Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter November 11, 2020

Silencing the Present? Decolonization, Nationalization, and Natural Right(s) in Émeric Bergeaud’s Stella (1859)

Jonas Ross Kjærgård
From the journal arcadia

Abstract

Émeric Bergeaud wrote Stella (1859), his novelistic account of the Haitian revolution (1791–1804), at a most turbulent moment in Haitian history. Faustin Soulouque rose to power in the late 1840 s and soon began to pursue his political opponents with violent means. Coming from a “Boyerist” background, Bergeaud fled the country in 1848 and settled in St. Thomas where he worked on his novel while his health deteriorated. Despite his precarious life in exile, Bergeaud remained silent about Soulouque in his decisively political novel Stella. As Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Madeleine Dobie, and others have shown, the history of slavery has often been silenced in literature and public debate, but what does it mean for Bergeaud to silence the present and focus on the past? I argue that Stella in fact makes a significant intervention in the debates about mid-19th-century Haiti. Instead of confronting Soulouque directly, however, Bergeaud addresses a pair of structural problems of which I consider Soulouque and his policy emblematic expressions: decolonization and nationalization. Most existing readings have emphasized Bergeaud’s reflections on history, but in this contextualized analysis, I show that Bergeaud looks not only to the past but also and importantly to nature and natural right(s) philosophy in his novelistic search for a way forward for Haiti.

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Published Online: 2020-11-11
Published in Print: 2020-11-09

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