Chapter

The Natural Prison

Peter Redfield

in Space in the Tropics

Published by University of California Press

Published in print December 2000 | ISBN: 9780520219847
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520923423 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520219847.003.0004
The Natural Prison

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This chapter marks the crucial slide of the penal colony from a space of improvement to a space of punishment. Although the penal colony retained the rhetorical trappings of moralization and development, its acknowledged purpose became more clearly punitive. The continued existence of the penal colony called Devils's Island, attracted an extraordinary measure of attention and sensationalization in France and beyond, particularly the English-speaking world. The chapter examines various sensational portrayals in terms of what they reveal about the topography of colonial anxieties. While Dreyfus's deportation was far from typical of the experience of convicts in French Guiana, and the outrage it provoked was not the first incidence of a public outcry against the bagne (penal colony), it captured the essential mood pervading accounts of the later penal colonies: despair amid the floating terror of distant tropics. For the last half century of its existence, the penal colony constituted a relatively stable social order. To balance its representation, this chapter quickly surveys some of the social facts involved.

Keywords: Natural prison; penal colony; Devil's Island; French Guiana; bagne; Dreyfus's deportation

Chapter.  13685 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Anthropology

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