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Literature / Secret History: Or, The Horrors Of St. Domingo In A Series Of Letters

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The cover used in copies printed for academic purposes.

Recording the Haitian Revolution of the early 1800s through a series of letters, Mary Hassal provides a glimpse into a turbulent period in colonial history.

Most of the letters are addressed to either her uncle, US Vice-President Aaron Burr, or to her sister Clara. The book recounts the initial slave revolts that rocked Haiti, as well as the backup force sent by Napoleon to retain control of the colony. Interspersed throughout are Hassal's lamentations about the subjugation of women at the time and their dependence on men.


Tropes Present In This Work:

  • Acceptable Targets: Racial prejudices of the day made it appropriate to look down on the African-descended Haitians.
  • Angry Black Man: The French settlers view the revolting slaves as such.
  • Based on a True Story: Given that it is a historical account it IS a true story (assuming that Hassal has accurately recorded the facts).
  • Bread and Circuses: For a story set during a brutal reovlution, there is a shocking number of balls, parties, and other celebrations.
  • Evil Colonialist: The French slavers to the black slaves.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Hassal's sister Clara is apparently quite popular and many of the men in the story show interest in her.
  • Malcolm Xerox: The leaders of the slave revolt, Toussant L'Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines (albeit to varying degrees).
  • Persecution Flip: The Haitian Revolution is an example of an oppressed racial group overthrowing the privileged colonial class, particularly violently in this case.
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  • Romantic Plot Tumor: The book's occasional focus on Clara's potential suitors might seem shallow or unimportant compared to the bloody civil war that is rocking the colony.
  • Scary Black Man: As they lose the war, the French grow fearful of the revolting slaves, especially the prim and proper French ladies.
  • Slave Liberation: A unique example in that the slaves liberate themselves, without relying on outside forces to do it for them.
  • Slave Race: Black Haitians, although they win their independence in the end.
  • Values Dissonance: Attitudes towards women and non-whites among the ruling French class in Haiti are horribly regressive my modern standards.
  • War Refugees: Mary and Clara escape from Haiti to Cuba and Jamaica. Many of the other French settlers are not so lucky.
  • Women Are Delicate: The French hold this view, with many of the male soldiers taking up arms in the defense of the island's women.

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