Unlike Britain, whose empire has been studied from numerous perspectives, the French empire has received comparatively little attention, particularly with reference to how France and its colonies perceived the French outposts in the Pacific. Spanning Paris, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Indochina, Japan, Panama, and other island groups, Matt Matsuda argues that, far more significant than the French administrative or political presence in the Pacific, was the French Pacific-especially the waters of the Pacific itself-in the scientific, literary, and artistic imaginations of both colonizers and colonized. Initially, the book follows the traces of French naval officer and writer Pierre Loti and his powerful patron Juliette Adam as they "romance" a popular overseas empire that for both reflects back upon their highly emotional ideas of the nation. In Panama, romantic Jesuit ruins, isthmian peoples, and a French canal project illuminate Saint Simonian communities of love plotting to conquer the Pacific transit with a passionate Gallic nationalism.
In the Pacific islands of Wallis and Futuna, church fathers confront the sacred and profane alliances of a martyr's love that will create the first saint in the South Seas. Tahiti situates the reader where violent warfare and erotic loves for Tahitian "natives" are implicated in battles and alliances between the Queen and french Naval officers struggling for control of the Society Islands. In the penal colony of New Caledonia settler communities face local Kanak resistance to the affective politics of an imperial administration involving itself in making love-matches and households to serve the needs of colonialism. A chapter on Indochina examines how love of country, possession of the "native," and colonial marriage are consistent figures in the French articulation of the Southeast Asian colony, and how these same figures are reiterated by Vietnamese both in colonial collaboration and armed resistance.
The concluding discussions engage Japanese and French debates on the nature of political, economic, civic, and sentimental life east and west, and the possibilities of love in modern states as they mutually struggle to define what is common to all of the above studies: conflicting engagements with love for and against the empire in the Pacific. Through a wealth of primary sources, Matsuda describes the empire through the eyes of Tahitian monarchs, Kanak warriors, French politicos, prisoners, and Central American laborers, among others. He argues that French imperialism in the Pacific, both real and imagined, was registered most forcefully in the language of desire and love-for lost islands, for untouched people, for promised wealth and riches, and for carnal pleasure. Empire of Love promises to be an imaginative and ground-breaking work in imperial history, as well as in the growing field of Pacific Studies.