In This Article 19th Century Haitian Novel

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Literary Histories and Critical Essays
  • Cultural History
  • Dissertations
  • Bibliographies

Latin American Studies 19th Century Haitian Novel
by
Luis Duno-Gottberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0001

Introduction

Nineteenth-century Haitian novels, with their underscored relevance for the history of the Caribbean and Latin America, constitute a small body of literature as a result of three distinct challenges: the small number of novels published, the inaccessibility of primary sources, and the tendency of several novelists to develop stories far removed from Haitian realities. It must be added that 19th-century Haitian novels were written entirely in French, and they closely followed the aesthetic models of the former colonial metropolis. Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Émile Zola often come to mind when reading some of these novels. Haitian Creole had been present in poetry since the late 18th century, but it was not widely used in any major novel until two centuries later. Despite its shortcomings, the 19th-century Haitian novel constitutes a valuable window into the complex development of a national literature under the pressures of the postcolonial order. These works are not only important primary sources for exploring the origins of Haiti’s literary tradition but also provide insight into matters of race, transculturation, nationalism, and cultural dependency.

General Overviews

Novelists from this period can be considered pioneers in that they were the first to develop long fictional narratives in Haiti. But they were hardly original in their aesthetic choices. Critics such as Gouraige, Pompilus, and Berrou have grouped these writers into two main schools. The Romantic school was dominated by Emeric Bergeaud, Demesvar Delorme, and Louis J. Janvier. In transition to the 20th century, the National school was dominated by Frédéric Marcelin, Fernand Hibbert, Justin Lhérisson, Antoine Innocent, Jules Domingues, and Amédée Brun. This National school was also called the “generation of La Ronde,” named after the journal that brought them together around 1898. Although some of the novels attributed to these schools were published in the early 20th century, they also seemed relevant to the general panorama of the 19th-century Haitian novel by the themes they addressed. In addition, certain forms they employed were deeply rooted in either the Romantic or the realist traditions. Most critical approaches to the 19th-century Haitian novel tended to be descriptive, focusing on anecdotal or formal aspects, while ignoring the larger sociocultural realm. Some important exceptions do exist: Pompilus 1961 provides a general context and abundant examples, although his critical stance is descriptive. Trouillot 1962 offers one of the first solid socio-critical studies of this period. Dash 1981 and Hoffman 1982 offer the best overviews of the period by undertaking readings informed by literary as well as sociopolitical considerations.

  • Dash, J. M. Literature and Ideology in Haiti, 1915–1961. Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble, 1981.

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    This is an admirable critical survey of 20th-century Haitian literature. The introduction, nevertheless, offers some of the most intelligent and useful reviews of 19th-century Haitian literature. The author’s discussion of the generation of La Ronde is particularly useful to understand the sociocultural context in which these authors produced their work.

  • Hoffmann, Léon-François. Le roman Haitien: Idéologie et structure. Sherbrooke, Quebec: Editions Naaman, 1982.

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    This is a comprehensive review of the Haitian novel, from its origins to the 1980s. Instead of following generations of authors and successions of schools, Hoffmann adopts a synchronic approach that organizes novels and authors around key problems: the idea of a national novel in a postcolonial setting, the problems of readership, and the challenges of distribution.

  • Pompilus, Pradel. Manuel illustré d’histoire de la littérature Haïtienne. Port-au-Prince: H. Deschamps, 1961.

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    This is a useful and well-known panorama of Haitian literary history. Although its critical approach now seems dated, the book contains abundant information on 19th-century writers and movements. It also includes extensive quotes from hard-to-find texts, along with several interesting plates.

  • Trouillot, Hénock. Les origines sociales de la littérature Haïtienne. Port-au-Prince: Impr. N.A. Théodore, 1962.

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    Differs from most books on the topic by addressing literature from a socio-critical perspective. Rather than describing aesthetic currents and novels, Trouillot opts for a discussion of the historical and political forces that shaped Haitian literature. Eddy Arnold Jean criticized Trouillot’s reading of the 19th century, accusing him of noirisme, the Haitian brand of negritude (see Jean and Fièvre 1987, pp. 14–15, under Literary Histories and Critical Essays).

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