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19 - Colonial Encounters in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

from Part III - After the Revolution: The Novel in the Long Nineteenth Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 February 2021

Adam Watt
University of Exeter
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From Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Paul et Virginie (1788) to colonial literature at the end of the ‘long’ nineteenth century, the French novel is marked by the experience of colonialism. It responds to anxieties about individual and national identity as well as about its own generic proximity to scientific narratives, oriental tales and travel writing. Many nineteenth-century novels use colonial love plots in which the – almost always doomed – relationships are situated along an axis stretching from incest, real or symbolic, at one extreme, to racial mixing or miscegenation at the other. The first half of the century also sees novels dealing with political themes in the form of slavery, revolution, or inter-colonial rivalry. In the later decades of the century the novel responds to the rise of scientific racialism and, after 1870, to national anxieties about decadence and the birth rate: colonialism is generally held up as a source of renewal and national re-energisation, though some writers reflect anxiety about cultural and racial mixing in the colonies. French colonial literature seeks to justify itself in theoretical writing, hampered by a sense of inauthenticity compared to its British imperial rival, and frequently tempted towards ironic self-deprecation or doubt.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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Further Reading

Ashcroft, Bill, Griffiths, Gareth and Tiffin, Helen, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures (London and New York: Routledge, 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brantlinger, Patrick, Victorian Literature and Postcolonial Studies (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Citti, Pierre, Contre la décadence (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1987)Google Scholar
Girardet, Raoul, L’Idée coloniale en France de 1871 à 1962 (Paris: La Table ronde, 1986)Google Scholar
Hoffmann, Léon-François, Le Nègre romantique (Paris: Payot, 1973)Google Scholar
Kapor, Vladimir, Le Grand Prix de littérature coloniale, 1921–1938: lauréats, jugements, controverses (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2018)Google Scholar
Loutfi, Martine Astier, Littérature et colonialisme: l’expansion coloniale vue dans la littérature romanesque française 1871–1914 (Paris and The Hague: Mouton, 1971)Google Scholar
Marsh, Kate, Narratives of the French Empire: Fiction, Nostalgia, and Imperial Rivalries, 1784 to the Present (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014)Google Scholar
Moura, Jean-Marc, ‘Littérature coloniale et exotisme: examen d’une opposition de la théorie littéraire coloniale’, in Regards sur les littératures coloniales, t. 1, Afrique francophone: découvertes, ed. by Durand, Jean-François (Paris: L’Harmattan: 2000), pp. 2139Google Scholar
Prasad, Pratima, Colonialism, Race, and the French Romantic Imagination (London and New York: Routledge, 2009)Google Scholar
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Seillan, Jean-Marie, ‘Littératures coloniales et contraintes génériques’, Les Cahiers de la S.I.E.L.E.C., 6 (2010), 2850Google Scholar
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