Texts in transit: the circulation of books among British prisoners of war in Napoleonic France and Mauritius

Elodie Duché, York St John University
14 December 2017

The Napoleonic Wars were a period of heightened mobility: not only regiments, but civilians, commodities and ideas travelled on a transnational if not global scale during the period. Prisoners of war were at the forefront of this transit, having been forcibly displaced by war itself. By looking at the movements of these captives, and the readings that accompanied their journeys, we can get a better understanding of the importance and experience of coerced mobility during the conflict. Some work has already been done in that direction, yet the scholarship has thus far focused on the case of French prisoners of war in Britain. This paper aims to shift the perspective by looking at the neglected itineraries and readings of an estimated

16,000 British prisoners of war in Napoleonic France and Mauritius. Drawing on inventories of the Franco-British library established by British captives in Verdun, along with various ego-documents kept by the prisoners themselves – such as common-place books and diaries –, the paper intends to highlight how these prisoners found themselves at the confluence of local, national, imperial and transnational reading worlds during a decade of imprisonment. A study of the books and stories that travelled with them reveals the complex contacts they made in war captivity through the practice of reading and discussing texts.

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