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Mauritius - Literature

Despite the work of organisations such as ADER (Association for the Promotion of Réunionnais Authors) and MCR (Cultural Movement of Réunion), Réunion’s literature is little known beyond the Mascarene Islands.

The first novel written by a Réunion-born author and set on the island was Les Marrons by Louis-Timagène Houat, published in Paris in 1844. Houat was an abolitionist and Les Marrons provides a detailed portrait of Réunion society in 1833, condemning slavery and racism. As do many later Réunionnais novels, Les Marrons explores the themes of runaway slaves and romance between a black slave and a white woman.

‘Colonial novels’ thrived at the height of colonial expansion (1920–30), when authors such as Marius-Ary Leblond attempted to exalt the virtues of the colony. Marius-Ary Leblond was the pseudonym used by two cousins, George Athenas and Aimé Merlo, who published 20 novels and over 250 articles under that name. Ulysse Cafre (1924) tells the story of a slave who goes in search of his son, revealing the clash between black magic and Christianity.

The 1970s saw the birth of what is known as the ‘Réunionnais novel’, dealing with Creole issues throughout the island’s history. Well-known authors publishing from the 1970s to the present include Anne Cheynet, Axel Gauvin, Agnès Gueneau and Jean-François Sam-Long. Sam-Long’s novel Madame Desbassyns draws on the life story of the plantation owner of the same name, who is said to have been a particularly cruel woman. The true story of Madame Desbassyns is told at the Musée de Villèle at her former estate near St-Gilles-les-Hauts.

The poet Leconte de Lisle is undoubtedly the best known of Réunion’s literary figures. He was born in St-Paul in 1818 and went on to be admitted to the prestigious Académie Française. He is buried in the seafront cemetery in St-Paul. If you are able to read French, you can find his works, and many more, in any of the island’s bookshops.

Mauritius - Literature

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