"Leona Queyrouze, Doctoral Dissertation by Donna Meletio "   Labry family story

Mary Labry

A Dissertation
Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the
Louisiana State University and
Agricultural and Mechanical College
In partial fulfillment of the
Requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
The Department of English
Donna M. Meletio
B.A., University of Texas San Antonio, 1990
M.A., University of Texas San Antonio, 1994
August, 2005
©Copyright 2005
Donna M. Meletio
All rights reserved
For their support throughout this project and for their patience and love, I would
like to thank my daughters, Sarah, Maegan, and Kate, who are the breath and heart of my
life. I would also like to thank the strong and beautiful women and men who have walked
through this life journey with me: my life-long friend Dr. Denise Baskind and her
husband Steve, my sister Mary Ann Appleby and her husband Bob, Mary Siffert, Susan
and Steve Caspers, Lomeda Montgomery, Pat Nover and Greg, Eileen, and my wonderful
family: my mother, my brothers Carl, Larry, and Richard; Mike and Tami Slater, Ken
Jury, and Quintin Stansell.
While I was LSU, I met many brilliant and compassionate people in the doctoral
program, and if it were not for Shelisa Theus, Susie Kuilan, and Terri and Ryan Ruckel
who offered love, encouragement, and academic passion, this path would have been too
hard to travel. I would also like to offer my heartfelt thanks to my committee, Dr. John
Lowe, Dr. Carolyn Ware, Dr. John Rodrigue, and Dr. Qiancheng Li who made this
project possible. Last, I would like to thank one of the most remarkable teachers I have
ever met, my director, Dr. Edward White, whose humor and kindness always gave me
WORKS CITED……….………………………………………………...223
APPENDIX: POETRY…………………………………………………..234
This new historicist study chronicles the life and work of a Louisiana French
Creole, Leona Queyrouze (1861-1938) who grew up in the turbulent era following the
Civil War. Her articles and poetry, mostly written in French, were published in the local
periodicals, L’Abeille, Comptes-Rendus, the Picayune and the Crusader under the
pseudonyms, Constant Beauvais, Salamandra, and Adamas. She also translated plays
from French into English in New York under at the request of Harpers Bazar and wrote
two symphonies that were performed at the World Exposition in New Orleans in 1884.
Through an ever-widening critical lens, I focus upon her personal life, her ethnic
identity as a Creole, the Vieux Carré, and her salon that included such notables as writer
Mollie Moore Davis, Charles Gayarré, historian; Paul Morphy, chess player; Dr. Alfred
Mercier, novelist and dramatist; General P.G. T. Beauregard, Adrien Rouquette,
bohemian poet-priest, and Lafcadio Hearn who later became an important figure in the
fusion of eastern and western literature. Her salon functioned as a folk group, one that
created the Athénée for the preservation of French culture through its literary organ, the
Comptes-Rendus. In the symbolic acts of conservatism and dynamism, according to the
twin laws of folklore, they were instrumental in preserving the French Creole culture at
the same time they were factors in its change.
In her writing, Queyrouze addresses the key issues of the period and calls for
egalitarian reform and suffrage even as she struggled with her own elitism and
assumptions of racial hierarchy. In the final analysis, I compare her work to that of
mainstream American writers, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary E. Wilkins
Freeman, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Kate Chopin who were calling for social reform from
within the patriarchal social structure while Queyrouze was positioning herself as an
outsider in work that was both elegiac and rebellious. Contrary to the Protestantism and
realism of her counterparts, including George Washington Cable, Queyrouze followed the
French romantic aesthetic traditions codified by Victor Hugo and Alfred de Musset, and
as such, her work challenges our notions of a monolithic American literature.
I discovered Leona Queyrouze in the summer of 1995 when I retreated from a
summer storm into a museum off Jackson Square in New Orleans. As the rain continued
to pour outside, I walked the halls of the Cabildo museum looking at portraits of kings,
bishops, statesmen, and aristocrats. After a while, I came upon the arresting face of a
serious young woman in a simple gown. Leona Queyrouze Barel-- the placard read--poet,
essayist and composer. Intrigued, I asked a woman at the desk for more information about
her, and she promised to send some to me. That moment was the beginning of a long
journey into the research of her life and work, the French Creole culture, and the history
and politics of the region. What emerged was a person as complex as the time and place
she lived. Leona grew up in a time when the face of our nation was changing and when
the conflict of the Civil War illuminated the vast ideological differences in our country. In
this time of sweeping change and growth, America was a vast flood taking all with it, and
cultures that had been dominant in certain areas of the county either became part of the
mainstream or were left behind. While many ethnic groups successfully assimilated into
American culture, the French Creoles consciously chose to separate themselves. Whether
this was due to French chauvinism or as a reaction against Anglo-Saxonism as described
by Nell Painter’s Standing at Armageddon, the Creoles orchestrated their own demise.
