should be released, because she is not arguing about Hugo’s freedom; instead, she demonstrates sophisticated knowledge, realizing that Hugo has done a bad deed but still deserves freedom. A vision through the prism of Napoleon is likely to convince him to listen to her. Browning’s other admission that “[she has no personal knowledge of this person and of course [she] does not come now to apologize to him,” “reaffirms her view that she is level-headed, emphasizing that Hugo should be free. With the intention that Napoleon will be able to see through her gaze, that neither of them even knows Hugo, the basic meaning is conveyed that there are still factors that determine his fate of freedom or exile.
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Browning moves from establishing her authority to explaining why Hugo’s sin should be forgiven. She uses the anaphora to clarify and make Napoleon think about how Hugo’s exile might affect him, because as the supreme leader, Napoleon cares more about what people think of him. As a result, the main points of Browning’s essay focus on the benefits for Napoleon, not for Hugo, which, ironically, Napoleon’s ego is precisely the basis for punishing Hugo in that it will damage people’s opinion of Napoleon. The repetition of “What Moves You” three times reminds Napoleon that being emperor is a matter of being admired and therefore listened to. He cannot just banish everyone who opposes him, but instead, if he accepts his opponents, he will become a more logical leader. This is true because Napoleon does not want to be remembered as an intolerant leader because of one derogatory comment; rather, he would prefer to be a humble, liberal leader. In addition, the “touch” of diction causes Napoleon to view his fears as a ruler, because low approval means that he is unable to effectively carry out his tasks. “The touch” even implies such sensitivity that the success of his rule may depend on such little things as his reaction to political opponents. Thus, he is forced to consider freeing Hugo.
To amplify her message, Browning introduces a shock factor. Her use of the paradox “Indeed, precisely because he cannot be justified by the fact that I think he can be adequately forgiven,” suggests a shock factor. The invitation to accept disrespect was so unheard of in the days of emperors and empresses that Napoleon would not trust his eyes and would have to read this line again. However, precisely because this line is so amazing that Napoleon will remember this advice. Shortly before his imprisonment, Browning also displays a somatic onomaton in “Forgive This Enemy, This Accuser, This Merchant. “Show him your generosity” to prove once again that no matter how despicable an act is, if Napoleon forgives Hugo, he will go down in history as a generous, confident leader. This strategy works exponentially, as if the worse the libel, the better Napoleon will admire.
Ultimately, it is clear that Browning is convincingly substantiating his premise to Napoleon III that saving Hugo from ridicule is just as important to preserving his own reputation. Using pathos, repetition and analogy, she emphatically convinces Napoleon that the only option is to pardon Hugo sooner rather than later. As a result, understanding the argumentation techniques that Browning uses in this letter still matters in today’s world because it is important to consider how the proposal will benefit the reader, thus increasing the likelihood that the proposal will be fulfilled.