Hadriana’s Voice

“I died on the night of the most beautiful day of my life.”

January 23, 2020 12-1PM EST

Movement 3 of the novel again takes us into yet another, entirely surprising set of stories – told, this time, in Hadriana’s own words. We’ll discuss what we learn from her self-telling of womanhood and zombification, and consider the alternative geography of the Caribbean Depestre poses here. We’ll pay particular attention to the ending of the novel, and the stories it enticingly leaves untold.

To begin the discussion, our  Boston College colleague Régine Michelle Jean-Charles, who will be opening the session on Thursday, has shared these thoughts. We invite you to respond in the comments section below as we prepare for our discussion!

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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5 Replies to “Hadriana’s Voice”

  1. Hi all, one of Professor Glover’s seminar students here. I looked at Hadriana’s section of the novel in my last essay. I was interested in how idealized she was by Patrick, and by all of Jacmel, and how in the last section of the book she really sets things straight and takes back her own narrative. It’s clear that from the beginning, she is objectified for her physical beauty –– but what interested me in particular was the language used to describe her. Hadriana is referred to as a rose, a fairy, an angel, a star, a jewel –– either an inanimate object, or a magical, ethereal being that doesn’t really exist –– such that she’s actually denied her humanity. I thought it was ironic that, through this myth of her perfection and this fairy-tale language, she’s considered this superhuman, supernatural being long before she even becomes a zombie.

    Revisiting her section of the book, I really came to appreciate how sharp her character is –– fully aware of how she is perceived by the Jacmeliens, and pushing back against it, even gently mocking it. When she is called « une étoile qui n’a brillé qu’une fois » Hadriana demands, « Où ? Quand ? La nuit de Meyer sous la grande main tremblante de Patrick? Au jardin du manoir, dans les bras révérencieux de mon Hector? » simultaneously ridiculing this repeated metaphor of her as a shining star and reaffirming her sexuality (183). Later, expressing regret about not having consummated her marriage before her death, she reveals that her fiancé « avait eu peur de souiller la chair blonde de la fée française, fille créole d’un prince des maths et du tabac » (168). Here, she uses the same fairy-tale language that others use to describe her, calling herself a « fairy » and her father a « prince », to express her frustration at being treated so gingerly. Able to tell her story in her own words, Hadriana upends and dispels this myth that has surrounded her up until this point –– first and foremost by demonstrating that she is a human being, with thoughts, desires, and agency –– and then by taking back and twisting around the very language that was used to idealize her.

    Alexandra Lozada says:
    1. I think your point about how the third movement really gives Hadriana her own voice is so important. The first two movements give us the character of Hadriana very much from a male gaze point of view. While Patrick seems to respect her as a character, she is seen through her “beauty” and from a relative distance. As you said, she is referred to as a jewel or a fairy etc.. On top of this, I was struck by the juxtaposition in the second movement of the Le Monde Article (2nd movement, chapter 2), and the following chapter in which Patrick despairs over Hadriana not being mentioned. Patrick considers Hadriana to be a part the essence of Jacmel, and that she contributes to it’s personality as much as the “intensely tropical” landscape or the “Kraft Sister’s Bed and Breakfast”. I wondered if this can be seen as objectifying Hadriana further or putting her higher up this pedestal that he seems to already have her on? But again, is this pedestal also classifiable as being objectifying? In the third section, by giving Hadriana her own voice, we are given the answer to many of the previously unanswered questions. Depestre’s technique of changing the narrator seems to give the reader a sort of 360 degree view of the events, from the outside (as Patrick) and from the inside (as Hadriana). I wondered why people might have thought that Depestre chose to have Hadriana’s chapter as the final one? On top of this, as Alexandra said, Hadriana is able to dispel the myth and the ‘legendification’ of her character as she is humanized in the first person narrative. I wondered why Depestre might have wanted to clear up some of the mystery? Did it make the piece more satisfying to readers by seeing Hadriana break through the mystery and respond to all the unanswered questions?

      Ariella Paradise says:
  2. Hi all, I am a student in Professor Glover’s class. I was interested in the choice of Depestre to include Hadriana’s perspective in the Third Movement and what he wanted us to draw from her character by the end of the book. As mentioned in the introduction of this week’s discussion, the third movement is very much a self-telling of womanhood, which we previously do not get in the book. For my final paper, I focused on the idea of redemption and the end of the book. However, it seems that perhaps the whole of the Third Movement is Depestre’s way of redeeming Hadriana’s character. Hadriana loses possession over her own body as the poison infiltrates her being, “lodged (themselves) in (her) genitals” and “rise up through (her) throat”. While she is totally marginalized and incapable of controlling herself, she hints of the previous marginalization that she experienced in society prior to her zombification. There is the implication of sex as a sin and she starts to believe that zombification is her punishment. She speaks of her temptation to have sexual relations before marriage and her relations with Lolita, and says she has sinned (207). It appears that Hadriana is both trapped in her state as a zombie but also trapped in her status in society as a woman. Hadriana escapes both society and zombification by the end of the book as she flees her kidnappers and then Jacmel for a better life. Hadriana’s character experiences a huge transition following her zombification. Her petit bon ange is trapped in an “old jeroboam of champagne” (213) which literally turns her into an object – highlighting her previous objectification. She flees on her own using the forces of nature and receives no aid from the people of Jacmel. I believe that Depestre chose these aspects to redeem the previously helpless character of Hadriana and to free her from the confines of her zombie state and from the confines of society. I wondered what people thought of the use of nature in her great escape and her “connections to the sea, the sky, the birds, the rain, the trees, and the wind” (244) ? Hadriana becomes a leader of a community who help her and they flee to Jamaica. Hadriana makes the point that her white complexion is to her advantage when it comes to getting a visa (249). Is this Depestre’s way of giving her power through her complexion and her gender, after being previously marginalized and objectified, or is he hinting at a greater issue of inequality in which white skin is incorrectly a source of power?

