The Secret History- Not so Secret or Intriguing as One Would Hope

October 12th, 2011

This epistolary novel is actually the first novel read thus far that was dissatisfying. Having the word “Secret” in the title gave hope that there would be some really interesting revelations exposed throughout this work. However, after completing the novel, it seemed to have started nowhere and ended at the same place even though the narrator traveled from place to place; I wish the story would have followed. The reason for this dissatisfaction is simple but not unwarranted: There were absolutely no revelations of secrets. The promised “secret history” of Haiti could have come from any historical text. When one compares Mary to H.F from The Journal of the Plague Year, Mary seems cold, distant, and somewhat unconcerned with the political movements taking place at this time. This is doubly odd considering that Sansay actually lived through these “horrific” experiences and saw their consequences first hand. H.F is a fictionalized character and Defoe did not personally experience the effects of the plague. Why is this? One reason may be that Sansay needed to distance herself from the memories of the dreadful events she experienced and Defoe was able to fully immerse himself into an imaginary world and speculate on how he thinks he would have felt living through the plague. Sansay writes: “It is not often in the tranquility of domestic life that the poet or historian seek their subjects! Of this I am certain, that in the calm that now surrounds us it will be difficult for me to find one for my unpoetical pen” (Sansay 93). For Sansay and Mary there is not much of a difference between a poet and historian. The two, in this case, are not mutually exclusive. Having an “unpoetical pen” implies that there is a lack of emotion in Mary’s letters which allows her to report factually without much room for errors behind her facts. However, Mary does not seem so focused on factually reporting on the uprising in Haiti but reporting on those that surround her. This is also the crux of the situation- Mary may not have any “poetical” inclinations about the revolution but cannot help but have emotions and “poetical” feelings for the friends that are affected by the trying times. It also could be that living through any political movement, unless one is an active member of it, diverts much of their attention to the aspects of everyday life that he or she is directly connected to. In other words, Sansay reports on the way those around her lived their everyday life during the time of this revolution. This then leads to a secondary issue held with this text. One would expect to read this novel through the lens of postcolonialisim yet, as one reads further on, it seems as though this text should be read through the lens of feminism. Mary’s letters tend to report on the horrible experiences women, of each race, have to experience. This is blatantly obvious because of her constant coverage on her sister Clara’s personal life. The secret history seems to be women’s lives in general. Many of the names of women are dashed out and the reader is unaware of the narrator’s name until letter XXVIII. Clara herself is not given her own voice until this point either. Also, the fact that Mary comments on the “private” life of these women implies that there is a secret to their public persona that only she knows the truth about. The public vs. private theme expressed in this novel are the most interesting. The women that allowed themselves to be public figures (like Clara, Clarissa, and Madame le Clerc) are openly addressed and “called out” on their lives and their mistakes. It is also interesting to note that these public women suffer the most- many of which actually lose their lives. The “dashed out” women are the most private and Mary keeps their anonymity. It may also imply that their names are not even worth mentioning because they lead such good, “moral” lives.

In the end, the novel was not completely dissatisfying because of the novel itself but because it was somewhat unclear which way to approach reading this work.

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