Sugar turns to cotton: French retellings of the Haitian revolution and the American Civil War Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 21, 2019
  • Matthews, Helen Camp
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Romance Studies
  • This dissertation argues that an outpouring of French literature based on the American Civil War (1861-1865), fought under the Second Empire of Napoleon III, belongs to the same cultural legacy as the French textual response to the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), fought under the First Empire of Napoleon. In my study, I demonstrate that the narrative and thematic currents of these two bodies of literature reveal parallel struggles of racial, social, and national repositioning, and that France's popular interest in the American Civil War reflects a reconciliation with and confrontation of its own historical investment in the institutions of colony and slavery. From the Haitian Revolution to the American Civil War, such works prioritize different visual means of representation through the often hybrid genres of historical fiction, biography, and travel narrative. Chapter 1, Sugar Turns to Cotton, establishes the French Imperial and public relationships to the Haitian Revolution and the American Civil War, particularly concerning print culture under the Napoleonic Empires. Chapter 2, Fiction and History, explores the breadth of popular historical fiction on the topic of both wars. Chapter 3, Biographies of Louverture and Lincoln, focuses on the links between biography and portraiture in texts from both Empires describing the lives of abolitionist figures in the Americas. Chapter 4, Travel Narrative and the American Eyewitness, demonstrates the privileged position of the eyewitness in nineteenth-century travel literature, both in the publishing market and in the portrayal of complex social strata in the Americas. In these works of fiction, biography, and travel narrative, the events of the Haitian Revolution and the American Civil War provided a backdrop against which many French authors projected a collective French experience through the ever-changing social and political landscape of the nineteenth century.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Fisher, Dominique D.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2012

This work has no parents.