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New Left Review I/223, May-June 1997

Marina Warner

Siren/Hyphen; Or, the Maid Beguiled

‘This female savage’, noted the missionary Jean-Baptiste Labat, in his Nouveau voyage aux îles de l’Amérique, ‘was, I believe, one of the oldest creatures in the world. It is said she was very beautiful at one time. . .’ [1] Jean-Baptiste Labat, Nouveau voyage aux îles de l’Amérique, The Hague 1624; quoted in Peter Hulme and Neil L. Whitehead, Wild Majesty: Encounters with Caribs from Columbus to the Present Day, Oxford 1992, pp. 105–6. He was describing a Carib known as Madame Ouvernard, who, when he met her in Dominica in 1700 , ‘was more than a hundred years old’. She was held in great esteem on account of her age, rather than her past, he writes, though she was also remembered as the wife of the late Sir Thomas Warner, first English governor of St Christopher’s and Nevis, who had been granted the Governorship of those islands by charter of King Charles I in 1625 . ‘She had a lot of children by this Warner’, wrote Père Labat, ‘So that her Carbet, which is very large, was peopled with a marvellous number of sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons.’ [2] Ibid. Among them, one son only has left a strong trace in the records: the former Governor of Dominica, known as ‘Indian’ Warner.

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Marina Warner, ‘Siren/Hyphen; Or, the Maid Beguiled’, NLR I/223: £3

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