Monthly Archives: March 2015

This Academic Life – March

This month has been pretty much dominated by Salon du Livre preparations and the event itself, which was fantastic. It was extremely valuable to discuss my work on Zobel during a public debate with key cultural figures who are also interested in him from Martinique and France. You know it has been a good discussion when, unprompted, a member of the audience asks if they can take the microphone and respond to the comments we were making!

This represented a real leap forward for my work to change the public understanding of Joseph Zobel and Caribbean literature more generally. My Round Table comments drew some very positive and helpful feedback, and I’m now in the final stages of planning more research and public engagement activities in Martinique…

I’ve included the write-up of my Salon du Livre activities which appeared on the University of Birmingham news pages below:

Paris Book Fair

Louise Hardwick was an invited speaker at the prestigious Paris Book Fair this weekend, and participated in a Round Table debate on Joseph Zobel’s legacy.

The debate was organised by the Ministry for Overseas France in collaboration with a French group of cultural advisors, museum curators, writers, artists and academics who are working on Joseph Zobel. The event was a major milestone in Louise’s programme of activities in the UK, France, Martinique and the USA as an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellow.

At the Round Table, Louise spoke alongside Professor Romuald Fonkoua from the Sorbonne, artist Roland Monpierre who has just launched a graphic novel adaptation of one of Zobel’s novels, and members of the Zobel family, Jenny Zobel and Charlotte Zobel, who are actively involved in exploring Joseph Zobel’s legacy.

Louise discussed her current AHRC-funded research project on Zobel, which will lead to a complete reassessment of Zobel’s many novels, short stories, poetry and other cultural output (including painting, sculpture and radio broadcasts), giving rise to a more complete understanding of the impact of this prolific author who played a major cultural role in Martinique, Senegal and France.

The French Minister for Overseas France, George Pau-Langevin, was present in the audience, as was the President of the Martinican Cultural Commission, Yvette Galot, who praised the Round Table debate for improving the public understanding of Zobel’s significance, commenting that “it is essential to continue this vital work on Zobel’s heritage.”

Zobel’s best-known novel La Rue Cases-Nègres and its film adaptation Sugar Cane Alley by Euzhan Palcy are both widely studied across the Anglophone world, from the USA to Australia. Euzhan Palcy, who is based in New York, and Martinican Head of Museums Lyne-Rose Beuze were also present at the Salon du Livre, and provided their invaluable perspectives on Zobel’s legacy.

Tweet Tweet @ZobelProject

I would like to extend my warmest thanks to the Zobel family for these images of our Round Table on Joseph Zobel!

The lively debate led to great feedback from the audience, which included members of  the public, Martinique officials and the French Minister for Overseas Territories, George Pau-Langevin.

Salon du Livre Louise Table ronde Salon du Livre Table ronde

The Joseph Zobel Project is now live on Twitter, and I’ve been tweeting highlights from my Salon du Livre experience, with more to come over the weekend.

Follow the latest developments at @ZobelProject

Preparing for Paris

This week, I’m heading to Paris to speak at the Paris Salon du Livre (Paris Book Fair).

The Salon du Livre is a fantastic cultural event which brings together leading authors from all over the world who write in French and other languages, for five days of debates and talks.

I’ll be speaking as part of a Round Table on Joseph Zobel alongside colleagues from the Sorbonne, authors, and members of Zobel’s family… more to follow next week!

In other news, my colleagues at the University of Nottingham have kindly added my blog post on Joseph Zobel and WW1 to their website:

Yarico: a New Musical about Slavery

flowerI’m working on a longer version of this blog post for a scholarly publication – more details to come!

A new musical which explores slavery and its legacy has just announced that its opening run in London will be extended. Yarico tells the story of a beautiful Amerindian woman whose English lover betrays her and sells her into slavery. But the tale is actually centuries old, and has undergone several transformations.

The original account of Yarico dates from 1657 and was recounted in The True and Exact History of Barbados by Richard Ligon. Despite the work’s title, it is impossible to ascertain whether Ligon’s story was indeed ‘true’, but it struck a chord in the popular imagination. The story was retold in 1711 by Richard Steele in issue number 11 of the Spectator, and Steele’s article reached a wide audience on both sides of the Atlantic.

