Through a critical reading of Gisèle Pineau’s La Grande Drive des esprits (1993) and Raphaël Confiant’s Adèle et la pacotilleuse (2005), this article examines the practice of ‘writing back’ to the canon as a privileged mode of Caribbean literary and critical discourse.
The study demonstrates that evoking the riotous spirit of carnival performance, Confiant’s novel cannibalizes a historical drama, whose title character crumbles under the cultural, social and real weight of paternal legacy. The film’s protagonist ‐ Victor Hugo’s daughter ‐ famous for her mental health struggles, reappears in Confiant’s novel as a means of encouraging reflection on the paradoxical play of absence and silence, as well as on the limitation and power of language. Confiant further makes deliberately strategic references to Hugo’s first novel ‐ set in the Caribbean ‐ in a bid to appraise the corporeal and cultural exploitation of Caribbean peoples through (neo)-colonial designs. While less straightforward in its ‘writing back’ strategies, Pineau’s novel references Victor Hugo to make a commentary on the intersections of colonialist and masculinist underpinnings of Caribbean cultures, and women’s dislocation within them. The metaphor of madness as a marker of otherness in Pineau’s novel draws attention to the implications of language as a site of conflict.