Daniel Desormeaux (ed.), Mémoires du général Toussaint Louverture. Toussaint Louverture. Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2011. 237 pp. (Paper €29.00)

in New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids

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This book offers various gates to enter into Toussaint Louverture’s universe, almost imposing a nonlinear reading. After the foreword, which is mainly Desormeaux’s tribute to Haitians and foreigners who paved the way for his research (especially Saint-Remy to whom the book is dedicated), you reach a long and rich introduction recalling the genesis of Toussaint Louverture’s “memoirs,” their fortunes, and their place in the typology of the genre. It is a work of great erudition written in a language free of academic jargon, although pedantic sometimes, as if the author, fascinated by the mass of accumulated information, wanted at any cost to impose his voice as Master. Desormeaux uses both poetics and history (literary or political), both military art and philosophy to evaluate the first edition of the memoirs by Saint-Remy (incorrectly spelled Saint-Rémy). At the same time, he justifies the value of his own volume, which gives the full text of the fourth and final manuscript, “Memoir for the General Toussaint Louverture,”1 with an elaborate critical apparatus. In addition, an annex, almost devoid of notes, offers a diplomatic transcription of the first manuscript handwritten by Louverture himself. This first state of the louverturian text is followed by the “Journal of General Caffarelli,” which includes a summary of Caffarelli’s interrogations of Toussaint, at the express request of Napoleon. These twenty rather factual pages contextualize, up to a point, the imprisonment of the Man of Breda at Fort de Joux in 1802. In his introduction, Desormeaux decisively establishes the authenticity and historical value of all four manuscripts of the memoirs. On this last point, it is important to quote his detailed (though brief) description of the four documents of which the originals are in the Archives Nationales (AN) and Archives Nationales d’outre-mer (ANOM), call numbers AN, AF / IV / 1213 and ANOM, EE1734:2

By Memoirs (in plural, with a capital “M”), I mean all four complete handwritten versions, with some variations, of the “official” account of Toussaint of his reign in Saint-Domingue: a manuscript written entirely by Toussaint himself (which is the original), a second written in French by someone else, but dictated by Toussaint, which contains several deletions and annotations in the margins by Toussaint, a third written entirely by another scribe which includes some erasures and a note by Toussaint at the end, and a fourth impeccably copied by somebody but with the same note at the end (which leads us to assume that it is the final version officially submitted to the First Consul).

pp. 15–16

This elegant definition of a corpus by itself reflects a book rich in methodology and teaching. Despite some unfortunate typos (negligence of the publisher, we guess) it is already a classic of our literatures.

Finally, we must note that between Desormeaux’s introduction and Toussaint Louverture’s text, three pages of “chronological and biographical benchmarks of Toussaint’s life” are inserted, mainly for a general audience, which we can skip or read with interest to refresh our memory or to have a general idea of this historical period. This latter task is made easier by the “Index of names” that allows us to quickly find the footnotes on the main actors of the Haitian Revolution, or essayists who have contributed information on Toussaint Louverture and his work since the nineteenth century. These biographical notices are of unequal value. Some are much more developed than others; some include the sources that support them, while others do not; and a couple of them only repeat the doxa on the actors of 1804. For the most part they offer new perspectives, if not new knowledge, on the Haitian Revolution. This lack of uniformity is a consequence of the unequal state of development of historical knowledge on different characters and events. But the fact remains that all these notes bring us a great body of knowledge that this author of writings such as La Figure du bibliomane: histoire du livre et stratégie littéraire au XIXe siècle has been able to dig up for our delight. Chapeau, Desormeaux!

References

Desormeaux, Daniel, 2001. La Figure du bibliomane: Histoire du livre et stratégie littéraire au XIXème siècle. Paris: Librairie Nizet.

Toussaint Louverture, 1853. Mémoires du général Toussaint-Louverture, écrits par lui-même, pouvant servir à l’histoire de sa vie …: Précédés d’une étude historique et critique … avec un appendice contenant les opinions de l’empereur Napoléon 1er sur les événements de Saint-Domingue, par Saint-Remy (des Cayes, Haïti). Paris: Pagnerre, libraire-éditeur. [Orig. 1802.] http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5470300x.r=.langEN.

I have italicized here in order to highlight the difference established by Desormeaux between this text dictated by Toussaint Louverture to a scribe, “Jeannin Secrétaire de la place du château de Joux,” (as he calls himself in a letter to Isaac Louverture [pp. 213–14]), and the manuscript entitled, “Mémoire du général Toussaint Louverture,” written in Toussaint’s hand.

Three of these manuscripts are available, with an introductory note by Philippe R. Girard, in the online journal Annales; see http://annales.ehess.fr/index.php?283 (consulted June 13, 2013).

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Daniel Desormeaux (ed.), Mémoires du général Toussaint Louverture. Toussaint Louverture. Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2011. 237 pp. (Paper €29.00)

in New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids

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