The cultural significance of the story was such that it was turned into an 18th Century comic opera Inkle and Yarico, by George Colman, which was performed first at the Haymarket theatre in 1787. The foreword to Colman’s opera draws attention to its significance for the anti-slavery movement, suggesting that the drama “might remove from Mr Wilberforce his aversion to theatrical exhibitions […] it is one of those plays which is independent of time, of place, of circumstance, for its value.” Indeed, as the programme for the 2015 musical reminds us, the story was an important cultural tool in promoting the abolition of slavery.

Yarico has garnered several column inches focusing not only on the musical, but also on its producers, Jodie Kidd, and her father John. The model was raised in Barbados, and there is considerable Barbadian involvement in the project to rediscover Yarico.

Slavery and Resistance

Yarico explores the themes of love, sex, gender roles, money, enslavement and colonial exploitation. In the first act, Yarico saves Inkle’s life when her village votes to put him to death. The comedic potential of the relationships between the female Amerindians Yarico and Nono, and the male Europeans Inkle and Cicero, is fully developed, just as in Colman’s 1787 opera. In scenes straight out of a teen drama, the nascent couples flirt, blush and wonder how to communicate with each other, and turn to their best friends to vent their feelings of attraction, angst and frustration. This goes a long way to ‘de-exoticisng’ the plot, making the characters familiar and likeable, and underscoring the timelessness of love and attraction.

From the end of the first act, however, when Yarico is sold at a slave market, the musical explores more serious themes in an uncompromising manner. From this point onwards, it walks a tightrope between depicting the horror of slavery, and showing the flame of resistance. This recalls the Caribbean author Daniel Maximin’s famous comment that “the story of slavery is also the story of the resistance of slavery”. And resistance, and the hope that springs from it, provide a counterbalance to the tragic treatment of Yarico after Inkle’s betrayal. In her professional debut, newcomer Liberty Buckland’s assured and nuanced performance ensures that Yarico retains her dignity throughout her enslavement. Nonetheless, slavery’s violence and inhumanity become prominent as the musical develops.

True to the spirit of resistance running throughout, the musical’s climax is a slave revolt, which is a modern addition not present in previous versions. This ending offers Inkle a chance of redemption, as (spoiler alert) his final act of bravery allows Yarico to escape from Barbados with their son.

Some Thoughts on the 2015 Adaptation

dice yaricoIn Yarico, Inkle atones for his previous life of vice as a gambling addict: the addiction which, in the musical, leads to Yarico’s enslavement.

This is another nod to Colman, although his opera’s treatment of the addiction of humans to money contains a more blatant condemnation of the opportunities offered by colonialism for capitalists to accumulate wealth and climb the social ladder.

In Colman’s 1787 Inkle and Yarico, Inkle must choose between his love for Yarico and an arranged marriage with Narcissa, the daughter of Sir Christopher Curry, a union which will guarantee Inckle status and riches.

Colman satirizes Inkle’s relentless pursuit of wealth. When Inkle infoms Yarico that he is leaving her, he comments that the cultural differences between them are too great: rather than being born to hunt for wild animals and live off the land, Ickle tells a dismayed Yarico that “we Christians, girl, hunt money”. Coleman also engineers a redemptive moment for Inkle: at the opera’s climax, Sir Christopher, who has learned of Inckle’s cowardice and betrayal of Yarico, demands that Inckle explain himself. At this, Inckle repeats his father’s mantra that “men now lived for themselves”, and that the age of charity and compassion had given way to one of self-interest and profit. Under duress from Sir Christopher – Narcissa has fortunately found a more suitable match in the meantime – Inckle repents and agrees to commit to Yarico, and a happy ending ensues as the two are wed.

