Bug-Jargal by Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo, Bug-Jargal, trans. Charles Wilbour, 1866, Carleton, New York

Hugo’s novel of the Haitian Revolution first appeared in Le Conservateur litteraire (1820); the 1826 novel follows the 1825 Franco-Haitian Accord (Augustyn). Five editions between 1829 and 1866 mark important moments related to slavery and its abolition in Britain as well as the conclusion of the American Civil War (Hugo, tr. Bongie). Leitch Ritchie’s English translation, The Slave-King, from the Bug-Jargal of Victor Hugo (1833), though altered, was also the first American publication and one of several with changes to the title. Chris Bongie’s 2004 translation includes a production history noting that the novel’s  fin-de-siècle resurgence follows the death of this literary giant in 1885. 

The narrator, Leopold D’Auverney, is a young planter just arrived from France to learn the plantation business from his Unc agronomist\le. But the telling takes place in retrospect when D’Auverney is a Captain encamped with his troops fighting the British for control of Saint-Domingue. Over the campfire, he recalls the eve of his wedding to his cousin Maria, which coincided with the August 1791 revolution). A mysterious slave named Pierrot (later revealed as Bug-Jargal) abducts her, and an odyssey in the mountains unfolds. Bug-Jargal, at first his enemy, is instead shown to be both a fierce maroon and a loyal ally whose equal affection for Maria motivates him to protect her from the rebellion’s violence. 

Hugo is recognized as a French author with global impact, but Bug-Jargal long remained marginalized because early reviews thought it immature or the product of an inscrutable combination of unverifiable historical sources (Bach). Contemporary reviews reveal the way the novel’s ultimately ambiguous attitude toward abolition complicated its reception. While one critic asserts that the very idea of a noble, moral African was “too violent” a call on the reader’s imagination (Shoberl), another avoids the central role of the revolution within the novel altogether (Sainte-Beuve).  

Since Bongie’s translation of 2004, the novel has gained renewed interest. Susan Gillman shows that Hugo’s French Atlantic is one that “models a way of reading that extends the reach of Haiti, as the ongoing center of Euro-colonial faiture,” and at once, brings readers to “a point of departure for a deeper and longer French-Creole-Spanish presence in trans-American literary culture” (2015). Gillman and Kirsten Silva Greuz place the novel within a “text-network” that displaces the dominance of the United States or Europe in critical paradigms by requiring continual translation as well as cultural and geographic reorientation through use of French, English, Creole(s), and Spanish (2011). Overall, Bongie explains that the novel is an “exploration of themes related to the historical, to the direction and shape of history, to sovereignty, and to territory that coalesce between 1789-1804” (Hugo, tr. Bongie 2004).  

Gillman and Gruesz have suggested that critical focus on sources and originality slight the richer approach to building a text-network (2011). But I have argued elsewhere that Hugo’s complex interweaving of source materials supports their mapping and presents a way back into the text’s circulation and translation in a way that puts Makandal on the map; in turn, Makandal aligns Hugo’s worik with the project of reading the centrality of Afro-Caribbean counter-modern expression to knowledge production in the Atlantic (Simpkins). 

For further information see the secondary bibliography below.

 

Keywords

Saint-Domingue; Creole; Haitian Revolution; Abolition; August 1791; Bois-Caïman 

Works Cited

Augustyn, Joanna. “Bug-Jargal (Review).” Nineteenth Century French Studies, vol. 34, no. 3, 2006, pp. 421–22. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.1353/ncf.2006.0001.

Bach, Max. “The Reception of V. Hugo’s First Novels.” Symposium 18.2 (1964): 142-55.

Bongie, Chris. Friends and Enemies: The Scribal Politics of Post/Colonial Literature. Liverpool University Press, 2008.

Bonin, Kathrine M. “Signs of Origin: Victor Hugo's ‘Bug-Jargal.’” Nineteenth-Century French Studies, vol. 36, no. 3/4, 2008, pp. 193–204. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23538547. Accessed 13 Jan. 2020.

Gaitet, Pascale. "Hybrid Creatures, Hybrid Politics, in Hugo’s 'Bug-Jargal' and 'Le Dernier jour d'un condamné'", Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Spring-Summer 1997, No 25 (3-4), pp. 251–265.

Gillman, Susan. “Victor Hugo’s Bug-Jargal, Translationally,” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth Century Americanists 3, no. 2, (Fall 2015): 377.

Hugo, Victor. “Bug-Jargal, Trans. & Ed.” Chris Bongie, Peterborough, 2004.

___. “The Slave-King, from the Bug-Jargal of Victor Hugo, Trans.” Leitch Ritchie, 1833.

Sainte-Beuve, Charles-Augustin. “Les Romans de Victor Hugo,” Journal des débats (24 July 1832). (Reprinted in Hugo, Victor. “Bug-Jargal, Trans. & Ed.” Chris Bongie, Peterborough, 2004. Appendix D: Contemporary Reviews. 

Schoberl, Frederic. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Tr. with a Sketch of the Life and the Writings of the Author. 1831

Simpkins, Kate. “The Absent Agronomist and The Lord of Poison: Cultivating Modernity in Transatlantic Literature, 1758-1854”, Boston: Northeastern University Digital Repository Service, 2014. http://hdl.handle.net/2047/D20213429

Susan Gillman and Kirsten Silva Gruesz, “Worlding America: The Hemispheric Text-Network,” A Companion to American Literary Studies, 2011, 228–247.

Secondary Bibliography

Bongie, Chris. Islands and Exiles: The Creole Identities of Post/Colonial Literature. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1998. 

Cauna, Jacques. Haïti: L’éternelle révolution. Port-au-Prince: Henri Deschamps, 1997. 

---. “Les sources historiques de Bug-Jargal: Hugo et la révolution haitienne.” Conjonction 166 (1985): 21-36. 

Dayan, Joan. Haiti, History, and the Gods. Berkeley: U of California P, 1995. 

Debien, Gabrien. “Marronage in the French Caribbean.” Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities, ed. Richard Price. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1979.

___, Gabriel. “Un roman colonial de Victor Hugo: Bug-Jargal, ses sources et ses intentions historiques.” Revue d’historie littéraire de la France 52.3 (1952): 298-313. 

Dillon, Elizabeth Maddock. “Reassembling the Novel: Kinlessness and the Novel of the Haitian Revolution.” Novel, vol. 47, no. 1, Mar. 2014, pp. 167–85. novel.dukejournals.org, doi:10.1215/00295132-2414120.

Fick, Carolyn E. The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P., 1990.

Hugo, Victor. Oeuvres completes. 18 vols. Ed. Jean Massin. Paris: Le Club français du livre, 1967-71. 

Graham Robb, Victor Hugo: A Biography (W. W. Norton & Company, 1999).

Grégoire, Henri. De la littérature des nègres. Paris: Maradan, 1808. 

James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. 1938. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 2001. 

Nicolas François de Neufchâteau, Dictionnaire d’agriculture pratique 1836. 

Piroué, Georges. “Les deux Bug-Jargal.” Victor Hugo, OC, vol. 1. Paris: Le Club francais du livre, 1967. [i-viii]. 

 

Keywords

Saint-Domingue; Creole; Haitian Revolution; Abolition; August, 1791; Bois-Caïman 

Kate Simpkins, Auburn University, January 2020.