Nineteenth Century French Studies 31.3&4 (2003) 354-356
[Access article in PDF]
Bullard, Alice. Exile to Paradise: Savagery and Civilization in Paris and the South Pacific, 1790-1900. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000. Pp. 380. ISBN 0-8047-3878-5
Alice Bullard's Exile to Paradise provides an exhaustive historical account of the deportation and exile of some 4,500 Communards (including twenty women) to New Caledonia, which was inhabited by the indigenous Melanesian Kanak who had come under French control in 1853. Ironically, ridding France of the "savage" French rebels was seen not only as a way to regenerate France but to further the French civilizing mission in New Caledonia. Presumably, the Communards would become civilized by bringing civilization to the Kanak. Bullard painstakingly records the failure of this project over the near decade before the deported exiles were amnestied in 1879 and 1880. Archival records by missionaries, administrators, déportés, and others are used to show that the Communards were subjected to a system of French colonial authority that more rightly deserved the appellation "savage" than the Kanak. Moreover Bullard demonstrates that generally speaking the actions of the French in [End Page 354] colonizing New Caledonia were more savage than civilized, namely destroying the Kanak's culture, which the French misunderstood and scorned, and appropriating their property. The sad outcome of the French colonization of New Caledonia was a drop in population from 100,00 in 1854 to 15,000 in 1900. In addition to recounting this tragic and complex story, with which many readers may be unfamiliar, Bullard's book mines a rich vein of social history, yielding ample information about the Commune, colonialism under the Second Empire, and the politics of the Third Republic. Exile to Paradise also sheds new and illuminating light on the intellectual figures who defined French civilization and morality up to the early twentieth century - Charles Renouvier, Emile Durkheim, and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl - as well as such literary figures as Louise Michel and Henri Rochefort, as well as lesser known déporté writers such as Charles Malato, Clovis Hugues, and Paschal Grousset.
The book comprises an introduction, nine chapters, a conclusion, an appendix of two of Hugues's poems, and an impressive thirty-page bibliography. The Introduction identifies the book's main themes and arguments, identifying four "historian-theorists" whose thoughts "structure this book's stance toward civilization" - Eugen Weber, Norbert Elias, Michel Foucault, and Theodor Adorno - a curious claim since we hear virtually nothing more about them subsequently. Chapter 1, "Civilization: Teleology for Modern France," spells out how the combined events of the French defeat by Prussia in 1870 and the Commune created a sense that France was losing its claim to civilization. At the time, the newly discovered notion of prehistory lent itself to the idea that world populations could be hierarchized in terms of racial development, which justified the conquering of inferior races by the superior European race. Accordingly, the Kanak came to be cast as the ignoble, lowest level of humanity. Chapter 2, "Becoming Savage? The First Step Toward Civilization and the Practices of Intransigence in New Caledonia," shows how missionaries, administrators, and ethnographers variously contributed to the construction of Kanak savagery, casting them as morally degenerate, cannibalistic, stone age men. Chapter 3, "Cleansing Paris of Le Peuple," recounts how the Communards were depicted as savage destroyers of civilization by the conservative press. Chapter 4, "The Ideal Subject for the Third Republic," focuses in perhaps excessive detail on the neo-Kantian philosopher Charles Renouvier, whose republican, secular ethos underpins the moral imperialism that justified the way the French treated the Communards and the Kanak. Chapter 5, "Variations on a French Western," presents the dismal physical, psychological, and social conditions of the barren island to which the déportés were sent. Deprived of basic necessities and unable to work on an island lacking in sufficient resources to support the increased numbers of people, the Communards were thrust into a life of solitude, boredom, alcoholism, and in some cases extreme despair leading to suicide...