The Adventure of the Morning Napoleons

Today’s morning name (welling up during my sleep from who knows where) was mille-feuille, the pastry.


From Wikipedia:

The mille-feuille (French pronunciation: [mil fœj], “a thousand leaves”), vanilla slice, custard slice [two names used in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand], also known as the Napoleon, is a French pastry whose exact origin is unknown. Its modern form was influenced by improvements of Marie-Antoine Carême.

Traditionally, a mille-feuille is made up of three layers of puff pastry (pâte feuilletée), alternating with two layers of pastry cream (crème pâtissière), but sometimes whipped cream or jam are substituted. The top pastry layer is dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and sometimes cocoa, pastry crumbs, or pulverized seeds (e.g. roasted almonds). Alternatively the top is glazed with icing or fondant in alternating white (icing) and brown (chocolate) stripes, and combed.

(Puff pastry is cousin to Middle Eastern phyllo dough, so that mille-feuille is distant cousin to baklava, baklava involving honey and chopped nuts rather than pastry cream between the pastry layers.)

My ordinary word for milles-feuilles is Napoleons, so that I’m immediately reminded of “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”.


From Wikipedia:

“The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”, one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard brings Holmes a seemingly trivial problem about a man who shatters plaster busts of Napoleon.

(Napoleon ‘bust of Napoleon’ is a relatively simple metaphorical extension; the general form involving the nominal X used for ‘representation or simulacrum of a/the referent of X’.)

There are quite a few .ways of understanding six Napoleons.  As an allusion to a world in which there are six French emperors named Napoleon, not merely the historical three. As a reference to six people who believe themselves to be Napoleon Bonaparte; compare The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. As a reference to six French coins of a particular type; from Wikipedia:

The Napoléon is the colloquial term for a former French gold coin. The coins were minted (at various times) in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 40, 50, and 100 francs. This article focuses on the 20 franc coins issued during the reign of Napoléon Bonaparte, which are 21 mm in diameter, weigh 6.45 grams (gross weight) and, at 90% pure, contain 0.1867 troy ounces or 5.805 grams of pure gold. The coin was issued during the reign of Napoleon I and features his portrait on the obverse.


A 20-franc Napoleon from 1803

(Here we have a complex instance of eponymy ‘naming after’, normally just a kind of metonymy, involving a historical association between something, in this case a coin, and a person for which that thing is named, but now with an element of metaphor thrown in, since the coin has a likeness of that person on it.)

Still, my favorite interpretation for six Napoleons is as simple eponymy (referring to six milles-feuilles): the pastry is named in honor of the first emperor Napoleon, with no element of resemblance involved. I like to think that the Adventure of the Six Napoleons involves gorging on six custard slices.

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