A Prophetic Vision of the Past: Jacques-Stéphen Alexis and ‘Le Réalisme Merveilleux’

  • J. Michael Dash


The role of Jacques-Stéphen Alexis as a student activist in 1946 was to all appearances an undistinguished one. One cannot help but feel that he stood, at that time, in the shadow of his vocal contemporary René Dépestre who was very much both the ideological and literary voice of that generation. Alexis’s writings in 1946 were restricted to the stridently anti-establishment column in La Ruche entitled ‘Lettre aux hommes vieux’ and signed ‘Jacques La Colère’. Indeed, even in the general outline of his career there is little to distinguish him from Dépestre or, for that matter, many of the student leaders of that generation. Like the rest, he was deeply influenced by Jacques Roumain when the latter returned from exile in 1941. After the fierce political engagement of the mid-forties he left, like so many, for Europe to further his studies — his particular field was medicine, specialising in neurology, which may explain his ability to evoke a range of mental states in his novels; from madness to catalepsy. He returned to Haiti in 1955 and along with his contemporaries of 1946 was actively involved in the politics of that period. His violent opposition to the Duvalier regime, which eventually led to his death, was also characteristic of the general Marxist opposition to Duvalier’s politics of racial mystification.


Compere General Critical Realism Creative Writing Creative Imagination Spiritual Resource 
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  1. 3.
    Jacques-Stéphen Alexis, Romancero aux étoiles (Paris: Gallimard, 1960) p. 212.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Jacques-Stéphen Alexis, Compère Général Soleil (Paris: Gallimard, 1955) pp. 68–9.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Jacques-Stéphen Alexis, Les Arbres Musiciens (Paris: Gallimard, 1957) p. 157.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    G. R. Coulthard in his Race and Colour in Caribbean Literature, (London: Oxford University Press, 1962) is unfair to Alexis by dismissing his paper as ‘quite clearly a restatement of the fundamental tenets of negritude’.Google Scholar
  5. James Baldwin is far more sensitive to Alexis’s position in his article ‘Princes and Powers’ in Nobody Knows My Name, (London: Michael Joseph 1964).Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Jacques-Stéphen Alexis, ‘Of the Marvellous Realism of the Haitians’, Présence Africaine, nos. 8–10, June–Nov. 1956, p. 260. Page numbers are quoted from the English edition of this special issue.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969) p. 44.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Jacques-Stéphen Alexis, L’Espace d’un cillement (Paris: Gallimard, 1959).Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968) p. 228.Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    Jacques-Stéphen Alexis, ‘La belle amour humaine 1957’, Europe, Jan. 1971, p. 21.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© J. Michael Dash 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Michael Dash
    • 1
  1. 1.University of the West IndiesJamaica

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