Welcome to Exploring Romance in Marseille, a digital project conceived by a group of Digital Humanities students at the University of Edinburgh that maps the politics of movement in Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille. As you embark on this journey, these maps serve as navigational guides through the various landscapes of Romance in Marseille.

Although written in the 1930s, Romance in Marseille was not published until 2020, upon which it was immediately hailed as a ground-breaking work that delves into themes of physical disability, transatlantic travel, Black modernism, and queer fiction. The narrative unfolds in the vibrant setting of the Vieux Port of Marseille, revolving around a lively ensemble of dockworkers, prostitutes, and political organizers. At the heart of the story is Lafala, a West African sailor who stows away on a ship bound homeward, but is discovered and confined to a freezing closet which results in the loss of his legs. McKay trades Lafala’s physical mobility for class mobility; a successful lawsuit against the shipping company instigates Lafala’s return to Marseille as a rich, civilised man. There, he resumes his trans-African romance with Aslima, a Moroccan courtesan. Against the backdrop of characters striving for freedom, McKay’s novel explores the historical and contemporary implications of slavery within the harsh economic realities of the time. 

Our project looks into the politics of space in Romance in Marseille, providing various perspectives on the political and social dimensions woven into the fabric of our tale. We have constructed maps that attempt to chart physical movements within Marseille, and so illuminate the underlying currents of emotion, desire, and societal dynamics.

Immerse yourself in the vibrant streets of Marseille as McKay skillfully weaves a tale of love, adventure, and societal complexities and to an immersive literary adventure that resonates long after the final page.


Next At A Glance