3. Véritable roman nègre Batouala’s Literary Context
Although René Maran unquestionably deserves his title of “founding father of black literature in French”, attempts to categorise Batouala’s literary impact have been marred by controversy and confusion.265 Ultimately, the work’s literary reputation has rested upon its pioneering role in an historical and political sense. While acknowledging Batouala’s uniqueness and importance, critics have largely relegated the novel to precursor status in the evolution of African writing. Its literary legacy has been compromised and diminished by the subsequent, more conspicuously Afro-centric works of the Négritude writers and poets. Dorothy S. Blair describes Maran as “important but marginal” in the field of African writing, while Mineke Schipper views him as merely a link between French colonial and Francophone African literature.266
Senghor’s more profound understanding of Maran’s literary style recognises that Batouala’s written French permits the African voice to emerge with an authority that places it on a par with that of the European:
Tout le ‘roman nègre’ en Francophonie procède de René Maran […] Après Batouala, on ne pourra plus faire vivre, travailler, aimer, pleurer, rire, parler les Nègres comme les Blancs. Il ne s’agira même plus de leur faire parler ‘petit-nègre’, mais wolof, malinké, éwondo en français. Car c’est René Maran, qui, le premier, a exprimé ‘l’âme noire’, avec le style nègre, en français.267
Despite Senghor’s anointing Maran “[le] précurseur de la Négritude”,268 his links with the Négritude movement have been...
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