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  • Free and French in the Caribbean: Toussaint Louverture, Aimé Césaire and Narratives of Loyal Opposition by John Patrick Walsh
  • Tomaz Cunningham
Free and French in the Caribbean: Toussaint Louverture, Aimé Césaire and Narratives of Loyal Opposition. By John Patrick Walsh. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013. ISBN 0253006309. 206 pp. $26.00 paperback.

In his book Free and French in the Caribbean: Toussaint Louverture, Aimé Césaire and Narratives of Loyal Opposition, John Patrick Walsh offers a detailed study of the lives and writing of two iconic figures in the history of the French Caribbean: Toussaint Louverture and Aimé Césaire. Walsh’s examination of these two statesmen-authors brings together two events that redefined [End Page 213] France’s relationship with its colonial holdings: the Haitian Revolution and the 1946 departmentalization of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guyana. The approach to this study is unique: Walsh undertakes close readings of Toussaint Louverture’s extant writings and 1801 constitution and analyzes them alongside Aimé Césaire’s essay Toussaint Louverture: La Révolution française et le problème colonial (1962) and play La Tragédie du roi Christophe (1963). By examining Toussaint Louverture’s and Aimé Césaire’s writings together, Walsh positions them in a literary and historical dialogue “within the larger, interconnected stories of Caribbean autonomy and assimilation” (15).

Walsh makes three central claims. First, he argues that there is a deep historical connection between the Haitian Revolution (1791–1803) and the 1946 departmentalization of the French Caribbean that resulted from the revolutionary history shared between France and Saint-Domingue. Secondly, Walsh claims that the leaders of these two events had much in common that can be observed by close readings of the texts that each man produced. Both Toussaint Louverture and Aimé Césaire found themselves in various permutations of a colonial family romance that required the two leaders to hold the concepts of autonomy and assimilation in precarious tension. The third claim is that these statesman-authors created a literature with a specific narrative, a narrative that brings to light the problems these leaders faced as they attempted to negotiate both the terrain of French Republican ideology and the realities of racial inequality.

The book consists of six chapters divided into two parts. In the first four chapters, Walsh examines the life of Toussaint Louverture as a freed slave, devoted father, rebel leader, and skilled politician who could “move between worlds” and “who likely concealed the practice of power within the art of diplomacy” (30). Borrowing heavily from Lynn Hunt’s seminal work on French revolutionary ideology The Family Romance of the French Revolution (1992), Walsh explores how Toussaint Louverture negotiated the complex and often contradictory roles of rebel leader, “son” of French Republicanism, and “father” of a new nation. The concept of the colonial family romance is central to Walsh’s examination of Toussaint Louverture, as it allows Walsh to demonstrate the filial relationship Louverture seemed to have with Governor Étienne Lavaux.

In chapter one, titled “Toussaint Louverture and the Family of Saint-Domingue,” Walsh uses a letter written by Louverture to his sons Isaac and Placide as a springboard to demonstrate Toussaint’s devotion to his sons in the face of growing distrust of French politics. Written to the teenagers when they were attending the Institution Nationale des Colonies in Paris, [End Page 214] Toussaint’s letter reflects the difficult posit ion he occupied as he consolidated political power in Saint-Domingue while staying attuned to the changing political climate in metropolitan France. This relationship is analogous to the relationship Toussaint held politically; he was simultaneously the “father” of the freed black slaves with whom he shared common heritage and France’s adopted, though rebellious, son (41). In chapter two, titled “Under the Stick of Maître Toussaint,” Walsh explores the conflict between Toussaint Louverture and General Sonthonax. The colonial family romance is again central to Walsh’s reading of Toussaint’s letters to Sonthonax, as the relationship between these two men is presented as a kind of sibling rivalry. Chapter two is also where Walsh explores the role Toussaint Louverture may have played as a forerunner of Francophone literature. Citing...