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I took advantage of the end-of-year celebrations to immerse myself in good literature. This year, I fell in love with André Schwarz-Bart’s book La mulâtresse Solitude. As I was recently telling you about Louis Delgrès, I thought it would be nice to say a few words to you about this other emblematic figure of the tragic struggle against the restoration of slavery in Guadeloupe in May 1802. Today, I am talking to you about the Guadeloupean Solitude, a symbol of women’s struggle for freedom.
La mulâtresse Solitude, a little history and a lot of literature
As unfortunately too often for the history of women in this period, there is very little information in historical sources. What we know about the life of Solitude is mostly part of the legendary story. What are we sure of? Nothing much. Everything we know (or think we know) comes from a few lines written by Auguste Lacour in his Histoire de la Guadeloupe.
« La mulâtresse Solitude, who came from Pointe-à-Pitre to Basse-Terre, was then in the Palermo camp. She let her hatred and fury burst out on all occasions. She had rabbits. One of them having escaped, she armed herself with a pin, ran, pierced him, lifted him up, and presented him to the prison women: « Here, » she said, « by mixing with her words the most offensive epithets, this is how I will treat you when it is time! » And this unfortunate woman was about to become a mother! Solitude did not abandon the rebels and remained close to them, like their evil genius, to excite them to the greatest crimes. Finally arrested in the company of a gang of insurgents, she was sentenced to death, but the sentence had to be postponed. She was supplicied on 29 November, after her delivery. »
Resistant, captured, pregnant, condemned to death, suplicied in 1802. Yes, really, that’s all… I haven’t found any older sources yet. The rest of its history is what we can legitimately imagine. And in this game, Schwarz-Bart’s novel is very good.
In the story, we first follow the destiny of Bayangumay, born in Africa, who suffered the difficult crossing of the Atlantic and the enslavement on a Guadeloupean habitation. The author makes her the mother of Solitude. The novel then turns to what Solitude’s life may have been like from childhood until his death. I do not develop any more to let you discover the story for yourself.
In any case, I was not disappointed: the literary style, the progression, the psychological construction of the characters and the nuanced development of the relationships between the different people… really caught me up as the pages went by. I came out with the desire to read a sequel, which L’Ancêtre en Solitude should do. In fact, it is a good book if you want to get closer to what the slave trade and slavery in the French Caribbean meant, because the proposed historical universe is credible and documented. This is the kind of book I would recommend to history students at university to think about the life of slaves on colonial plantations, the painful relationship to colour, the resistance….
Solitude, the symbolic construction for the collective memory
Step by step, the mulattress Solitude has entered into the collective memory of Guadeloupe and even beyond. In 1999, a statue representing her and whose features are made by Jacky Poulier was inaugurated by the municipality of Abymes in Guadeloupe. Another statue created by the sculptor Nicolas Alquin was then erected in 2007 in Bagneux as part of the commemorations of the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. UNESCO has honoured her in an educational file. Her name and history are increasingly being used to remind us of the history of black women.
And you, do you know of any other historical sources that speak of Solitude? Do you have in mind women figures of resistance to the oppression of slavery?
Schwarz-Bart (André), La mulâtresse Solitude, Paris, éd. du Seuil, 1972.
Note: the Simone and André Schwarz-Bart couple have co-written several novels written by either or both hands, particularly concerning Jewish and Caribbean history.
Bibliothèque nationale de France,
Lacour Auguste, Histoire de la Guadeloupe 1798 à 1803, T. 3, Impr. du gouvernement (Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe)), 1837-1858 .