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Research in African Literatures 33.4 (2002) 215-217

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Book Review

L'esclave fugitif dans la littérature antillaise

L'esclave fugitif dans la littérature antillaise, by Marie-Christine Rochman. Paris: Karthala, 2000, 4000 pp. ISBN2-86537-985-X paper.

Marie-Christine Rochman's text provides a comprehensive survey of the various literary and historical contexts in which the "nègre marron," or Maroon slave, has been deployed symbolically in a wide range of French Caribbean-centered texts. Rochman's sweep takes into account the historical contexts and conflicts that gave rise to the maroon as local hero and this subject's subsequent mythification in literature, and analyzes its aesthetic inscription in the cultural and performative modernities of the contemporary French Caribbean.

Following a useful historical survey of marooning, which grounds this phenomenon in such forces as detribalization, depression, and the threat of punishment, Rochman's primary claim is that the various perspectives on Caribbean Marooning can in general be divided into two main periods, separated by the moment of French abolition in 1848. In Rochman's terms, representations of marooning in literary works written before this date by white creoles, or what she terms "creolized metropolitan subjects" (7), differ markedly from such analyses produced by these groups after [End Page 215] abolition. Rochman also notes in this regard the important first appearance of a Maroon as Romantic hero, in Le camp des Kélers by Poirier de Saint-Aurèle, made possible, perhaps, by its inscription in a framework of medieval morality. The initial, although superficial appearance of female maroons is also noted here.

On the other hand, by making marooning an integral part of the narrative framework, postabolition authors were able to graft their perspective onto critical fictions on both the individual and the collective levels. As Rochman shows, of cardinal importance here was the French rewriting and serialization of Uncle Tom's Cabin; the series of dramatic adaptations that followed in short order all placed maroons at the center of the drama. Rochman analyzes in great detail the "Antillanization" of the narrative, noting the appearance of specific ideological and thematic distortions that not only painted the upstart "bad mulatto" as the villain, but managed to make whites innocent as well, even going so far as to idealize conditions for slaves provided by their masters.

The final decades of the nineteenth century and the first two of the twentieth frame an inexplicable silence as regards the Maroon theme, one that includes such notable authors as René Maran and St John Perse. Rochman cites the publication of Oruno Lara's Histoire de la Guadeloupe in 1921, the first regional history written by a non-white author, as giving rise to eight critical works published between 1925 and 1963 that trace the coming of age of a "black," or Caribbean, literature, allowing Rochman to locate the Maroon thematic in a variety of texts and contexts . Lara's work thus marks an important turning point in the regional representation not just of the Maroon, but also of the Caribbean subject. This final, unmitigated emergence of a black hero class allowed such themes as emancipation and a concomitant racial harmony to be explored more fully.

This new era of Maroon mythification, Rochman claims, stretches from Césaire through Glissant to Chamoiseau and Condé. By staging the deaths of Toussaint and Christophe as Maroon heroes, Césaire set the stage for Glissant's subsequent privileging of the Maroon theme, particularly in Le quatrième siècle. Here, by clearly grounding Papa Longoué's knowledge and power in an African tradition, the root source of a collective Martinican identity could be posited, allowing the Maroon figure to escape the risk of temporal overdetermination. Rochman then reads the primary works of such writers as Maximin and Schwarz-Bart through the Maroon problematic, framing Maximin's re-presentation of the 1802 revolt and Schwarz-Bart's preservation of African traditions as iconic instances of Maroon self-liberation. The role played by Jamaican Maroons in Condé's Ségou is profitably compared with the marginalized...


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