Lumina Sophie dite Surprise in the French Review (USA)
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DRACIUS, SUZANNE. Lumina Sophie dite Surprise. Fort-de-France : Desnel, 2005. ISBN : 2-915247-02-1. Pp. 122. 14 €.
All who were present at the 2003 AATF convention in Martinique will remember fondly the dynamic performance of Suzanne Dracius’s play about the historical role played by the women of Martinique in the liberation of their country. It was a total theater spectacle combining music and choreography with dialogue. The author wrote her drama to give her compatriots a national heroine to admire and emulate. As she says in her “Préambule”, it is ironic that schoolchildren in Martinique learn about Jeanne d’Arc, a heroine from so long ago and far away, but are taught nothing about comparable figures in their own history.
Dracius has chosen as Martinique’s national heroine a young peasant woman named Lumina Sophie, who led a revolt of other women of her class against their white European overseers in 1870. The play shows how the official abolition of slavery in 1848 did not bring an end to the oppression to which poor people of color were subjected by the French landowners. Being a woman only compounded the oppression since one was a prey to sexual abuse as well. It is thus as victims of several forms of tyranny that the heroine and her companions not only speak out but also take up arms in the defense of their rights. The author makes clear, moreover, that the people of Martinique represent a racial mixture of Asian, European, as well as African heritage.
Dracius portrays her heroine as a completely human, flesh-and-blood figure. Lumina Sophie is carrying a child whose father is another revolutionary leader but to whom she is not married. She is as liberated in the moral realm as she seeks to be in the political. She thus goes beyond the traditional image of the heroic woman as an untouched virgin who lives only in the world of the spirit.
Dracius’s play captures the attention of the reader/spectator by its thought-provoking discordance of styles. The drama is both epic and burlesque, classical and avant-garde. There is a constant shift from one register to another, and the audience is moved to compassion and laughter almost simultaneously. Lumina Sophie herself is a dignified individual who often remains aloof from the other characters. Her soul-searching and her efforts to encourage her colleagues raise the tone of the work to its most elevated level of discourse. She makes eloquent speeches in favor of education as the most effective tool of liberation and talks about bringing the ideals of the French Revolution - liberty, equality, fraternity - to the inhabitants of Martinique.
The humor in the play is provided mostly by a supernatural and androgynous figure named La Muse Africa. A good deal of the action consists in the confrontations between this character and the chorus of women who have mixed feelings about her. A heavenly messenger, La Muse Africa exists beyond time and thus has access to modern conveniences, such as a cell phone with which to call God. She tries to inspire Lumina Sophie and the other women to act heroically in the name of their principles, but generally arouses only incomprehension and suspicion. In the end, both the heroine and the other women declare their independence from this other-worldly messenger and decide to stand on their own. They will define their values on their own terms.
It is indeed the women of Martinique who win over La Muse Africa to their way of thinking, rather than the reverse. She comes to admire their willingness to sacrifice themselves to their cause, expressing these feelings in the play’s moving epilogue. She thereby overcomes her earlier superficial effort to exploit their revolt as a public relations opportunity. She also prophesies the eventual triumph of their pursuit of freedom, despite their momentary defeat, as well as the future establishment of harmony among all races.
GILROY, James P., University of Denver, « DRACIUS, SUZANNE. Lumina Sophie dite Surprise »,
The French Review (USA), volume 80, n° 2 (Dec. 2006), p. 486-487.