    Ariella Paradise says:
  3. Like, Ally I was also interested in how Hadriana was represented, and how this contrasted with her own voice.
    Hadriana’s character was made into a myth, or a collective memory of Jacmel. Exploring the reactions to her death, there is a mythification of Hadriana: “A sa mort, les Jacmeliéns, qui l’aimaient et l’admiraient comme une fée, l’intégrèrent, le soir même, au répertoire des fables du pays, dans une fantastique histoire” (51). Overall, she is intergrated into the narrative of their history as “un fable,” seemingly dehumanizing her. Additionally, she is described as the reason Jacmel was ever prosperous, and thus, her death creates the end to the “opulence de Jacmel” (126).
    Hadriana defies this legendification and even her affect on Jacmel’s prosperity, detaching herself from the identity of Jacmel: “Alors, il n’y avait rien de plus urgent que de me projeter vers les hauteurs du jour resplendissant qui continuait sans moi a étinceler sur les eaux denses et bleues du golfe de Jacmel” (189). Here, Hadriana prioritizes herself, and in doing so, affirms her separation from Jacmel. The day continues to sparkle on the waters of the gulf of Jacmel, without her. This distinction is Hadriana’s way of denouncing the way she was previously viewed and dehumanized by the people of Jacmel. She captures her voice and places herself above the perceptions imposed onto her by others.

    Katherine says:
  4. As an as-yet non verbal participant with a tape over my small computer camera, and avid listener to the three preceding meetings, and as a History major in college, I have been impressed with the many thoughtful and deep-beyond- my -usual -reading of literature. I have a long history in Haiti – My first visit was with my parents and siblings. My step-father Larry Mellon had read about Albert Schweitzer and decided to leave his life as a rancher, return to academics to become a doctor to serve in a place of need. My mother Gwen totally embraced this move. Serendipity brought us to Haiti in the summer of 1952 where a site for the future Hôpital Albert Schweitzer was identified. I have traveled to Haiti, to Deschapelles, every year since with children and grandchildren. After the EQ ten years ago, at the behest of the Essex CT selectmen, friends and I created a Sister Cities relationship with the village of Deschapelles – we have established the community’s first request for a library as well as supporting Early Childhood Education, Tennis and Music programs. Having books in French and Kreyol for children and adults to read in this rural town provides them with the opportunity to enjoy books beyond the academic ones they use in school, and to read for pleasure, enjoyment, and to expand their own horizons.
    My travels through Hadriana have been totally enhanced by my long relationship with the country of Haiti. On our first summer there in 1952 we visited Jacmel and stayed at Pension Kraft when the two sisters were still alive.. Memories of sitting on the galerie looking over the street came back strongly in Rene Despestre’s descriptions. I also accepted all the “fantasies” just as they were presented without doing any deep inspection. such as the Carnival descriptions, enjoying all the international and generational unanticipated characters who “attended” in costumes, – why not? I totally enjoyed re-reading Edwidge Danticat’s “After the Dance.” That book enriched my enjoyment of descriptions in Hadriana and Carnival as seen from another generation (or two)
    I really liked Despestres’ introduction of first sexual experiences of young women as being joyous,. and the fantasy of the butterfly/dragonfly as the kind “introduction” to what should always be a beautiful experience. I liked reading of Hadriana’s experiences of desire being positively described. In this day and age of the much needed attention of the many abuses of women in the work place, in UN Peace Keepers actions, it was really nice to read of positive first experiences in Hadriana.
    As in much of Haiti, you can’t always fully understand everything – you just take it as it comes – I have long been interested in zombification, and was delighted to have Hadriana escape from her situation through her own physical and emotional strength. Sure, all the houses were shuttered and she could not be heard knocking at the doors because of the downpour, and sure, she had the energy to out-run her pursuers, and sure, magically the small boat with adventuring Haitians off to Jamaica gave her a good exit. And sure, I was not surprised when the wandering academic with his actually increasing love for Hadriana actually arrived in Jamaica, and they were united in love that they could not have happened any other way…
    So there are my offerings of my “lay-mans” clear enjoyment of this wonderful book. With much appreciation to those of you who have enhanced my deeper understanding and enjoyment. I look forward to the upcoming reception with Edwidge Danticat as well as the presentation at Barnard of the anticipated mural by my lovely friend Nathalie Jolivert’
    Jenifer Grant

    Jenifer Grant says:

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