Lucien Bonaparte’s La Tribu indienne: A protomarxist allegory?

Lucien Bonaparte is best known as Napoleon’s brother and a one-time statesman under the Consulate but, as this re-edition of La Tribu indienne (1799) reminds us, French politicos have long dabbled in literature. Georges Pompidou published an Anthologie de la poésie française (1961); Valérie Giscard d’Estaing has published two novels—Le Passage (1994) and La Princesse et le président (2009). The unhappy fact remains, however, that neither Giscard’s nor Lucien Bonaparte’s literary works have done much for their political reputations. The value, such as it is, lies elsewhere.

To our mind, the most interesting aspect of the romantic tragedy behind La Tribu indienne is its allegory of economic determinism. As Karl Marx wrote in 1859, “The mode of production in material life determines the social, political, and intellectual life processes in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Bonaparte’s hero Edouard is primarily a trader avid for gain, so his actions—even the ultimate abandonment of pregnant Stellina—must be read in light of economic rationale. While the primitive Indian girl is tortured by useless remorse and nostalgia, the British merchant keeps his eyes firmly on the future. Would any modern investment banker have acted otherwise?

Cecilia Feilla’s introduction outlines a number of other interpretations for La Tribu indienne and places the novel in a rich literary tradition of sentimental exoticism. See our book review, forthcoming in Eighteenth-Century Fiction.

Lucien Bonaparte, La Tribu indienne, ou, Edouard et Stellina, ed. Cecilia A. Feilla. London : Modern Humanities Research Assoc., 2006.

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