The quotation is from the preface of a recent book by Australia’s most famous contemporary author, Booker Prize winner (“Schindler’s List”), Tom Keneally. The book, described by “The Australian” as “one of the most enjoyable, high-spirited and technically accomplished works of a long career” – its author lauded by “The Guardian” (“With his trademark verve and impishness, few can match him as a storyteller”) – “Napoleon’s Last Island” is a fictionalized insight into the six-year terminal imprisonment of the Emperor (“General Bonaparte” . . .) on the island of St Helena, where for the first three years Barry Edward O’Meara was his personal physician.
Betsy Balcombe was a daughter in a family that lived in “The Briars”, where Napoleon stayed while “Longwood” was being remodelled to house him and his suite. Now a young married woman who as an adolescent had befriended “the Ogre”, she is the fictional author of this inside story of the final years of the imperial prisoner on his “last island”.
Dr Barry O’Meara is a major figure in her account. Keneally read Barry’s best-selling two-volume work, “A Voice from St Helena”, and admits he was “inveigled” by the Irish doctor to write as though he were himself the young woman, formerly the brash thirteen-year old friend and frequent visitor of Napoleon at Longwood, where they actually played blindman’s buff together !
I don’t think that I, a distant relative of Dr O’Meara, have ever inveigled anyone into doing anything. But I have been, more than once, accused of trying to do so – and worse. I am, after all, a militant atheist committed to converting Believers on the Brink to enjoy liberation from their illusions of religious belief. But there has never been anything in my book or my blog that could honestly be described as “inveigling”. I have no converts who have ever complained that I conned them out of their faith. In fact, it remains to be proven that I have any converts at all . . .
But I am determined to keep on keeping on proclaiming “Ridenda Religio” and trying to get people who have already had serious doubts about their own credulity, to go the whole hog and recognize that religious beliefs, rules and rituals are total nonsense. I have been called a “sledge-hammer”, an outrageous cynic and a dangerous, disrespectful destroyer of the faith that offers meaning, comfort and hope to believers. To all this I plead guilty, but NOT to inveigling anybody.