Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Bug Jargal - one of the first African protagonists in Western Literature
Victor Hugo, arguably the definitive figure in French Romanticism, mostly known for Les Miserables and Notre-Dame de Paris, wrote a couple of novels in his youth that were not as widely known. The critics dismiss them as juvenile and sensationalist. However, that's not to say that those novels were not valuable in their own right, even though they pale in literary merit before his other works. One of such novels is Bug Jargal. Originally published as a novella in a literary magazine, it was republished as a full-length novel in 1826. It features the adventures of an enslaved African prince of the title and a French military officer named Leopold D'Auverney during the tumultuous early years of the Haitian Revolution. Hugo was known for his sympathy for the underdog and toying with the societal boundaries, even though he personally had little to no direct contact with the oppressed whose rights he championed. In writing Bug Jargal, he was really playing with fire - and enjoying every bit of it - by having his main character, an African slave, fall in love with a high-born French girl.The novel is out of print, but there are electronic versions of it floating around. At a time when race and privilege are such hot topics, it would be really interesting to take a moment to see how race was handled by a 19th century novelist. Bug Jargal is an enthralling and daring tale of a romantic black hero.