“I died on the night of the most beautiful day of my life.”
Movement 3 of the novel again takes us into yet another, entirely surprising set of stories – told, this time, in Hadriana’s own words. What do we learn from her self-telling of womanhood and zombification? And how does Depestre offer us an alternative geography of the Caribbean Depestre in this Movement? Pay particular attention to the ending of the novel, and the stories it enticingly leaves untold.
In advance of our January 23, 2020 meeting, our Boston College colleague Régine Michelle Jean-Charles offered these thoughts about how to read this part of the novel:
Hadriana’s Tale: A Survivor Narrative
Régine Michelle Jean-Charles
“Hadriana’s tale” is not only a first-person account of her “zombie adventure exactly as she lived it,” it can be read as both a testimony and a survivor narrative. As a survivor narrative, this section foregrounds Hadriana’s embodied subjectivity. Her voice, her body, her mind, her plans, and her movements animate the novel’s conclusion and re-calibrate our perspective of who is Hadriana Siloé. From the first paragraph, I was struck by how she deliberately she balances her account of what happens to her with the opinions and actions of others. “It was said that I had been swept away by the fire of my consent….” she writes then quickly offers a corrective “Truth be told my false death had begun an hour before…” (189). By simultaneously assessing what was said about her and what actually happens Hadriana exerts her authority as the only one who could actually tell her tale accurately. Although her chronicle is written before Patrick “lets her read [his] tale of her extraordinary past,” her knowledge of what people are saying about her, and evaluation how wrong they are makes me wonder how she responded to Patrick’s account in real time? With her written account, she not only establishes herself as the sole proprietor of her voice and her story, but she also implicitly critiques the appropriation and myth-making that surround her.
Hadriana’s embodied knowledge of her experience is central to this survivor narrative. She registers what she feels, smells, sees, tastes, and hears over and over again. How does her embodied perspective challenge us to re-consider the ways that her body is objectified, exoticized, and imagined prior to this section? How does her awareness of her body complicate or disrupt the hyper-awareness of her body in other perspectives? I was fascinated by how she is simultaneously visible and invisible in this section. “No one noticed the state I was in” (191). What does it mean that everyone is gathered around her yet no one actually notices her and what is happening to her? Her fiancé, is especially guilty in this regard. “And Hector saw me for the first time in my bridal gown, the idea that he would soon be able to take it off me was completely blinding him” (191). To me this also shows the danger of making someone (a white French woman) into an icon or an idol. What she symbolizes or represents means more to people that her actual lived experience. In fact, at one point it seems as though their fascination with her body (and Hadriana as symbol) leads to their inability to discern what happened to her. When the doctors take her pulse, they continue to be distracted by her body, even in death (197). Hadriana calls attention to her experience “as she lived it” and her body as she feels it, by fully engaging each of her senses. On the one hand the attention to her body must be put in the context of her unfolding death, but, on the other hand when we consider all of the ways in which her body has been represented heretofore, Hadriana’s understanding of her body is striking. “The sounds, the colors, the lights, the smells–they made a jumble of confused impressions on my muddled senses” (192). As she takes us through her “muddled senses” taste, sight, touch, and sound are rendered in vivid detail that often made me think, how much of this is because she is dying and how much is about how she lives in the world? After all she is “a woman desperately, passionately, fatally in love with life” (249). To this end, what exactly does she mean by: “as before, I had to live and listen to myself living” (227)?
Survivor narratives are also characterized by a sense of agency. Nowhere is this more clear than in Chapter 12 when she describes her “will to live.” She fights for her life using her body, first seeming to channel all of her energy into living, then running through the town and banging on the doors of her community. Another marker of her agency is how she describes her sexual pleasure and desires. The intensity of her sexual experience with Lolita Philisbourg who “cultivates” Hadriana’s springtime garden also brought to mind Omi’seke Tinsley’s work in Thiefing Sugar on the use of the language of landscape to describe eroticism between women. How do the references to her “ripe almond” and “box of dreams” register differently from Hadriana’s vantage point? How does the erotic scene with Lolita figure in relation to how the erotic functions in the entire novel? Put differently, what is the difference in both description and substance of how sexuality and sensuality figure in this section, versus the rest of the book?
I also noted that her experience gives her a renewed sense of purpose, which is often the final element of the survivor narrative—it points to the lasting impact of what happens to the person who has survived (244). According to this view, the experience of survival should be situated in a larger context both within and beyond the individual’s life. Interestingly, in Hadriana’s case, her newfound awareness also leads to a deeper communion with the land, which is also consistent with how the land operates in vodou. Here again we can read her relationship to both the sea and the garden through an ecofeminist lens that sheds that adds more layers to what Depestre is doing with her narrative.
Lastly, I wondered about the love story aspect of the novel. Colin Dayan has noted, the reason why Depestre and Gallimard did not want to give Rouch the rights to the film was because they feared he would elide the love story. Do we agree that Hadriana in All My Dreams is truly a love story? And if so, what kind of love and between whom?
Reading: Movement 3
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