Bridging the gap in French romantic representations of blackness 1750-1880 : the male mulatto in French literature
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This dissertation traces the evolution of the male mulatto in literature from his appearance in the early nineteenth century to his sudden disappearance in the late 1880's. In this dissertation I argue that the literary image of le mul?�tre heralds the end of sentimental depictions of black masculinity in the late eighteenth century and anticipates the more complex and dynamic images of blackness that will be explored in the early twentieth century. French writers in the eighteenth century were fascinated with human diversity and committed to the concept of the "universal." As France established a thriving slave trade, the interest in human diversity naturally became connected with the ethics of slavery: if the concept of universal man was indeed accurate, how could one justify enslaving others? This train of thought resulted in a new form of literature that was very popular among the French salons of the Enlightenment: la litterature negrophile. Initiated by Antoine LaPlace's 1745 French translation of Aphra Behn's novel Ooronoko, enthusiasts of negrophile literature created a fiction that represented black individuals as noble, handsome or intelligent; however, they were devoid of personal agency. This changed with the Saint-Domingue Revolution in 1791. For the first time, black individuals were seen as political actors who could and would claim agency for themselves. As French Romanticism flourished in the nineteenth century, another black figure came on the literary scene: the male mulatto. Seen as necessarily the child of a white father and black mother, the mulatto was the ultimate rebel; he combined African savagery, blood lust and sensuality with the intelligent sophistication of the white race. The African, excluded from the Hegelian concept of history, could not be portrayed as a person of agency. The mulatto, connected through his white father to the history of France, was could claim political and personal agency. In the works that I examine in this dissertation, I explore how writer
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