Their story, however, is one aspect of American history that deserves recognition because
it demonstrates the dilemma faced by many ethnic cultures: If the French Creoles defined
themselves by their own ethnic markers and pitted themselves against the Anglo-
Americans, they risked marginalization, but if they did not take that risk, they faced an
untenable situation—the loss of their heritage. In the latter case, the Creoles loss is our
own, for we lose the depth and richness that this culture would have offered, and we also
lose the ability to see our history and our society in all of its complexity. This
intersection of conflicting dynamics between dominant and non-dominant cultures is one
worthy of investigation because it demonstrates how cultural differentiation can affect the
inclusion of an ethnic group into mainstream culture. To that end, a study of the French
Creole culture, and particularly the personal observations of one of its members in the
person of Leona Queyrouze can enhance our understanding of our own cultural and
political history. According to Marc Shell and Werner Sollors, the value of such a study
can “bring about a much-needed reorientation in historical consciousness [ . . . that] may
force readers to question past and current generalizations about literature and history of
the United States” (9-10). This has been the ultimate goal of my study, and the key in
achieving this objective is to focus on those who experienced the tumultuous period while
being powerless to effect any change or exert any influence other than to share their
opinions through personal correspondence and through the publication of commentary in
the newspapers. Edward L. Ayers points out that “new chronologies and issues emerge
when we look beyond the public realm, when we explore the diaries and fiction as well as
editorial and political correspondence” (vii). Such is the case for Leona Queyrouze who
published her opinions under her own name and under the names of Constant Beauvais,
Salamandra (Greek: “Fire-lizard,” symbol of unshakable courage and faith that cannot be
destroyed by fire), and Adamas (Greek: “Unconquerable,” the metal used to make the
swords for the gods; another name for a diamond).
Leona retained a love of French literature and culture while addressing the cause
of social justice, yet, she like many others, was susceptible to social prejudice. This
investigation of Leona’s Queyrouze’s letters, poetry, essays, and short stories will reveal
that her political views were more complex than the polarizing public debates of the
period, which were predominantly divided along partisan lines. She explored ideas in a
manner that was a contradiction of sympathies and allegiances, and a study of her life
reveals that she was as complicated as the Creole culture itself. She was one of the many
forgotten voices in a tumultuous historical period, a voice then can only be described as a
mosaïque of sentiments, which is understandable in someone who experienced first-hand
the political and social upheaval the late nineteenth century. The objective of this
dissertation is to retrieve a portion of our past according to the treatise set forth by
Frederic Jameson who asserts that a slice of history should be “returned to life and
warmth and allowed once more to speak, and to deliver its long-forgotten message” (“On
Interpretation”19). In pursuit of this goal, this study will provide an intimate glimpse into
the life of a woman who articulates the grieving process of cultural loss though her
poetry, essays, and speeches.
There are several applications to this dissertation that serve its structure and
intent. First, because this study is a precursor to a critical biography, I have written the
first four chapters in a narrative style and have referred to Leona Queyrouze as “Leona”
rather then by her last name. These chapters focus on her with a “close-up lens,”
including a biographical sketch, the definition of the term Creole, a description of her
environment, and a study of her salon as it functioned as folk group. These angles will
investigate all aspects surrounding her life, including the sights and sounds of her streets,
the headlines of newspapers, her intimate companions, her family, and the people she
loved. As my focus shifts towards the political and literary landscape-- and as the camera
lens widens to capture the panorama of these issues-- Leona Queyrouze becomes more
peripheral and the perspective more impersonal.
