Looking at the Colonial Atlantic, Ironically: Slavery and the Idea of Africa in Eugène Sue’s Atar-Gull


This article explores the ideological implications of representations of the colonial Atlantic in Eugène Sue’s 1831 novel Atar-Gull. This pioneering work of sea fiction recounts the calculated revenge enacted by an enslaved African against his master. Though Sue is most remembered for the “sentimental socialism” of Les Mystères de Paris (1842–43), Atar-Gullseethes with a scathing irony that has prevented its straightforward interpretation as an abolitionist text. This study examines the interplay between the novel’s irony, the plot’s transatlantic geography, and a web of intertextual rewritings that draw most notably from travel accounts by eighteenth-century naturalist François Levaillant and from Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir. My approach borrows from Philippe Hamon’s conception of novelistic irony as “oblique writing.” I argue that what at stake in Atar-Gull is less the specific issue of slavery than the very epistemological foundations upon which Europe has traditionally asserted its superiority over Africa.

Clint Bruce
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