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L’Afrique occidentale dans la littérature française

Scholarly edition of: Roland Lebel, L’Afrique occidentale dans la littérature française (depuis 1870) [originaly published in 1925], Paris: L’Harmattan, coll. ‘Autrement mêmes’, 2014, xlii + 306 pp.

Roland Lebel was a French literary critic and cultural commentator who dedicated his career to the representations of European colonies in literature. This particular book focuses on former French West Africa and provides a critical inventory of the place and role of this part of the world (Senegal, Guinea-Conakry, Ivory Coast, and Mali) in French literature since the Middle Ages. The term ‘literature’ as used by Lebel in the title refers, however, to more than just fiction as it also encompasses works in the humanities and scientific publications (medicine, engineering, botany, agriculture, and veterinary science). Lebel’s book is therefore a very useful document to gauge French colonial discourse during the Third Republic. In my introduction (pp. v-xxxviii), I provide an analysis of Lebel’s writing style. I focus here on his tendency to tap into a repository of tropes to reject what he nonetheless adhered to subconsciously (literary orientalism); and his use of the pronoun ‘nous’ (we) to convey the authority of his scientific posture but also his ambition to contribute to this collective project of national aggrandisement. This introduction locates Lebel in the cultural landscape of the interwar period, paying particular attention to the fact that this period coincided with the emergence of a recognizable body of African literature in French. In essence, this introduction endeavours to demonstrate that Lebel’s thesis, for all its prejudices, provides also a commentary on the development of African literature in its nascent stage and resonates with other literary manifestos, not least with the 2007 ‘Manifeste pour une littérature-monde’ (Michel Le Bris & Jean Rouaud).

The original version of the book contained a chronological table which I was not able to include in the reprint. It is now to be found here: Chronological Table Lebel (PDF Document)