Second, I will use a new historicist infrastructure as a foundation in order to
demonstrate how Leona both defined her culture and was defined by it. Utilizing the
theoretical foundations of Michael Foucault, Gottfried von Herder, and Clifford Geertz,
as applied by Stephen Greenblatt and Catherine Gallagher, I will use the new historicist
lens to reveal how her culture becomes the text that is articulated through her work. Her
oeuvre will be contextualized as it embodies and represents a constructed zeitgeist that
cannot be separated from the value system inherent in any social system. Greenblatt and
Gallagher believe that through this perspective, we can retrieve “figures hitherto kept
outside the proper circles of interest,” such as the “learned women excluded from easy
access to the materials of scholarship” (9-10). One goal of new historicism is to bring
these marginalized voices “into the light of critical attention” (11) because these voices
“did not spring up from nowhere . . . their achievements must draw upon a whole lifeworld”
(13). Thus, we must “treat them as part of the history that needs to be interpreted”
(15). Equally important to my study is the fact that while new historicism is “deeply
interested in the collective, it remains committed to the value of the single voice” (16).
Leona Queyrouze’s work will be subjected to folkloristic inquiry that investigates
not only the definition of the text, but the function it serves. Ormond Loomis states that
because “culture is essentially abstract and ineffable,” we must rely on “cultural
expression, the overt evidence of cultural identity” (7); therefore, a study of a cultural text
can “serve to inform future generations of their cultural past” (3) Pursuant to this, I will
apply the definition of the folk group to the Queyrouze salon, as described by Dan Ben5
Amos, Harris Berger, Giovanna Del Negro, Richard Dorson, Alan Dundes, Barbara
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, and Elliott Oring to show that this salon was an expressive folk
group consciously attempting to safeguard its cultural markers in the face of rising
Third, I have inserted significant passages from original unpublished manuscripts
to serve as a departure point for other scholars who may not have immediate access to
Louisiana State University’s Hill Memorial Library archives. My objective in making her
work available is to assist critical inquiry and to serve scholarship that challenges the
notion of a monolithic national literature. The overarching goal is to re-capture
marginalized voices and to retrieve the faint relics of failed social constructs.
Even though the French Creole culture ultimately failed to retain its hegemony in
Louisiana, an intimate study of this group juxtaposed against the larger canvas of
American literature reveals both common and divergent interests and themes. In viewing
the intersection of rising Americanization and the failing Creolization, one can capture
what Werner Sollors describes in Creole Echoes as a “lost cultural moment” (xvii). He
points out that the literature of the French Creoles has largely gone unrecognized “for it
has tended to be marginalized in both American and French literary studies,” and he
concludes that this may have been caused by the fact that the literature of the period was
imagined in terms of “national location,” and writers who referred to themselves as
Creoles were using a nationally and “racially ambiguous term” (xvii). He observes that
these writers “often drew on French forms but at times infused them with Louisiana
themes. They produced an impressive variety of highly accomplished verse” and while it
is “impossible to press these heterogeneous poems into the service of any single
overarching interpretation” (xviii), these poems offer a glimpse into a culture that lost its
place in the forward movement of American literary history. In the Preface to Creole
Echoes Norman Shapiro states that “many of these almost unknown poets had produced a
substantial canon that did not deserve the relative oblivion into which it had fallen”
(xxii). One of those voices belonged to Leona Queyrouze, and this study serves to retrieve
that lost voice.
Perhaps the most perplexing and laborious
of all tasks, is to annihilate one’s self so
completely as to become qualified for
judging; and that is what must be done to
enable us to look for truth, with some safety,
at ourselves and others
--“Patriotism and Wagner” Leona
Leona Queyrouze’s journey towards artistic expression began over a century ago
on February 23, 1861 in the parish and city of New Orleans. Mrs. Leon Queyrouze (Anne
Marie Clara Tertrou) registered Leona’s birth on May 24, 1866 with the full name of
Marie Leóna Queyrouze. The five year delay in the registration of her birth, according to
local historians, was customary because the time to register children’s births was before
they entered school rather than at the time of their births. Leona’s mother, Clara Tertrou,
was a descendant of French aristocracy, the Cathelineaus, De St. James of Picardy and the
Beauvais, some of whom came to America during the reign of Louis XIV. To honor her
mother’s family name, Leona would adopt the name, Constant Beauvais, as one of her
pseudonyms when she began her writing career. Leona’s father, Leon Queyrouze, was
born in Beaumont in the Peregrine region of France and moved to Louisiana where he
met and married Clara. While it is not certain whether it was his family or his wife’s that
owned vineyards in France, nor is it certain how they acquired the plantation in St.
