The Napoleon of Notting Hill is one of the best books you've probably never read. Even for some literature majors and heavy readers, probably; it was never required reading for me. Conservative intellectuals are familiar with it. That's how I heard of it--a reference from paleoconservative critic Thomas Fleming.
Written in 1904, The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a fantasy set in 1984--coincidentally, the same year George Orwell's later novel is set in. In this future England, the Windsor dynasty is gone. There is a monarchy, but it consists of the crown being periodically given to random citizens. The political instability of the world has ended, with there being no wars because all the great powers made treaties with each other and also conquered all the remaining small independent nations.
An idealistic and Romantic young man feels distressed at changes planned to his neighborhood (Notting Hill) by the government and local businessmen. Tearing down buildings or other existing structures to build new roads--that sort of thing. But he wants the neighborhood to stay exactly as it is, because it's his home.
Accidentally encouraged by a sudden royal proclamation that all neighborhoods are to display the trappings of medieval England (the new randomly selected king means it to be nothing but a big joke, and expects the citizenry to take it no more seriously than he does), the protagonist convinces some of his fellow Notting Hill residents to take up arms against the march of progress.
At the time, this was the best novel I had read in years. It's the most Romantic (not romantic) novel I've read since Cyrano de Bergerac, but less childish and more philosophical. I felt inspired.
Since this is also the most quotable novel I've read in years, I offer a few of the best quotations, to entice you into reading this masterpiece:
"It is of the new things that men tire--of fashions and proposals and improvements and change. ... It is the old things that are young."
"For you and me, and for all brave men, my brother...there is good wine poured in the inn at the end of the world."
"If we have taken the child's games, and given them the seriousness of a Crusade, if we have drenched your grotesque Dutch garden with the blood of martyrs, we have turned a nursery into a temple. I ask you, in the name of Heaven, who wins?"
The Napoleon of Notting Hill is, in significant ways, the mirror image of Don Quixote. How? Don Quixote is an allegedly insane man who travels out into the world to fight evil, whatever forms it may take. He is driven by, among other things, belief in a heroic past that is probably imaginary, which he read about in books. [Background: DQ, whose real name is Alonso Quixano, is an obsessive reader of heroic fiction about medieval Europe--the chivalric age. Miguel de Cervantes depicts these books as nonsensical, historically inaccurate, and good only for entertainment. Quixano reads too many of them, and eventually "goes mad" as a result. Only then does he become Don Quixote and go questing.]
Adam Wayne (the protagonist of The Napoleon of Notting Hill) is an idealistic but sane man who stays at home to fight a material evil (the plan to tear down part of his neighborhood) that happens to represent the abstract evil of Progress. He is inspired by the societal traditions of medieval England, but unlike DQ, he is neither fighting unspecified evils nor living in the distant past mentally. Wayne is fighting for his immediate neighborhood in the present.
I reread this book on July 6-7, 2011, and was inspired again.
6/1/2013: One aspect of this story has come to disturb me; I became aware of it only after seeing more of G.K. Chesterton's personality and thought in The Everlasting Man
.The Napoleon of Notting Hill
reveals a certain arrogance and militant spirit in Chesterton; he is apparently very comfortable with bloody warfare if it's for what he and his protagonists consider a righteous cause. According to what Adam Wayne and his Notting Hill army believe in, they may fight and kill for the right to not have their neighborhood physically altered. It's not that that bothers me; it's the complete lack of sorrow at causing anyone's death whether it was for the cause or not, and more generally, a glib dismissal of pain incurred for one's beliefs. You can see the latter when the ex-president of Nicaragua, which has been conquered by America in the last war, very casually stabs himself with a pin so he can use his own blood to paint the red in a recreation of his lost country's flag.
I saw subtler hints of this attitude in another male traditionalist Catholic thinker--Fleming, who extolled The Napoleon of Notting Hill