Reconfiguring Family Legitimacy: Olympe de Gouge’s L’Esclavage des Noirs


Conceived before the onset of the Revolution and before the Déclaration des droits de l’homme, Gouges’s play, L’Esclavage des Noirs critiqued the inequities and injustices of slavery more forcefully than other plays of the period and advanced some radical ideas about established practices in the colonies. Between the first published version of Zamore et Mirza in 1788 and the final, revised version, L’Esclavage des Noirs of 1792, Gouges modified the drama to highlight the intersection of the economics of slavery and the economics of family through the issue of illegitimacy. Her revisions were directly informed by the thinking she had articulated in the Déclaration des droits de la femme on how to abolish both family and commercial illegitimacy (slavery) through the recognition and legitimization of blood or natural ties. The changes focus on two themes of the play—the search for family legitimacy and the injustice of slavery—and reinforce their convergence.