Martin’s parish, which was named Leona, records indicate that before the two Queyrouze
children were born, the family moved to New Orleans. Leon Queyrouze registered the
birth of Leona’s younger brother, Maxim (Jacques Maximé) on January 5, 1870, and
records show that he was born at the family home at No. 17 St. Louis Street in New
Orleans on November 27, 1866. Leon opened a grocery store with a partner on St. Louis
Street near the family home. He later became a wine importer as a sole proprietor.
What survives of their time in St. Martinville (a town that was also known as “the
little Paris” of Louisiana) can be found next to the St. Martin de Tours church. Next to the
statue of Evangeline is the gravestone of a young Charles Tertrou, who according to
family records, would have been the older brother of Leona’s mother, Clara. Clara’s
ancestors were considered to have been heroes in the French revolutionary war in
Vendee. Her family had lived in Picardy, but had fled France when the head of the James
family had violated Richelieu’s ban against dueling. They eventually settled in Louisiana
under the name of Beauvais. Clara was the daughter of Laurent Tertrou who married
Louisa Beauvais. He died in 1840, and Louisa remarried to Alexander Thenet. Years
later, Louisa Thenet would receive a letter from the French Academy of Sciences in
Bordeaux, France, praising her granddaughter, Leona, for her literary accomplishments.
Little more is known of Leona’s mother and her family, for most of her correspondence
or personal papers are not included in the archive material. Most documents donated by
the family concerned Leona’s papers and those of her father, Leon.
Leona’s father was born in France on February 3, 1818, the son of the first officer
of Napoleon’s empire. At the age of twelve hewas sent to America under the care of his
uncle who was a prominent businessman in New Orleans, and his uncle sent him to
college in Lexington, Kentucky, and then to Havana, Cuba (in 1833) to learn Spanish.
When Leon returned to New Orleans in 1835 he went to work for his uncle. First, he
worked as a clerk at “Carriere, Daran & Co.” for five years, and then became a partner.
After his marriage, Leon Queyrouze became a wine merchant, first under the
auspices of “Queyrouze and Langsdorf,” and then as “Queyrouze Bros.” at #17 St. Louis
Street (this is now 523-5 St. Louis). However, with the advent of the Civil War, he closed
his business. On April 12, 1861, he was appointed for a five year term as captain of the
Orleans Guard No. 5, First Division, by Thomas O. Moore, the Governor of the State of
Louisiana and commander in chief of the militia [UU-68 1:3]. He then served as major
and commander of the Orleans Guard Battalion and later became a colonel under General
P.G. T. Beauregard. During the Battle of Shiloh, he was wounded in the knee and
convalesced at Opelousas. When he returned, he was arrested by the Union Army under
General Butler who sent him to prison for two months. Refusing to sign the amnesty oath,
he fled to Cuba where he worked for a brokerage business until the following year. After
that he traveled to Matamoras where he served under General Mejia before returning to
New Orleans. Even though the Queyrouze family insists (as do the newspaper accounts
written for his obituary) that Leon did not sign the amnesty oath when he returned, there
is a document entitled “Amnesty Oath” dated August 22, 1865, signed by the justice of
the peace of Ouachita parish in Louisiana with Leon’s signature[Queyrouze Papers
UU-68 1:3].
Upon his return he re-established his wine importing business under a new name,
“Queyrouze and Bois,” with a partner and then went out on his own as “Queyrouze Co.”
Records indicate that at one time his business was also located on Tchoupitoulas Street.
Housed at the Historical New Orleans Collection is an 1887 Business directory that lists
Leon Queyrouze as a “Wholesale Grocer: Importer of Wines and Liquors: And dealing in
all kinds of Western and Country Produce.” According to letters, he may have imported
wine from wine merchants Delhomme Freres in Bordeaux, France. Records also indicate
that he retained ownership of his plantation and other properties after the war, which
would have been impossible unless he had signed the oath. In 1880 he sold the Leona
Plantation in St. Martin’s parish to Emile L. Carriere, and among the family papers there
is a certified copy of the mortgage he held on the plantation dated April 14, 1887. He also
owned property in St. Landry parish. During his lifetime, he became a prominent citizen
and became president of the 5th Ward in New Orleans; he was a member of the
Democratic Club, the Union Francais and the Casadoras Association; he was also one the
principle founders of the Athénée Louisianais, a society organized to preserve French
culture and literature. Until the time of his death he had been active and healthy, but after
a brief illness, he died at age seventy-seven on January 18, 1895. His memorials deemed
him a “soldier, merchant and citizen.” A lengthy funeral procession, which included the
surviving soldiers of the Battalion of the New Orleans Guard, followed his casket draped
with the battle flag of Shiloh.
