Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History; A Play in Three Acts

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    CLR James

    Publisher: Duke University Press

    Year: 2012

    Format: Paperback

    Size: 237 pages

    ISBN: 9780822353140

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In 1934 C. L. R. James, the widely known Trinidadian intellectual, writer, and political activist, wrote the play Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History, which was presumed lost until the rediscovery of a draft copy in 2005. The play's production, performed in 1936 at London's Westminster Theatre with a cast including the American star Paul Robeson, marked the first time black professional actors starred on the British stage in a play written by a black playwright. This edition includes the program, photographs, and reviews from that production, a contextual introduction and editorial notes on the play by Christian Høgsbjerg, and selected essays and letters by James and others. In Toussaint Louverture, James demonstrates the full tragedy and heroism of Louverture by showing how the Haitian revolutionary leader is caught in a dramatic conflict arising from the contradiction between the barbaric realities of New World slavery and the modern ideals of the Enlightenment. In his portrayal of the Haitian Revolution, James aspired to vindicate black accomplishments in the face of racism and to support the struggle for self-government in his native Caribbean. Toussaint Louverture is an indispensable companion work to The Black Jacobins (1938), James's classic account of Haiti's revolutionary struggle for liberation.
What People Are Saying
“[T]horoughly researched and intelligently prepared. . . .Toussaint Louverture is easily one of the two or three most important publications of C.L.R. James’s work in decades – and the best-edited, by a very large margin.” Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed
“This present volume . . . contains the play itself among an array of fascinating accompanying texts. These include an enlightening introduction by Høgsbjerg, a series of notices and reviews of the performances, which featured the most renowned black actor of his generation, Paul Robeson, as the Haitian revolutionary leader, plus other writings by James, Robeson and George Padmore, which pitch the play within its vital contemporary context: all in all, a profoundly engaging, original and epochal document.” Chris Searle, Race & Class

(Starred Review) “This script is from a bygone age; its value lies not only in its importance as a document of theater history but also as a crucial addition to the canon of works about the Caribbean. This work would be difficult to stage these days (it boasts an especially large cast), but it should not be ignored by groups that can marshal the resources. Historians of the Caribbean will find it essential.” Larry Schwartz, Library Journal

“Highly recommended.” A.J. Guillaume Jr, Choice

“Why should we pay attention to this long-lost and largely forgotten play? We should do so because it is among the first efforts of one of history’s great anti-colonial voices, wrestling with the distinctive aesthetic quandaries of form and performance, to show that freedom from imperialism is just a phrase if it does not entail direct democracy and universal rights. James was nothing if not ambitious.” Robert Spencer, Journal of Postcolonial Writing

“We all owe much to the expert salvage operation Christian Høgsbjerg has performed here.  As long as the world wilts with oppression, is awash with crisis, and punctuated by resistance this play, its subject matter, and now this book, will have to be read, watched and pondered on over and over again.” Gaverne Bennett, London Socialist Historians Group

"The 2013 publication of C. L. R. James’s play Toussaint Louverture, first performed in March of 1936, is a major event that should reshape understandings of Caribbean literary history, postcolonial studies, and Pan-Africanism. . . . Even without considering its historical importance, Toussaint Louverture is a powerful and fascinating play. . . .Without this edition of Toussaint Louverture, our vision of James—and, therefore, of anticolonialism itself—has been incomplete, and this publication will help us continue to look to that past for ideas and inspiration to forge a decolonized future." Raphael Dalleo, SX Salon

"More than any other contemporary writer on James, Christian Høgsbjerg appreciates how provisional and incomplete our understanding of this intellectual agenda has actually been. . . . The publication of James’s foray into theatrical prose is not only a delightful literary event in its own right but provides a welcome opportunity to revisit the historical and intellectual context in which James produced his landmark work of comparative historical analysis, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938). " Kent Worcester, New Politics

“[T]he many people interested in James, and the many admirers in particular of his The Black Jacobins, will welcome this first publication of his 1934 play. It includes Christian Hogsbjerg’s well researched introduction and annotations, and several other pieces related to the play which form the appendix to this volume.” Bridget Brereton, Trinidad Express

“The many people interested in James, the many admirers in particular of his The Black Jacobins, will welcome this first publication of his 1934 play, with H?gsbjerg’s erudite introduction and annotations, and the several other pieces related to the play which form the appendix.” Bridget Brereton, Caribbean Quarterly

"The publication of Toussaint Louverture, edited by Hogsbjerg, provides much more than the play itself. As Hogsbjerg notes both in his introduction to the edited collection and in his book, this play should be viewed not as an earlier draft of The Black Jacobins, but as a companion piece. In the end, Hogsbjerg supplies the archival and contextual tools, but leaves the task of comparing the play to the book to the reader. Toussaint Louverture includes not only the notices, programme and reviews of the production, but also an appendix with short works by James and Robeson that show how this production served as an important outlet for their cultural and political interests. Readers will have a much better sense of why each of these men committed to this project." Leslie James, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

"It would be hard to overstate the importance of Christian Høgsbjerg’s new critical edition of C.L.R. James’s Toussaint Louverture.... Publication of Toussaint Louverture is such a resource for all readers. There could be no better work with which to launch the important new C.L.R. James Archives Series, edited by Robert A. Hill for Duke University Press." Rachel Douglas, Anthurium

"Long legendary throughout the diaspora, the first version of C. L. R. James's play about Toussaint Louverture finally emerges from the archives. This play is the production that united James with his friend Paul Robeson on the London stage. It was an extraordinary event at the time—witness the contemporary reviews added to this publication—and it is no less extraordinary today. In addition to reviews, this edition also reprints valuable early statements from James and Robeson. It is a singular, one might even say Olympian, volume with much to teach us all." Aldon Lynn Nielsen, author of C. L. R. James: A Critical Introduction

"The text of this nearly forgotten drama, succinctly introduced to today's readers with a valuable set of accompanying essays, is an invaluable contribution to Pan-African studies and our understanding of 'the Black Plato' as a remarkably talented playwright. C. L. R. James readers, and not only those of The Black Jacobins, will rejoice." Paul Buhle, authorized biographer, author of C. L. R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary

About the Author

C. L. R. James (1901–89) was a Trinidadian historian, novelist, activist, and cultural and political critic. He wrote many books, including a seminal cultural study of cricket, Beyond a Boundary, which is also published by Duke University Press.

Christian Høgsbjerg (Editor) is a historian who lectures at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Table of Contents
Foreword / Laurent Dubois vii

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction / Christian Høgsbjerg 1

Editorial Note / Christian Høgsbjerg 41

Author's Note (1936) / C. L. R. James 45

Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History

The Complete Playscript (1934) 47

Act II, Scene I, of Toussaint Louverture (1936) 135

The Production and Performance of Toussaint Louverture

Notices 155

The Programme (1936) 160

Reviews 164


"The Intelligence of the Negro" / C. L. R. James 189

"A Century of Freedom" / C. L. R. James 199

"Slavery Today: A Shocking Exposure" / C. L. R. James 206

"I Want Negro Culture" / Paul Robeson 212

"'Civilising' the 'Blacks': Why Britain Needs to Maintain Her African Possessions" / C. L. R. James 214

Letter from George Padmore to Dr. Alain Locke 217

["The Maverick Club"] / C. L. R. James 218

"A Unique Personality" / C. L. R. James 219

"Paul Robeson" / C. L. R. James 221

Tags: biography ....... Black Liberation ....... Caribbean ....... Christian Høgsbjerg ....... CLR James ....... Duke University Press ....... fiction ....... history .......