Gothic Fertility: Reproductive Ecology and the Rise of the Milieu in Leonora Sansay's Secret History (1808)
Submission to the Friends of Fondren Library Graduate Research Awards, 2013
Hemispheric American scholars tend to discuss space in a context of territorial geopolitics. But what happens if we reconsider territorial geopolitics through the lens of ecology? Leonora Sansay’s Secret History, or The Horrors of St. Domingo (1808) offers a case study, one which unearths the ever-present ecological character of contested geopolitical territories in the West Indies. To this end, this paper focuses on the novel’s various representations of fertility, from the narrator’s fantasy of slave-based reproductive order to gothic images of overpopulation to the reproductive ecology of well-behaved land crabs. These representations of fertility reveal the novel’s biopolitical unconscious—that it renders the island space as a milieu of transformable elements—underneath the narrator’s conscious nostalgia for slave order and colonial domination. Reading this unconscious recasts the contested territory of Haiti—and by extension its neighboring islands—as an ecological milieu, a heterogeneous hothouse of interacting elements and events that escape and exceed the meticulous management of colonial power.