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Abstract

In 1952 Suzanne Césaire, Martinican theoretician, essayist, and wife of National Assemblyman and cultural leader Aimé Césaire, wrote and produced a play titled Aurore de la liberté (“The Dawn of Liberty”) about the Martinican slave revolts that resulted in the end to slavery on the island on May 23, 1848. Having access to no historical account of these events, Suzanne Césaire made liberal use of an 1890 English-language novel by the Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn —Youma: The Story of a West-Indian Slave. In different eras, for different audiences, in different genres and languages, both Hearn and Césaire thus used the power of literary representation to bring history alive for markedly different intents. This article examines the meanings of these representations of the May 1848 slave rebellions for their contexts and explores the intriguing absence of the May 1848 dates from official history for over 100 years. It studies the ways in which both Hearn’s and Césaire’s literary productions reappropriate the acts of the rebelling slaves for their own—1890 and 1952—contexts.

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