In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Antislavery Narratives

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Primary Sources
  • English Translations
  • Race and Identity
  • Del Monte
  • Francisco

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Latin American Studies Antislavery Narratives
William Luis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0066


The antislavery narratives refer to a group of works written in Cuba during the late 1830s under the tutelage of Domingo del Monte, Cuba’s most important literary promoter of the century. A member of the prestigious Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, Del Monte daringly proposed an Academia Cubana de Literatura, which Spain’s maximum colonial authority in Cuba, Captain General Tacón, suppressed. Instead, Del Monte organized a literary circle from his home, first in Matanzas and later in Havana, where he shared his voluminous library with writer friends and instructed them to write a Cuban-style literature that included, for the first time, the black slave. The antislavery works did not promote violence. Rather, they engaged the reader to question the brutal slavery system and side not with the white master but with the defenseless black slave. These works include those by slave poet Juan Francisco Manzano’s Autobiografía (written in 1835); Anselmo Suárez y Romero’s novel Francisco (written in 1839); Félix Tanco y Bosmeniel’s short stories Escenas de la vida privada en la Isla de Cuba (written in 1838); and Cirilo Villaverde’s Cecilia Valdés (the original edition was written in 1839; the definitive edition was completed in 1882). Though mild by today’s standards, the antislavery narratives could not be published in Cuba during the time of writing and represented a threat to the island’s sugarocracy. To these works we add Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda’s Sab (1841). She was not a member of the Del Monte circle, but while living in Spain she wrote a novel with antislavery sentiments.

Introductory Works

There are a few full-length studies that focus on the antislavery narrative. Luis 1990 provides information about this important period and the works and studies of the slave figure during slavery, after the abolition of slavery, in the republic, and during the revolution. Williams 1994 studies the same theme but limits the scope to the 19th century. Articles such as Bueno 1988, Friol 1968, and Luis 1981 provide historical and literary context for the antislavery nature of these narratives. Williams 2000 concentrates on the sexual representation of the black and mulatto female character during the antislavery period but also in the 20th century.

  • Bueno, Salvador. “La narrativa antiesclavista en Cuba.” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 451–452 (1988):169–186.

    Useful discussion of the early works that define the antislavery narrative. Corrects misconception of the time in which Manzano wrote his autobiography and situates this work as a precursor of the antislavery narratives.

  • Cobb, Martha K. “The Slave Narrative and the Black Literary Tradition.” In The Art of Slave Narrative: Original Essays in Criticism and Theory. Edited by John Sekora and Darwin T. Turner, 36–44. Macomb: Western Illinois University Press, 1982.

    Comparative study of writings of Manzano with those of Frederick Douglass and Olaudah Equiano.

  • Del Monte, Domingo. “Dos poetas negros: Plácido y Manzano.” In Escritos de Domingo del Monte. Vol. 2. Edited by José A. Fernández de Castro, 149–150. Havana, Cuba: Cultural, 1929.

    Originally published in 1845, discusses the works of Manzano and Plácido. Given Manzano’s slave condition, Del Monte claims that Manzano was the better poet.

  • Friol, Roberto. “La novela cubana en el siglo XIX.” Unión, La Habana 6.4 (1968): 178–207.

    Traces the origins of the Cuban novel, which includes the antislavery narrative.

  • Luis, William. “La novela antiesclavista: Texto, contexto y escritura.” Cuadernos Americanos 236.3 (1981): 103–116.

    Takes into account the context of the antislavery novels.

  • Luis, William. Literary Bondage: Slavery in Cuban Narrative. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990.

    Provides a periodization of the antislavery narratives, from their inception in the 19th century up to the 1980s. In the early period Luis concentrates on the Del Monte group and the writings associated with his literary circle.

  • Schulman, Ivan. “The Portrait of the Slave: Ideology and Aesthetics in the Cuban Antislavery Novel.” Annals of the New York Academy of Science 292.1 (1977): 356–367.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1977.tb47756.x

    Supports realism and the author’s strategies to avoid censorship.

  • Williams, Claudette. Charcoal and Cinnamon: The Politics of Color in Spanish Caribbean Literature. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2000.

    Discusses the changing role of black and mulatto women in Cuban literature portrayed through a European lens.

  • Williams, Lorna V. The Representation of Slavery in Cuban Fiction. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994.

    Studies the works of Manzano, Gómez de Avellaneda, and Suárez y Romero, then adds Antonio Zambrana y Vásquez’s El negro Francisco (Havana, Cuba: Letras Cubanas, 1978) and Martín Morúa Delgado’s Sofía (Barcelona: Linkgua Ediciones, 2009), and all articulate an emerging discourse. Lacks bibliography.

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