Category Archives: Letters from Russia

epistolary literature project with letters ostensibly written by a cobbler in Napoleon’s army marching to Russia, with paintings + illustrations – bound with hemp, wood and vellum

Preamble – Letters from Russia Part 1

Note to Readers

What follows is a collection of letters (albeit ostensibly) written by Henri LaFleur – a cobbler in the French army during the Russian campaign of 1812 – to Genevieve Vaschon, his fiance in Paris.

Henri’s fourteen letters offer his observations on the physiology of war, as well as discourse and personal sentiments on love, war, society, politics, and meaning of self. The accompanying landscapes give a sense of his search for solace and release in the surrounding chaos of war.

The letters were sent over an eight-month period beginning in Austria and moving through Prussia, Poland and into Russia.   First with battles in Smolensk and Borodino, then fires and pillaging in Moscow, and finally the well-documented November retreat.

The final letter in the correspondence was sent on retreat near the Berezin Bridge at which location during three days, much of the remaining French army perished into the icy river while attempting crossing of the bridge.  Others were stranded in on the Russian side with the pursuing Cossack troops when the retreating French army destroyed the bridge behind them.

As it were … the collection of letters, along with a variety of sketches and paintings, was found bound and stored in an attic trunk, as per Henri’s written request before leaving Moscow.  There is no further verifiable historical information to confirm Henri’s return home though regional folklore contends that he indeed survived and lived a long life in a small village near the sea with his dear Genevieve.

-Dave Olson
Summer 2004
Lake Cresent, Washington & Manzanita, Oregon