Although the 2015 musical does not grant Yarico this happy ending, the gambling sub-plot similarly underscores Inkle’s addiction to the pursuit of wealth. This does, however, mean that the theme of social mobility through colonial speculation is not highlighted in the way it was in 1787. In the musical, Inkle’s moment of gambling weakness is a personal, irresponsible flaw, rather than a cold, calculated decision to sell the woman he loves into slavery to get her out of the way because a woman with better social prospects is within his grasp. As such, the new adaptation loses some of the searing social commentary of Colman’s opera. Nonetheless, speculating on the colonies is likened to gambling at several points, and the wider point – on the immorality of the ruthless pursuit of profit – prevails.

Perhaps the most significant feature of the modernised Yarico is the female lead’s agency in her own survival. Previous Yaricos were the stereotypical beautiful, innocent victims of male deception and scheming – the rhyming potential of Yarico and woe was a gift to poets – but in 2015, Yarico is supported by the wider slave community and fights her way to freedom, a powerful message.

This is just the beginning of the Yarico adventure, and the project will be one to watch for all those with an interest in dramatic arts and the Caribbean.

I’m working on a longer version of this blog post for a scholarly publication – more details to come!

Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean

hardwick-childhood-caribbean161x240I’m currently working on a book on Joseph Zobel, and as those ideas take form, I’ve been blogging about some of the directions I’ll take. If you’re interested in this, take a look at the pages on Ecocriticism and WW1 and the French Caribbean.

But what sparked my interest in Joseph Zobel?

I wrote an AHRC-funded doctoral thesis at the University of Oxford, which I then adapted into the book Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean which was published in 2013. In this project, I discussed récits d’enfance, or childhood narratives, by a range of authors, including Zobel. In the scope of this project, I examined La Rue Cases-Nègres, La Fête à Paris (later republished as Quand la neige aura fondu) and Laghia de la mort.

So if you’re looking for academic criticism of Zobel which has already been published, here’s the write-up of that book:

Louise Hardwick, Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013)

The book  draws attention to a neglected body of récits d’enfance by contemporary bestselling, prize-winning Francophone Caribbean authors Patrick Chamoiseau, Maryse Condé, Gisèle Pineau, Daniel Maximin, Raphaël Confiant and Dany Laferrière, while also offering new readings of texts by Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Edouard Glissant, Joseph Zobel, Françoise Ega, Michèle Lacrosil, Maurice Virassamy and Mayotte Capécia.

This book examines a major modern turn in Francophone Caribbean literature towards the récit d’enfance, or childhood memoir, and asks why this occurred post-1990. Texts are read in the context of recent changes in public policy and education policy concerning the commemoration of slavery and colonialism both in France and at a global level, including the UNESCO project ‘La Route de l’esclave’, the ‘loi Taubira’ and the ‘Comité pour la mémoire de l’esclavage’.

The study proposes an innovative methodological paradigm with which to read postcolonial childhoods in a comparative framework from areas as diverse as the Caribbean, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and particularly the Haitian diaspora in North America.

Find out about my other recent publications at:

Reviews of Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean

Childhood, Autobiography and the Francophone Caribbean is the first book-length study of a remarkable literary phenomenon that emerged in the last decade of the twentieth century in the French Antilles and Haiti – the autobiographical narrative. Louise Hardwick expertly analyses this relatively understudied genre which uses childhood narrative in as much a politically as an aesthetically subversive manner. Her clear, meticulous and informed study reveals the ways in which these narratives of childhood, driven by a devoir de mémoire, relate individual memory to collective identity. This is a welcome critical work that makes a major contribution to francophone as well as to postcolonial literary studies.   Professor J. Michael Dash, New York University

… a study that is a pleasure to read … Hardwick’s meticulous research, balanced approach and lucid prose merit serious consideration from specialists of the region. Professor Françoise Lionnet, University of California Los Angeles

In an impressive series of close readings, Louise Hardwick analyses the genre of autobiographical childhood narratives … These innovative readings constitute the volume’s tour de force: in inaugurating the critical field of récits d’enfance studies, it renews our approaches to Francophone Caribbean literature in general. Dr Malik Noël-Ferdinand, Université des Antilles-Guyane

Louise Hardwick’s excellent study is a most welcome contribution to the field … With its beautiful style and pedagogical structure, it is a didactic masterpiece. Dr Christina Kullberg, Uppsala University, Sweden