"Civis Romana sum”: Bernardine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe and the Emancipatory Poetics of (Multi-) Cultural Citizenship

Osborne, Deirdre. 2020. "Civis Romana sum”: Bernardine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe and the Emancipatory Poetics of (Multi-) Cultural Citizenship. In: Jean Wyatt and Sheldon George, eds. Reading Contemporary Black British and African American Women Writers: Race, Ethics, Narrative Form. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN 9780367189280 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Bernardine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe: A Novel (2001) creates a textual cross-talk between ancient classical and contemporary multicultural voices. Evaristo purposefully exerts an imaginative reach beyond what have become totalizing parameters around modern thinking about black people’s history: enslavement and colonization. The text problematizes and revises such “known narratives” and their hierarchies of colorism to offer a lesson in what lies beneath the great colonizing and neo-colonizing language, English, by means of its ancestor of the same magnitude, Latin, which is nowhere spoken but is everywhere embedded in what is heard and read. This chapter explores how Evaristo’s aesthetics launch the historical novel into new formal territories, employing the dynamics of spoken-word poetry, dramatic monologue and monodrama as a means of rendering her poetic idiom. Her centralized black female protagonist Zuleika (through whom Evaristo focalizes social and personal narratives) is composed via interlocking features of “inter-textuality” and “poeticity” that court alertness to its “soundings” and sustain a “resistant orality” within the writing. Notably, the chapter examines Zuleika’s role as a black flâneuse. A rarely recognized presence in literary criticism, she endows a provocative dimension to gendered pedestrianism, as the novel’s trans-generic and form-flexing properties decisively deliver an emancipatory poetics.

Item Type:

Book Section

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature
Theatre and Performance (TAP)


3 February 2020Published

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Date Deposited:

18 Nov 2019 10:19

Last Modified:

22 May 2020 14:26



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