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  • Évelyne, Scenes, and Rosalie
  • Renée Larrier

In December 2004, on a break from the African American and Diasporic Research in Europe: Comparative and Interdisciplinary Approaches conference in Paris, I browsed through the Musée Dapper bookstore (which, unfortunately, closed in 2017). A brightly colored book cover featuring a regal black woman in profile and a red detachable band proclaiming the Prix Soroptimist de la romancière francophone award caught my eye. It was Évelyne Trouillot’s Rosalie l’Infâme, which I devoured that very night.1 What a powerful introduction to her work! It is significant that Philippe Davaine’s artistic rendering depicts narrator Lisette as a close-cropped, natural-hair wearing woman who completely dominates the sailing ship in the background, intimating that she and her ancestors survived the Middle Passage and Atlantic slavery. That a small portrait of Trouillot graces the upper left-hand corner of the back of the book articulates, complements, and reinforces that message, linking the two women to and through centuries of history in a similar way that the knotted cord bonds Brigitte to Lisette. Likewise, Trouillot’s oeuvre connects her to predecessor Marie Vieux Chauvet, contemporary Marie-Célie Agnant, and successor Edwidge Danticat, who wrote the foreword to M. A. Salvadon’s translation The Infamous Rosalie.2 While these Haitian-born writers have all spent years away from the island nation, Trouillot was the only one to return definitively, so that her literary identity has never been debated. Nevertheless, these writers are particularly mindful about representing Haitian women’s and girls’ experiences, and accordingly, creating women-centered texts. Trouillot’s novels, short stories, plays, and children’s and young people’s literature in French and Creole, most of which are published in Port-au-Prince and available abroad, privilege multigenerational relationships with political, social, historical, and gender resonances. [End Page 3]

Fast forward to October 2017, to Scenes at 20: Inspirations, Riffs, and Reverberations, the two-day symposium at Rutgers University celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Saidiya V. Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self -Making in Nineteenth-Century America.3 Listening to the presenters, I began to reflect on the ways in which Rosalie and Scenes are in dialogue, noting that the similarities extended beyond the title of Hartman’s brilliant, pioneering scholarly study. Motivated to explore further, I revisited both texts, concluding that Rosalie l’Infâme, a novel set in mid-eighteenth century colonial Saint-Domingue, could be read in the context of Hartman’s historical analysis of the American South, where slavery also prevailed. Examining the various forms of domination in daily life, a phenomenon she calls the “terror of the mundane and quotidian,”4 Hartman focuses in particular on covert performances of power, those that involve sexuality, such as interactions between white men and enslaved women that range from coercive arrangements to rape; questions of subjectivity and agency; and resistance and freedom. In Rosalie, the enslaved women adopt various strategies to survive that involve exchanging their bodies for a semblance or measure of agency: Gracieuse with Fayot to avoid working in the fields; Clarisse and Louise to free their children. Brigitte’s is a special case. Although she finally succumbs to Montreuil’s pressure, after his repeated threats and having her niece Ayouba beaten twice, she does achieve agency by sparing others, some of whom are not related to her. In addition to later negotiating the escape of her sister Charlotte and Ayouba, Brigitte uses her medical knowledge not only to abort her three fetuses, but to kill sixty-nine newborns in order to save them from a life of enslavement, her declared mission. In addition, certain scenes reconstruct Hartman’s notion of the simultaneous performance of pleasure and pain. One such incident takes place on the slave ship Rosalie during the Middle Passage. While the white sailors are amused at a Hausa woman dancing to the beat of a drum, the African captives understand that hers is a dance of death, and, indeed, she jumps into the sea. Another example is the spectacle of Sarah parading her stylishly dressed female servants through the town market, masking the physical violence...


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