Narratives of the French Empire
Fiction, Nostalgia, and Imperial Rivalries, 1784 to the Present
This study interrogates how the French empire was imagined in three literary representations of French colonialism: the conquest of Tahiti, and the established colonial systems in Martinique and in India. The study is the first in either English or French to demonstrate that representations of power relations, as well as the broader discourses with which they were linked, were as closely concerned with probing the similarities and differences of rival European colonial systems as they were with reinforcing their imagined superiority over the colonized, and that such power relations should not be conceptualized as a dualistic categorization of 'colonizer' versus 'colonized'. In doing so, it aims to go beyond examining the interaction between colonized and colonizer, or between colonial centre and periphery, and to interrogate instead the circulation of ideas and practices across different sites of European colonialism, drawing attention to a historical complexity which has been neglected in the necessary race to recover voices previously occluded from academic analysis. In exploring how the notion of the French empire overseas was construed and how it was infused with meaning at three different historical moments, 1784, 1835 and 1938, it demonstrates how precarious the French empire was perceived to be, in terms of both European rivalry and resistance from the colonized, and how the rhetoric of a French colonisation douce was pitted against the inscribed excesses of the more powerful British empire. Rather than employing the sorts of recuperative agenda which focus on how the colonized were elided (viz., Subaltern Studies) or on the writings of the formerly colonized (viz., Francophone Studies), the study concerns itself specifically with how French colonialism and imperialism were perceived, and thus offers a further corrective to any generalizations about European colonialism and imperialism. More particularly, by examining how the representational strategy of nostalgia is used in these texts, the study demonstrates how perceived loss, and nostalgia for an imperial past, played a role in dynamically shaping the French colonial enterprise across its various manifestations.
Kate Marsh is Reader in French historical studies at the University of Liverpool. She is a specialist in French colonial history and her research focuses principally on French metropolitan representations of colonialism and on the rivalries and collusions between competing European colonial powers. She is the author of two monographs on the colonial relationship between France and India, Fictions of 1947: Representations of Indian Decolonization 1919-62, and India in the French Imagination: Peripheral Voices, 1754-1815.
"This scholarly but readable account affords an original and perceptive understanding of cultural and literary manifestations of the vagaries associated with the French colonialist adventure, focusing on Tahiti, India and Martinique. Kate Marsh's book is invaluable not just for its survey of the methodological complexities surrounding such an undertaking, but also for its evaluation of how the French contrasted their colonial system with those of other colonial powers." -- Martyn Cornick, University of Birmingham "In this important new study, Kate Marsh takes a transnational approach to colonial and Francophone studies, analyzing three distinct literary texts over three centuries. She demonstrates convincingly that our understanding of empire must include the interactions of different imperial formations-specifically, the ways in which French colonialism compared itself to that of other European nations, notably Britain. Focusing on islands and colonial outposts rather than the great colonies of Africa and Asia, Marsh gives us a new portrait of France's colonial empire, one in which expansive power, comparative inadequacy, and moral superiority intertwine. Narratives of the French Empire is a must-read not only for those interested in the literature and history of the French colonialism, but equally for those concerned with culture, transnationalism, and the making of the modern world." -- Tyler Stovall, University of California, Berkeley "Marsh takes three novels from three distinct periods (1784, 1835, 1938) and through close, astute readings that are refreshingly attentive to both narrative strategies, historical circumstance and a range of discursive practices, she provides significant insights into French colonial anxieties caused by imperial rivalries. Raising the question of how empire was imagined, Marsh scrupulously probes three moments, three novels-each inflected with a fiction of nostalgia, each acting as a crucible within which competing imperial strategies were tested and assessed. Narratives of the French Empire re-adjusts our thinking on French colonial self-fashioning and provides a welcome and nuanced assessment of an imperial trajectory which, as Marsh so persuasively argues, continues to persist within contemporary France. This utterly convincing book is an exemplary realization of the interdisciplinary ideal and a model for future practice." -- Patrick Crowley, University College Cork