Leona inherited her father’s independent spirit, and Leon and Clara nurtured this
by making certain that Leona received an extensive privately tutored education. They
wanted their daughter to learn the classics in the original languages of Greek and Latin,
and to study European literature, philosophy, science, art, and music. To that end, Leona
would awaken every morning at five to begin her lessons while her father went to work at
his store. At age fifteen, she spent time in France furthering her education. She was
confirmed a Catholic and received her certificate from St. Mary’s Church in New Orleans
on May 20, 1880 at the age of nineteen. By the time she was a young woman, she was
fluent in seven languages: French, English, Spanish, Italian German, Latin, Greek, as well
as regional Creole. Her father treated Leona as a companion, and she was an integral part
of Queyrouze salon soirées. According to Norman Shapiro in Creole Echoes Leona’s
father was an “open-minded and intelligent man [who] frequently hosted soirées with the
city’s intellectual elite. As a young girl, Leona was permitted to attend these evening
discussions, which became part of her already unorthodox education” (143). Edward
Larocque Tinker in Lafcadio Hearn’s American Days describes her education as
very different from that of the typical young person of [a] good French family.
Her father was a man of excellent education, broad-minded and tolerant and his
house was a rendezvous for the best Louisiana French minds of that day . . . . Here
they talked literature, philosophy . . . religion. . . . As she had always been the
constant companion of her father, she was well-fitted to profit by these meetings,
which she always attended, and very soon, her father’s friends accepted her on a
basis of mental equality. Her acquisitive mind broadened and she lost all the
mental inhibitions, false modesty and fanatical religious ideas so often found in
women of her race and class in those days. In addition, she fenced, wrote poetry,
played the piano admirably and sang all the old Creole songs (263).
Some of the members of their salon included Placide Canonge, journalist, art
critic, and director of the French opera house, and Paul Morphy, the champion chess
player. He was the subject of the novel, The Chess Players written by Frances Parkinson
Keyes, who used Leona’s unpublished manuscript about the life of Paul as source
material. Other frequent guests were General P.G.T. Beauregard, Armand Mercier, a
surgeon, and his brother, Dr. Alfred Mercier, a novelist and historian. Paul Deschanel, a
French author, visited the Queyrouze family in 1892. (Subsequently, he was elected to the
Chamber of Deputies as a Progressive Republican in 1885, and then he became President
of the Republic in 1920.) In an interview on June 29, 1932, Leona listed many of the
visitors to her home: “Our home on St. Louis street was the meeting place for Gayarré,
the two famous Dr. Merciers, General Beauregard—we even entertained Paul Deschanel
who became president later of France, and other celebrities” [“Reveals New Hearn Data”
UU-71 7:52].
During salon gatherings, Leona often performed recitals for her guests, having
mastered the piano under the tutelage of Paul Morphy’s mother. Several of her
performances included an extensive catalog of works from Beethoven, Chopin, and
Gottschalk, to Weber.1 The Queyrouze Collection includes her longer works, the Victory
Military March and the Fantaise Indienne, which were written for the World Cotton
Centennial Exposition of 1884-5. These were performed by the 8th Calvary of the
Mexican Army Band under the direction of Captain Encarnación Payen on March 25,
1885 in a musical program at the Music Hall Exposition Building.
