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Inventing New Orleans

Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn

Copyright Date: 2001
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    Inventing New Orleans
    Book Description:

    Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) prowled the streets of New Orleans from 1877 to 1888 before moving on to a new life and global fame as a chronicler of Japan. Hearn's influence on our perceptions of New Orleans, however, has unjustly remained unknown.

    In ten years of serving as a correspondent and selling his writing in such periodicals as theNew Orleans Daily Item,Times-Democrat,Harper's Weekly, andScribner's Magazinehe crystallized the way Americans view New Orleans and its south Louisiana environs. Hearn was prolific, producing colorful and vivid sketches, vignettes, news articles, essays, translations of French and Spanish literature, book reviews, short stories, and woodblock prints.

    He haunted the French Quarter to cover such events as the death of Marie Laveau. His descriptions of the seamy side of New Orleans, tainted with voodoo, debauchery, and mystery made a lasting impression on the nation. Denizens of the Crescent City and devotees who flock there for escapades and pleasures will recognize these original tales of corruption, of decay and benign frivolity, and of endless partying. With his writing, Hearn virtually invented the national image of New Orleans as a kind of alternative reality to the United States as a whole.

    S. Frederick Starr, a leading authority on New Orleans and Louisiana culture, edits the volume, adding an introduction that places Hearn in a social, historical, and literary context.

    Hearn was sensitive to the unique cultural milieu of New Orleans and Louisiana. During the decade that he spent in New Orleans, Hearn collected songs for the well-known New York music critic Henry Edward Krehbiel and extensively studied Creole French, making valuable and lasting contributions to ethnomusicology and linguistics.

    Hearn's writings on Japan are famous and have long been available. ButInventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearnbrings together a selection of Hearn's nonfiction on New Orleans and Louisiana, creating a previously unavailable sampling. In these pieces Hearn, an Anglo-Greek immigrant who came to America by way of Ireland, is alternately playful, lyrical, and morbid. This gathering also features ten newly discovered sketches. Using his broad stylistic palette, Hearn conjures up a lost New Orleans which later writers such as William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams used to evoke the city as both reality and symbol.

    Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was a prolific writer, critic, amateur engraver, and journalist. His many books-on a diverse range of subjects-includeLa Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes(1885),Gombo Zhebes(1885),Chita(1889), andGlimpses of Unfamiliar Japan(1894).

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-632-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Man Who Invented New Orleans
    (pp. xi-2)
    S. Frederick Starr

    What is a “Louisiana Writer”? To many, the answer is obvious: a Louisiana writer is a writer from Louisiana. As the Louisiana State Library proudly reminds us, in the Bayou State growing writers is a cash crop, albeit mainly for export. Some of the earliest, like the romantic novelists Father Adrien Emanuel LaRoquette or Alfred Mercier, playwright Placide Canonge, or the poet Arnold Lanusse, wrote in French. Others, like the ambivalent chronicler of Creole New Orleans, George Washington Cable, the worldly Truman Capote, or the mordent bard of the 1960s, John Kennedy Toole, wrote in English.

    But not all authors...

  5. PART I The Outsider as Insider: IMPRESSIONS
    (pp. 3-97)

    Hearn was by profession a journalist, but most “news” simply bored him. During a decade in Cincinnati he specialized in covering the most brutal and squalid sides of local life, passing stern judgments on what the locals had come to accept as normal. In the process he developed a style as lurid as his subject matter.

    In Louisiana he underwent a change of heart. Deeply drawn to this unfamiliar world, he strove to present it with sympathy and love. To readers around the country he was now an insider, describing and explaining what they could barely imagine. In the process,...

  6. PART II From the Land of Dreams: SKETCHES
    (pp. 98-158)

    When Hearn joined the staff of New Orleans’s strugglingDaily City Item, its editor wisely gave him free reign to indulge his literary fancy. Soon he was drawing on local topics to produce whimsical essays of a kind never before seen in the Crescent City. He even illustrated them with his own simple and folksy woodcuts. Readers were delighted. Circulation soared.

    If Hearn’s “sketches” had a purpose it was simply to entertain. But by sharing his distinctive vision of the city he put words to feelings many local residents shared but had not articulated. In this way, he helped shape...

  7. PART III Of Vices and Virtues: EDITORIALS
    (pp. 159-190)

    At both theDaily City Itemand theTimes-DemocratHearn served as reporter, critic, essayist, and editorial writer. In spite of his live-and-let-live attitude, he had a strong judgmental streak, to which he gave vent in pungent editorials. As an editorialist, he employed humor, irony, sarcasm, and verbal savagery. At his best when on the attack, Hearn also celebrated the unsung saints and noble victims of urban life.

    Whether attacking or defending, Hearn spoke to the strong moralizing undercurrent that has always coexisted with thelaissez faireattitudes that prevail on the surface of New Orleans life. His catalogue of...

  8. PART IV Reports from the Field: LONGER STUDIES
    (pp. 191-224)

    Hearn was a writer and journalist but he lived in an era when scientists were busy collecting and classifying information on all nature and humankind. His papers are full of notes probably intended for future volumes on Louisiana’s ethnic groups, its music, and even its wildlife (see the passages on hunting and fishing in part 1).

    Hearn was a born collector and classifier, but he actually completed only two such projects: compilations on Creole cuisine and on the Creole dialect. The following selections from these studies suggest why they have produced so many literary offspring down to our own day....

    (pp. 225-230)