The Libertine Colony

Creolization in the Early French Caribbean

The Libertine Colony

a John Hope Franklin Center Book

More about this series

Book Pages: 408 Illustrations: 19 b&w photos Published: July 2005

Caribbean Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Presenting incisive original readings of French writing about the Caribbean from the inception of colonization in the 1640s until the onset of the Haitian Revolution in the 1790s, Doris Garraway sheds new light on a significant chapter in French colonial history. At the same time, she makes a pathbreaking contribution to the study of the cultural contact, creolization, and social transformation that resulted in one of the most profitable yet brutal slave societies in history. Garraway’s readings highlight how French colonial writers characterized the Caribbean as a space of spiritual, social, and moral depravity. While tracing this critique in colonial accounts of Island Carib cultures, piracy, spirit beliefs, slavery, miscegenation, and incest, Garraway develops a theory of “the libertine colony.” She argues that desire and sexuality were fundamental to practices of domination, laws of exclusion, and constructions of race in the slave societies of the colonial French Caribbean.

Among the texts Garraway analyzes are missionary histories by Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre, Raymond Breton, and Jean-Baptiste Labat; narratives of adventure and transgression written by pirates and others outside the official civil and religious power structures; travel accounts; treatises on slavery and colonial administration in Saint-Domingue; the first colonial novel written in French; and the earliest linguistic description of the native Carib language. Garraway also analyzes legislation—including the Code noir—that codified slavery and other racialized power relations. The Libertine Colony is both a rich cultural history of creolization as revealed in Francophone colonial literature and an important contribution to theoretical arguments about how literary critics and historians should approach colonial discourse and cultural representations of slave societies.


The Libertine Colony . . . is a model scholarly work. The writer excels at keeping the theoretical perspective to a minimum so as not to impede the reading. As a result, the reader is hardly ever overwhelmed by the analytical terminology. . . . The Libertine Colony is an invaluable addition to the field of postcolonial studies. One can only wish that a French translation will soon be available for the benefit of the French-speaking readership.” — Alix Pierre, Caribbean Studies

The Libertine Colony offers complex and varied readings of a series of important primary published texts that many historians have used, more or less critically, to pin down the history of the islands colonized by the French in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries . . . . [I]nsighfrul and serious . . . .” — Sue Peabody, Itinerario

“[Garraway’s] enthralling analysis revisits significant seventeenth-and-eighteenth-century texts …. to explore the racial, cultural, and sexual interaction between the French, the swiftly annihilated indigenous population of the West Indies, and imported Africans.” — Roger Little, Modern Language Review

“A significant achievement of this work is that it will be of great interest to so many: students and specialists of the Early Modern period, colonial history, women’s studies and postcolonial studies.” — Forum for Modern Language Studies

“Garraway’s analysis will challenge, enlighten, and sometimes stupefy historians. . . . Her book deserves to be read and debated because of her admirable immersion in the primary printed and secondary historical literature, and because this brief review cannot plumb the depth and complexities of her work.” — Phillip P. Boucher, American Historical Review

“Garraway’s research is comprehensive, her readings astute, and her approach innovative. The Libertine Colony makes an important critical intervention in the fields of Caribbean studies, postcolonial studies, European colonial history, and French and francophone literary criticism.” — Pratima Prasad, L’Esprit Créateur

“Garraway's analytical insights are penetrating and sophisticated. The Libertine Colony is a remarkable achievement that transforms our understanding of eighteenth century Caribbean culture. . . . It deserves a wide readership.” — Joe Brooker, Textual Practice

“This book will prove useful to scholars interested in literature, history, the Caribbean, and colonialism. Garraway’s attention to terms and tropes, i.e., the distinction between flibustiers and buccaneers, the etymology of ‘cannibal,’ and the development of the figure of the ‘zombie,’ adds to its appeal for use in some undergraduate courses. Also valuable are her examination of images from several print documents and her care to situate authors and provide detailed publishing histories.”
— Aletha D. Stahl, French Review

“This excellent book represents a ground-breaking work of scholarship in an essential but long-neglected area of Caribbean Studies: the genesis and construction of those early historical and ethnographic narratives, written largely by members of the clergy and the established social hierarchy from mainland France, that provided the framework for the study of the social inequities, physical brutality, and outright racism that was subsequently to characterize the French colonial encounter in the Caribbean.” — H. Adlai Murdoch, Research in African Literatures

"The Libertine Colony is an important contribution to recent study of the historical interactions by which colonial contact zones were formed and whereby they were permitted to evolve. Its reliance on documents usually considered to belong outside the archives permits access to the affective dimension of such interactions, casting new light on the structures of power and the configurations of identity by which the early French Caribbean was regulated." — Charles Forsdick, New West Indian Guide

"Provocative. . . . Garraway's readings of her sources are imaginative and thought-provoking." — Jeremy Popkin, H-France, H-Net Reviews

“An inquiry into the limitless ambiguity of violence, lust, and law in the early French Caribbean, The Libertine Colony is a daring scholarly feat. A model of convergence for its contribution across disciplinary boundaries, this book not only challenges how we read Old Regime colonial narratives but prompts us to think again about the proximity of the common and the sacred. In giving a detailed history to the vagaries of colonial slavery, Doris Garraway confronts the gist of torture in those realms that most seem to deny it. In fascinating detail, she rethinks conceits of love, as she exhumes rituals of belief.” — Joan Dayan, author of Haiti, History, and the Gods

“Extremely well written, with a wonderful balance between impeccable scholarship and theoretical sophistication, The Libertine Colony is a very important contribution to postcolonial studies and the study of Caribbean literature and history.” — Peter Hulme, author of Remnants of Conquest: The Island Caribs and their Visitors, 1877–1998


Availability: In stock
Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Doris Garraway is Assistant Professor of French at Northwestern University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Preface xi

Introduction: Creolization in the Old Regime 1

1. Border of Violence, Border of Desire: The French and the Island Caribs 39

2. Domestication and the White Noble Savage 93

3. Creolization and the Spirit World: Demons, Violence, and the Body 146

4. The Libertine Colony: Desire, Miscegenation, and the Law 194

5. Race, Reproduction, and Family Romance in Saint-Domingue 240

Conclusion 293

Notes 299

Works Cited 371

Index 401
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3465-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3453-8
Publicity material