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Louisiana Creole Literature

Louisiana Creole Literature: A Historical Study

Catharine Savage Brosman
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Louisiana Creole Literature
    Book Description:

    Louisiana Creole Literature is a broad-ranging critical reading of belles lettres--in both French and English--connected to and generally produced by the distinctive Louisiana Creole peoples, chiefly in the southeastern part of the state. The book covers primarily the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the flourishing period during which the term Creole had broad and contested cultural reference in Louisiana.

    The study consists in part of literary history and biography. When available and appropriate, each discussion--arranged chronologically--provides pertinent personal information on authors, as well as publishing facts. Readers will find also summaries and evaluation of key texts, some virtually unknown, others of difficult access. Brosman illuminates the biographies and works of Kate Chopin, Lafcadio Hearn, George Washington Cable, Grace King, and Adolphe Duhart, among others. In addition, she challenges views that appear to be skewed regarding canon formation. The book places emphasis on poetry and fiction, reaching from early nineteenth-century writing through the twentieth century to selected works by poets still writing in the early twenty-first century. A few plays are treated also, especially by Victor Séjour. Louisiana Creole Literature examines at length the writings of important Francophone figures, and certain Anglophone novelists likewise receive extended treatment. Since much of nineteenth-century Louisiana literature was transnational, the book considers Creole-based works which appeared in Paris as well as those published locally.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-993-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Louisiana and Its Population: The Historical Background
    (pp. 3-16)

    In what became a maxim of deterministic criticism, Hippolyte Taine, among the most influential French intellectual figures of the middle and late nineteenth century, asserted that human artefacts and creations such as literature and art were products of “la race, le milieu, le moment”—race, milieu or surroundings, and time. Race was understood as ethnicity or perhaps nation. However imperfectly the theory may hold elsewhere, it is highly pertinent to understanding literature by the early Louisiana settlers, their descendants, and others from the crucible of races, languages, and political and cultural elements that constituted the territory. Louisiana had an ethnic,...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Features of Early Louisiana Literature and the Cultural Milieu
    (pp. 17-27)

    The concerns of this chapter are the standing of literature by Louisiana Creoles (in all applications of the term) and its early features; the nineteenth-century cultural milieu; and features of the environment that contributed to the distinctiveness of Louisiana literature.

    Initially, it should be considered to what degree this writing—by definition provincial or regional—is a discrete body of literary production, to be identified as such because of its distinctive characteristics and origin, and worthy of its own literary history—something like Scottish literature within the wider corpus of British writing. (The terms provincial and regional are not meant...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Père Rouquette and Other Early Francophone Poets
    (pp. 28-44)

    French language is one marker of the writers grouped in this chapter (though some wrote in English also). They were born in the eighteenth or early nineteenth century, were white and, to the degree their political and social views can be determined, generally conservative. Their conservatism is pertinent insofar as it affected their writing and its reception. They and many from later generations were fundamentally colonials, who, as it was observed earlier, visited France as the mother country (not the way Anglophone Americans went on the Grand Tour). They were not quite a disaspora; rather, they returned to the matrix...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Mercier and Other Novelists Born in the Early Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 45-56)

    Revolutions in America (1776) and France (1789, 1830, 1848) and new bodies of law, including the Napoleonic Code and American law after 1803, marked Louisiana, as it were, for nineteenth-century liberalism. Yet America remained the land of slavery also. While the grounds for liberalism vary, what is shared by most writers here and in chapter 5 is rejection of all rationales for slavery.

    A French republican, Alexandre Barde (1816–68), is credited with the first Louisiana novel, Mademoiselle de Montblancard (1843) (which takes place in Languedoc, however), though Pierre-Louis Berquin-Duvallon had published a Mélusine, apparently in Louisiana, and Eglantine ou...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Mid-Nineteenth-Century Immigrant Francophone Authors
    (pp. 57-67)

    The careers sketched here show how French-born immigrants to Louisiana were often more radical than locals of liberal persuasion. The violent revolutionary tradition—begun in 1789, with its proclamation of the universal Rights of Man, and reaffirmed in 1848—and the early veins of French socialism constituted a line of radical thought that differed from American liberalism, even that of the abolitionists. The writings of these immigrants illustrate how literary Romanticism and liberal republicanism were often allied on both continents. Their adherents looked upon literature as an almost sacred undertaking, not mere self-expression or l’art pour l’art but enlightenment for...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Fiction and Drama by Mid-Nineteenth-Century Free People of Color
    (pp. 68-79)

