working papers

Founding the Postcolonial Republic in Bergeaud's Stella
Émeric Bergeaud’s Stella is frequently lauded as Haiti’s first novel. Written while the author was in exile during the 1840s and ‘50s and only published in Paris in 1859 after his death, Bergeaud’s story retells the events of the Haitian Revolution from the perspective of two enslaved brothers, Romulus and Remus. The scant scholarship that exists on Stella tends to interpret the text as an allegorical retelling of the Revolution intended to vindicate the Haitian revolutionaries. While undoubtedly that, Stella, just recently translated into English for the first time, also accomplishes two other politically significant aims that combine postcolonial and republican themes.

First, as has been recognized by scholars like J. Michael Dash, in recasting the Revolution as a moment of political founding and Haiti as a new Rome, the exiled Bergeaud offers his fellow citizens an origin story for a state newly committed to republican values and self-governance, re-centering the Haitian people as the voice of their own revolution. Second, Bergeaud’s appropriation of French republican values also poses a significantly richer philosophical challenge to French imperialism than mere adaptation of a founding myth. I argue that Bergeaud’s second aim is to identify the ways in which French claims of social and political universalism are contrary to the state’s imperial project.

Developing ideas found in the work of Dash, Achille Mbembe, and David Scott, among others, I demonstrate that the novel interrogates the relationship between republican France’s proclaimed principles of universalism and its exclusionary colonial practices on the island then known as Saint-Domingue. Ultimately, Stella reveals how Haiti, by adopting a republican identity in the wake of the Revolution, claimed qualities its former colonizer had both professed for itself and denied its colonial holdings. In so doing, Bergeaud critiques the performative hypocrisy of France’s reigning ideologies, republicanism and universalism. Part of a larger project considering the role of literature in conveying republican ideas, this paper contributes to existing literatures on Caribbean political thought; the Francophone Atlantic; postcolonial theory; and philosophical universalism.


‘The error of his own bonds’: Contract, Freedom, and Gender in Milton’s Divorce Tracts
Though historians of political thought have taken interest in Milton as a republican thinker, few have considered the relationship of his republicanism to his writings on divorce, or the implications of his writings on divorce for his understanding of liberty. This paper develops the relationship between liberty and contract, most recently theorized by Victoria Kahn, to show how Milton argues in favor of granting the right to divorce by critiquing compulsory acquiescence to a contract. Specifically, I examine Milton’s rhetoric around the ‘proper’ roles of men and women in order to show how he formulates an understanding of marriage and divorce as models of reciprocal obligation compatible with his emerging republican views, as would later appear in ‘The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates.’ I suggest, moreover, that Milton’s politicizing of the domestic, particularly in the second edition of ‘The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,’ plays an unappreciated role in influencing the familial metaphor employed by John Locke in his ‘Second Treatise.’ This paper builds on the work of scholars of English literature including Kahn, Sharon Achinstein, and Diane Purkiss, who have put the divorce writings of the early 1640s into the context of the English Civil Wars and contemporary political debates about the nature of contracts and obligation.