She was an accomplished woman, well-educated and well-traveled, and one of her
accomplishments included fencing. Letters in the collections indicate that she received
her training in foils from C.S. Jones in New Orleans. She was so skilled, in fact, that her
brother, Maxim, who had won the southern championship in fencing, admitted that his
older sister surpassed him in the art. Leona also spent time in France, and the invoices
and receipts from her personal papers indicate that she spent time there furthering her
But it is her poetry, her essays and her letters that are of most interest, because in
these her independent spirit and her concern for political, social and cultural issues reveal
1 see the list of the sheet music in her possession in the Queyrouze Papers [X-97 9:67-89], as well
as her own compositions, including “The Summer Husband,” “The Last Sigh of the Dude,” The
Passerby,” and “At the Ball” [X-97 9:66].
themselves. She published under four names (her own, Constant Beauvais, Salamandra,
and Adamas) in a variety of publications, including the Times Democrat, L’Abeille, The
Crusader, and Les Comptes Rendus de l’Athénée Louisianais. Her first published essay
was “Etude on Racine” [UU-71 8:60], and she held a reading of this for the Athénée
Louisianais at the request of the president and founder, Dr. Alfred Mercier. The event
was held at the Grunewald Hall on Baronne Street. Leona was the only woman granted
membership in the Athénée, and Dr. Mercier proclaimed “that her intellectual
development was so rapid . . . . [that she should be] considered a fellow-scholar and
thinker” [“A Distinguished Lady of the Crescent City” UU-71 7:52]. According to
biographical sketches in various periodical articles found in the archive, Queyrouze is
credited as the first woman to give a speech in public in the city; indeed, this was the first
time in Louisiana history that a woman had read her own work in public. She later
presented two essays in two separate conferences; the first one was entitled L’Indulgence
[UU-71 8:60]. Presented at the Union Francaise, this speech was a plea for religious
tolerance, and it was favorably received. As a result of this conference she received the
appellation “the Creole philosopher,” a term coined by a London journalist who had
attended the conference. Her work was also published in the New Orleans Spanish
language newspaper, El Moro de Paz, and the El Buscapie in Puerto Rico.
Her second conference paper, “Patriotism and Wagner” was presented on June 3,
1887 at the Continental Guards Armory on Camp Street. Under the sponsorship of Alfred
Mercier, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Placide Canonge and after an introduction by Charles
Gayarré, Leona mounted a clear and strong argument regarding the passion and prejudice
of patriotism, and she discussed the true meaning and responsibility of liberty, tyranny,
violence, justice, reason and ignorance [“Patriotism and Wagner” UU-70 6:47] As with
any powerful political position, her speech received mixed reviews. Although it was a
“physical, metaphysical interpretation that astonished and charmed” [“Distinguished
Lady” UU-71 7:52], it nevertheless resulted in a flood of controversy, and she was
accused of being too fervently patriotic and too loyal to France. Undaunted, she published
a heated response in the newspaper that defended her love of France and made no
apologies for her position.
One of her greatest accomplishments was her recognition by the Academy of
Sciences at Bordeaux in France for her poem “Vision” (See appendix for complete text in
French and English). First published in the Comptes Rendus, it was later published on
July 9, 1885 in the French newspaper, le Nouveliste de la Gironde and received
recognition and acclaim. The president of the Academy, Mr. Combes applauded the
beauty of her language, saying in a published letter to M. A. Thenet dated January 28,
1885, “Ce sont de beaux vers que ceux que vous avez bien voulu m’offrir de la part de
Mlle Leona Queyrouze, votre petite-fille, et il y a lá l’imagination et l’âme d’une vrai
poète de l’école deLamartine et de Victor Hugo” [UU-71 7 :52]. (“These are beautiful
verses, those you have offered from Mlle Leona Queyrouze, your granddaughter, and in
them is the imagination and the soul of a true poet in the same school of Lamartine and
Victor Hugo.”) Other poems that were widely read and favorably received were “Atlas,”
“Ce qu’ont dit les montagnes,” “Magdalena, “Moise,” and “Samson” among many others.
Two of her sonnets, which were dedicated to the French Republic and to President Sadi-
Carnot, were read at the French colony in New Orleans; this event was presided over by
the French consul, Bosseron d’Anglade on October 13, 1893, to commemorate the arrival
of the Russian fleet at Toulon, France. The commander of the fleet, Admiral Makaroff,
personally thanked Leona for her work.
While Leona sought recognition for her work, she also used these opportunities to
express her point of view on such issues as culture, race, politics, literature, art and music.
Her concerns ranged from her own community to those in America and in Europe, and
her correspondence included exchanges with her circle of friends, many of whom were
prominent community leaders, such as Charles Gayarré, Placide Canonge, Charles Testut
(author of poems, historical novels, and Portraits Littéraires de la Nouvelle-Orléans); Dr.
