Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


French Studies

Document Type



The nineteenth-century Francophone literatures of Haiti and Louisiana are often dismissed as pale imitations of literary trends in metropolitan France. This study revisits these literatures and explores how Creole writers used borrowed ideas and imitated styles to assemble "relational" Creole identities. Two interrelated spiritual practices-the mid-century craze for "table turning" commonly known as modern Spiritualism, and the syncretistic New World religion Vodou-structured these writers' mimetic methods, enabling them to speak as, and thereby subvert the hegemony of, their cultural forebears. In France, the mid-century interest in Spiritualism provided French fantastic literature with a useful system for producing the many "revenants" that populate fantastic fiction. These tales also reveal Spiritualism's larger role as a model for trans-Atlantic cultural production, and demonstrate metropolitan anxiety about the exotic colonial Other. In a similar way, Victor Hugo, confronted by the destabilizing possibility of a polyvocal au-delà, found it necessary to defend his singular visionary genius from the polluting voices of the spirits. In Louisiana, Spiritualism gave free-black poets a tool to channel and challenge the voices of their literary heroes in France. In the mouths of these Creole copyists, the singular Romantic subjectivity that Hugo sought to defend became splintered and distorted, allowing them to construct a hybrid identity by adopting calqued literary voices. In a similar way the Haitian Vodou adept served as a vessel for the diverse deities that displaced his or her personality. Haiti's mimetic literature plays on the Vodou ritual practice of possession as it copies European models. Thus what Jean Price-Mars famously described as Haiti's literary Bovarism is better understood as a nascent literary hybridity. The Spiritualist séance and the Vodou ceremony enabled adepts to harness the power and authority of the great figures of Western culture by exploiting the portability of their voices. In this way, the nineteenth-century literatures of Francophone Haiti and Louisiana are not pale imitations of Hugo and other French models; they are failed imitations--copies that deviate from their models in order to open up a space for a provisional, relational Creole identity.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Nathaniel Wing