Paradise lost?
: Narratives of disaster in the French Caribbean

  • Margaret Cunningham

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The Caribbean is often portrayed as a tropical paradise with sandy white beaches, turquoise sea, and lush flora. Yet the archipelago is also an area especially prone to floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, and has been profoundly imprinted by the catastrophic effects of colonialism. Disaster Studies is a recent area of academic interest in Francophone Postcolonial Studies and in the last decade Haiti has received significant critical attention, because of the devastating earthquake that shook Port-au-Prince on 12th January 2010. Although the French départements of Martinique and Guadeloupe have also experienced—or been profoundly threatened by— countless so-called ‘natural’ disasters, these islands have largely been elided in Caribbean Disaster Studies.

This thesis complements and expands on existing works by examining literary works written in response to, or in remembrance of, three major ‘natural’ disasters or moments of crises in twentieth-century Martinique and Guadeloupe: The Eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902, the worst volcanic disaster of the twentieth century which killed 30,000 people in Saint Pierre in three minutes; the anticipated eruption of La Soufrière in 1976, which led to the evacuation of 75,000 people from the Basse-Terre area; and Cyclone Hugo in 1989, which devastated Guadeloupe and gained notoriety as the cyclone of the century.

The study puts well-established writers including Raphaël Confiant, Suzanne Dracius, Daniel Maximin and Gisèle Pineau into dialogue with lesser-known or entirely forgotten authors such as Clémence Cassius de Linval, Raphaël Tardon, Guy Tirolien and Daniel Picouly. Closely analysing these narratives by authors of different genders and ethnocastes, belonging to different generations and literary traditions, through several interrelated theoretical lenses, this project interrogates the ways in which French Caribbean writers imagine, construct, measure, and in some cases repress the effects of ‘natural’ disaster across time and space.

Thesis embargoed until 31 July 2028.
Date of AwardJul 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorMaeve McCusker (Supervisor) & Claire Moran (Supervisor)


  • Postcolonialism
  • disaster studies
  • ecocriticism
  • French Caribbean
  • literature
  • trauma & memory studies

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