    A substantial and significant body of French postcolonial literature in nineteenth-century Louisiana was produced by the Free People of Color, parallel to that produced by white authors but created out of very different personal concerns and within contrasting social circumstances. Thus, although they shared many interests, tastes, and literary skills with their white contemporaries, they deserve separate treatment. Almost all the gens de couleur libres who contributed to the extant corpus were male. Reasons for the absence of women’s writing can only be surmised. Chris Michaelides has remarked that authors in the nonwhite community saw themselves as combatants in the...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Poetry by Mid-Nineteenth-Century Free People of Color
    (pp. 80-92)

    Poetry in nineteenth-century Louisiana by both gens de couleur libres and whites displayed “a quality inspired and polished by their sense of community.” Using European forms to which they added local cultural elements—geographic, lexical, historical—Louisiana poets produced accomplished verse, often moving and striking.¹

    The most important collective work of the literary community formed by the gens de couleur libres was an anthology called Les Cenelles: choix de poésies indigènes (1845), prepared by Armand Lanusse. It has been called the first volume of Afro-American poetry and, by Charles Hamlin Good, “the first American Negro literary movement.” The title refers...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Cable and Hearn
    (pp. 93-103)

    The appearance of George Washington Cable (1844–1925) on the literary scene in Louisiana signaled a new vigor in Anglophone literature. Whereas French had been the principal literary language in previous decades, it would be quickly displaced. Cable, the most eminent Louisiana author of the period, was born in New Orleans of northern Puritan stock on the maternal side and, on the paternal, slave-owning Virginia planters. He served in the Confederate cavalry (he was wounded twice). He considered himself a Creole. He wrote to the editor of the Boston Literary World, “I am a Creole myself, living in sight of...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Late Francophone Figures: de la Houssaye, du Quesnay, Dessommes
    (pp. 104-120)

    Although Sidonie de la Houssaye (1820–94) belongs by birth date to an earlier period, she came late to publication and thus is treated here. Née Hélène Perret, sometimes called Louise, self-styled Sidonie, she wrote under her married name and also the names Louis and Louise Raymond. She is sometimes called “acadienne,” but most of her ancestors were from the French colonial class. She was devoted to her French heritage and the language. One finds in her writings traces of sympathy for quadroons, caught between two other castes, and for slaves, “les pauvres noirs,” treated like cattle to be sold;...

  13. CHAPTER TEN Kate Chopin
    (pp. 121-130)

    Among writers who dealt with Louisiana Creoles, Kate Chopin (1850–1904) is certainly the one whose pages are read now most widely. This currency is due to the remaking of her reputation by feminist scholars; criticism on Chopin has become an industry. In one writer’s view, feminists “recognized in [her writings] their own revolt against socially prescribed roles and especially definitions of female sexual behavior.” Emily Toth has published several books and various essays dealing with her; in addition, no less a figure than Sandra Gilbert, among the leading American feminist critics, edited a one-volume collection of all Chopin’s fiction...

  14. CHAPTER ELEVEN King, Stuart, and Others
    (pp. 131-148)

    Born in New Orleans, Grace Elizabeth King (1852–1932), a fiction writer and popular historian, was not of French or Spanish Creole stock. Her father was born in Georgia and educated at the University of Virginia; her mother was likewise of Georgian stock. Though she was not Catholic, Grace attended French Catholic schools, including the Institut Saint-Louis (disguised, it seems, as the Institut Saint-Denis in her stories), and she learned to move easily in Creole circles as well as appreciate Continental French culture. Before the war her family owned a sugar plantation. Her father practiced law and served in the...

  15. CHAPTER TWELVE Some Twentieth-Century Louisiana Prose Writers
    (pp. 149-167)

    Although many fiction writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, whether Louisianans or visitors, have dealt with New Orleans, relatively few have emphasized the Creole background, traditions, or their remnants; fewer still call themselves Creole or are of mainly Creole extraction. The Creoles of Color, who preserve and cultivate their créolité, form a more cohesive group than do the descendants of white Creoles, whose community is barely identifiable at the present. What visitors and many residents are likely to identify

    now as “Creole” would generally be bits of recalled history or incidental features—cooking, a few customs, the architecture of...

  16. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Louisiana Creole Poets of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
    (pp. 168-188)

    Dealing critically with present-day literary products is different from investigating and assessing work of earlier periods, since, obviously, the past, that is, the original context and intervening developments, can be known and understood (as well as misunderstood) in ways that the present cannot (though the inverse is true likewise). Products of the present have not yet gone through the sieve of evaluation over time. “Contemporary judgment is notoriously fickle and tends to be impassioned.” The past has factual fixity. Yet, though it can no longer evolve, it is subject to expansion and correction (if new materials are unearthed) and reinterpretation....

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 189-230)
    (pp. 231-240)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 241-265)