Signs of Origin: Victor Hugo's Bug-Jargal
Abstract

Victor Hugo's controversial Bug-Jargal (published 1820, revised 1826) is often read as either négrophile or négrophobe, monarchist or pro-revolution: an ongoing critical debate that stems in part from the novel's own fundamental contradictions. The revised Bug-Jargal endeavors to confront the Revolution (both in Haiti and in mainland France) without glossing over its complexities, introducing the formal æsthetic opposition of the sublime and grotesque in an ambitious effort to bring the chaos of revolutionary Terror within the higher order of Romantic art. However, grotesque elements within Bug-Jargal threaten to subvert other antithetical pairs which the novel nonetheless depends upon: black and white, rightful leadership and rebellion, "proper" and "improper" use of colonial discourses of authority. Multiple speakers within the novel conspire to reconfirm the existence of "original" categories of identity that the "cannibal" threat of the grotesque radically calls into question. (KMB)


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