Origins of African Stereotypes in French Colonial Novels

  • Sarah L. Milbury-Steen

Abstract

The literary image of Africans prevalent in French colonial novels owes a considerable debt to the writings of pseudo-scientific racists that were published during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One important exception, however, is Count Arthur de Gobineau’s celebrated work Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines, which appeared between 1853 and 1855. This long treatise which most scholars, including Arendt, regard as the seminal point for the racism employed by imperialism and totalitarianism, has been clearly demonstrated by both Curtin and Cohen to be a compilation, synthetic rather than original, of earlier racist theories.1 In this work Gobineau returned to the long-standing debate of monogenesis vs polygenesis, as well as the identification of language as a racial attribute; then borrowed from Knox the concept of racial purity as a requisite of racial strength; from Morton the association of physical characteristics with racial differences and mental deficiencies; and from Carus the equation of culture with race as a means of classifying mankind.2 Even his fundamental premises that race dominated history and that civilisations declined through the degeneration of racial mixing found antecedents in Knox’s assertion, ‘race is everything; literature, science, art—in a word, civilisation depends on it’.3 Gobineau’s real talent was as an organiser and not a thinker, for his ability to assemble all of these ideas cohesively was without precedent.

Keywords

Assimilation Hunt Lamine Burial Metaphor 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 4.
    Arthur de Gobineau, Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines (Paris: Editions Belfond, 1967. First published, vol. i–ii, 1853; complete version, vol. i–iv, 1855) p. 205.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Michael D. Biddiss, Father of Racist Ideology: The Social and Political Thought of Count Gobineau (New York: Weybright and Talley, 1970) p. 117.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Alfred Fouillée, ‘Le Caractère des races humaines et l’avenir de la race blanche’, Revue des deux Mondes, cxxiv, No. 4 (July-Aug. 1894) p. 90. Translation is mine.Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Gustave LeBon, The Psychology of Peoples (New York: Macmillan, 1898) p. 24. Translator not given.Google Scholar
  5. 19.
    Charles Letourneau, La Psychologie ethnique (Paris: Schleicher Frères, Editeurs, 1901) pp. 117, 126–8.Google Scholar
  6. 23.
    Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Les Fonctions mentales dans les sociétés inférieures (Paris: Librairie Félix Alcan, 1928; first published 1910) pp. 79; 6, 67; 16, 113–4, 136; 127; 263.Google Scholar
  7. 27.
    Robert Delavignette, Freedom and Authority in French West Africa, trans. by Prof. M. Fortes, Miss Daphne Trevor, and Miss. M. Manoukian (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1950) p. 39.Google Scholar
  8. 30.
    Jean Finot, Race Prejudice, trans. by Florence Wade-Evans (London: Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd., 1906) pp. 157, 319.Google Scholar
  9. 32.
    L’Abbé Pierre Bouche, La Côte des Esclaves et le Dahomey (Paris: E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Editeurs, 1885) p. 16.Google Scholar
  10. 38.
    Capitaine Louis-Gustave Binger, Du Niger au Golfe de Guinée par le pays de Kong et le Mossi, vols. i and ii (Paris: Librairie Hachette, 1892) vol. i, p. 153.Google Scholar
  11. 45.
    Léon Fanoudh-Siefer, Le Mythe du nègre et de l’Afrique noire dans la littérature française (de 1800 à la !Guerre Mondiale) (Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck, 1968) pp. 40–1.Google Scholar
  12. 46.
    Léopold de Saussure, Psychologie de la Colonisation française dans ses rapports avec les sociétés indigènes (Paris: Ancienne Librairie Germer Baillière et Cie, Félix Alcan, Editeur, 1899) pp. 10, 27–8. Trans. is mine.Google Scholar
  13. 50.
    Albert Sarraut, Grandeur et servitude coloniales (Paris: Editions du Sagittaire, 1931) p. 115. Translation is mine.Google Scholar
  14. 56.
    René Maunier, The Sociology of Colonies: An Introduction to the Study of Race Contact, ed. and trans. by E. O. Lorimer, vols. i and ii (London: Routledge & Kegal Paul Ltd., 1949; first published, 1932–42) pp. 82–3.Google Scholar
  15. 59.
    William B. Cohen, Rulers of Empire: The French Colonial Service in Africa (Palo Alto: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford Univ., 1971) pp. 188–92. The older men in his sample tended to ascribe the independence drive to ‘outside international forces’, while younger ones attributed it to nationalistic ones within the colonies.Google Scholar
  16. 60.
    Général Paul Azan, L’Empire français (Paris: Flammarion, Editeur, 1943) p. 230. Translation is mine.Google Scholar
  17. 63.
    Martine Astier Loutfi, Littérature et colonialisme: l’expansion coloniale vue dans la littérature romanesque française 1871–1914 (The Hague: Mouton, 1971) pp. 45, 50, 58, 113–14.Google Scholar
  18. 69.
    Ada Martinkus-Zemp, ‘Européocentrisme et exotisme: l’homme blanc et la femme noire (dans la littérature française de l’entre deux-guerres)’, Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines, vol. xiii, No. 49 (1972) pp. 62, 64–7, 70–5, 79.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Sarah L. Milbury-Steen 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah L. Milbury-Steen

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations