Ambivalence and the Postcolonial Subject: The Strategic Alliance of Juan Francisco Manzano and Richard Robert Madden

By Williams, Jerry M. | Afro - Hispanic Review, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Ambivalence and the Postcolonial Subject: The Strategic Alliance of Juan Francisco Manzano and Richard Robert Madden


Williams, Jerry M., Afro - Hispanic Review


Gera C. Burton. Ambivalence and the Postcolonial Subject: The Strategic Alliance of Juan Francisco Manzano and Richard Robert Madden. Latin American Interdisciplinary Studies, Vol. 10. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2004. 144pp.

The vogue of postcolonial studies provides Gera C. Burton a framework in which to contextualize the unequivocal counter-discourse of two unlikely colonial subjects: the freed and literate Cuban slave Juan Francisco Manzano (1797?-1853) and the talented yet ambivalent Irish-Catholic servant to the British Crown Richard Robert Madden (1798-1886). Their unique alliance, which began shortly after Madden's tenure as superintendent of Liberated Africans on the Mixed Court of Arbitration in Cuba, and Manzano's manumission in 1836, resulted in Madden translating Manzano's autobiography in 1840 under the title of Poems by a Slave in the Island of Cuba, Recently Liberated ... with the History of the Early Life of the Negro Poet, Written by Himself. Published to coincide with London's first antislavery convention, the account-later translated into French-reached an international audience and set the stage for Madden's subsequent political and literary rise, notably as author of The United irishmen: Their Lives and Times (1842-1846), a polemical corrective history of Republican events. Madden distilled his Cuban experiences into several tomes, where he described (1) the cultural and political tensions between Ireland and Britain (The Connexion between the Kingdom of Ireland and the Crown of England (1845), (2) the paradox of his personal history as a loyal servant to British politics, forever to remain a second-class citizen because of his birthplace (The Memoirs (Chiefly Autobiographical) from 1798-1886 of Richard Robert Madden and, (3) slavery and injustice (Address on Slavery in Cuba, Presented to the General Anti-Slavery Convention, 1840), The Island of Cuba: Its Resources, Progress and Prospects (1849), and A Twelve Month's Residence in the West Indies during the Transition from Slavery to Apprenticeship (1835). While Madden's career blossomed, Manzano's was cut short after he was imprisoned for alleged involvement in an antislavery scheme, a fact that enhances the value of Burton's study of "the only extant slave narrative in the Spanish language" (2).

When Manzano, who had previously labored under a master-slave relationship, defied the prohibition to write, he segued into an even more ambiguous relationship when literacy became his master in a white colonial society that excluded his participation. Despite his self-proclaimed status as a "mulatto among blacks" within the confines of Cuban society, his personal odyssey would have taken him from physical servitude to possible literary anonymity had it not been for Madden's timely interest in his work. The latter, in turn, used the literary and personal friend' ship with Manzano to examine the ambivalence of his own marginalization as an Irish subject, considered not European but rather "Other" or "non White." In this first chapter Burton endeavors to apply postcolonial theory within an Irish context, which she concedes is contentious because of Ireland's "so-called complicity in the British imperial project." Yet the aim to recover, to "write back" and to "fill in the gaps" of the historical record by establishing a connection in the voices of Madden and Manzano, rescuing both writers from anonymity, creates a space and a voice for Burton to challenge canonical assumptions about the application of literary theory.

Chapter Two, "Manzano and Madden: Historical Context," follows a trajectory from the founding of colonies in the two Americas to the aftermath of French and North American revolutions, through Haiti under French rule, the United Irishmen Rebellion (1798), the Society of Friends' abolitionist activities, and Great Britain's Act of Union (1800), by which Ireland was "united" with the Crown. It is against this backdrop that Madden and Manzano were born, "circumscribing a significant alliance formed to resist colonial domination" (14). …

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