The Haitian Revolution was the first successful slave revolt in history. And even though Haiti declared independence from France in 1804, most French civilization textbooks do not include this important event. From an economic standpoint, France depended on its imports from Saint-Domingue (Haiti's pre-revolutionary name); and from a philosophical standpoint, the slave revolt in Saint-Domingue originated from ideas that came from French philosophers preaching the Rights of Man. Studying the Haitian Revolution within the context of the French Revolution provides a perspective that highlights the complex relationship between France and its colonies as well as religion's displaced role after 1789. While France tried to rid the country of anything religious, its rebirth still had references to its Christian past. Two French works, Victor Hugo's Bug-Jargal and Alphonse de Lamartine's play, Toussaint Louverture, can provide great insight into these two sides of France-the religious and the secular. Both take place in Saint-Domingue during its Revolution, and both not only include a different perspective on the French and Haitian Revolutions, but also expose events that French history books routinely omit. In Hugo's Bug-Jargal, one main character and hero of the book is the eponymous slave. He is represented as a Christ-like figure: a slave of royal birth that sacrifices himself to save others on many occasions. The French hero, d'Auverney comes to realize that he shares more values with this slave than with the French people around him. Corrupt French officials, rebel leaders, and heroic slaves surround d'Auverney and the he must choose which set of beliefs and values best align with his own. His friendship with Bug-Jargal surprises him, and teaches him the importance of loyalty to a personal code of honor rather than to a country or society. The characters in the novella reflect a number of ways of thinking following the Revolution. The novella features nostalgia for the past and also confusion about France's new identity. In Lamartine's Toussaint Louverture, Toussaint relies on religion as he looks to God and past prophets for inspiration and motivation. He believes in sacrificing everything for his country. The contrasting characters symbolize the New France and follow a new god, Napoleon, and focus on reading, writing, and money. All the characters must pick a side: France or Haiti. Lamartine's narrative articulates the rupture between a secular France and a Catholic one.
College and Department
Humanities; French and Italian
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Stone, Irene Joyce Kim, "Remembering the Haitian Revolution Through French Texts: Victor Hugo's Bug-Jargal and Alphonse de Lamartine's Toussaint Louverture" (2013). Theses and Dissertations. 3893.
Saint-Domingue Revolution, Bug-Jargal, Toussaint Louverture, Les Deux France, Teaching the French Revolution