Alfred Bubos who was the editor of L’Abeille, Alcibiade de Blanc who was a Louisiana
Supreme Court Justice, Mollie Moore Davis, who was a New Orleans novelist, and
Adrien Rouquette, the bohemian poet-priest who lived with the Indians in Saint
Tammany parish. She also corresponded with James Redpath who was a war
correspondent during the Civil War as well as an abolitionist, writer, publisher, and the
managing editor in 1886 of the North American Review, and with Sarah Bernhardt and
Emile Zola. Anatole Victor Cousins, an older man who lived on a plantation outside of
New Orleans often corresponded with Leona, and in their love affair of letters (1882-
1889), he was fond of calling her “Ma lionne” (my lioness), an appellation she appeared
to deserve and appreciate.
The portrait of Leona that I saw in the Cabildo museum I have learned since was
painted in 1880 by John Genin (1830-1895), an artist who had studied in Paris under the
guidance of portrait artist Leon Bonnat. In this portrait, he depicts Leona as a serious,
simply clad young woman, standing next to her desk with her bookcase behind her. Mrs.
Harold Queyrouze, who had personally known Leona, said that she was a petite woman,
about 5’4”. From a newspaper clipping in the Queyrouze papers entitled “Author
Receives Copy from Japanese Publishing Company” Leona was “described in a New
York magazine article as ‘short, dark, very foreign-looking with an arm on which the
flesh is hard as marble from her constant use of the fencing foils, big mystical eyes and a
masculine mouth’” [UU-71 7:52]. In Edward Larocque Tinker’s Lafcadio Hearn’s
American Days, he describes a bracelet that Leona wore, one that inspired an admirer—or
perhaps her brother-- to immortalize in a poem. Tinker says that it was a “gold bangle of
curious design . . . which her grandfather had given to her grandmother” (264). The
significance of this bracelet is that it symbolized pride of her family as well as her
lineage. The admirer wrote about her bracelet in January of 1890:
And thou quaint bracelet, Leona’s fondest charm,
Ancestral relic of a glorious race,
Thou once encircled a royal Britton’s arm;
And even now a nobler arm grace:
For thou when worn, Leona’s wrist embrace.
And ne’er did’st thou on worthier arm shine-- J.S.M.
[UU-70 6:45].
Another admirer, Ella A. Giles, describes Leona in this way:
Leona Queyrouze [is] the embodiment of literary and aesthetic culture and
philosophic learning, yet unassuming and straightforward as a child . . . . Though
surrounded by all the evidence of a highly conservative training, how frank and
fearless her speeches, how resonant with feeling her deep and melodious voice,
how unaffected and genial, yet perfectly independent and self-reliant in her
manners. There is enough reserve to maintain dignity, enough seriousness to
preserve womanly poise, but there is in her nature no dissimulation, no distrustful
“society unsmilingness [sic]” . . . [she] lives a secluded and retired life, but it is
because she is a worker and not because she is a willing victim to inherited
principles of aristocratic aloofness
[UU-71 7:52].
While these sketches are useful in re-constructing her life, I chose to speak to
someone who knew Leona, so I contacted Mrs. Harold Queyrouze (“Jerry”) who is the
daughter in-law of Leona’s brother, Maxim, and I interviewed her and the surviving
Queyrouze family in their modest home in New Orleans the summer of 1996. Jerry
related how Leona loved to wear lace dresses with high black boots and how she was
fond of wearing a comb in her hair with a lace mantilla. The furnishings in her apartment
were exquisite: There was a half table with a white marble top, and an 1840 Rosewood
desk with intricate carving with a hidden drawer. A chandelier that she had made into an
electric one lit the room, and her bed was a four-poster with a crown top.
Although Jerry had described Leona as very quiet and retiring, she was far from
that in her youth. When she was young she had been very bold, vibrant and passionate
about social causes. This passion for literature and concerns for social issues may have
been one of the reasons that in January of 1887, she struck up a friendship with Lafcadio
Hearn. Year later, he would earn worldwide fame as a translator of Japanese folktales into
English, and he would be credited with having “anticipated the modern literary and
cultural contact between the East and the West;” moreover, he would play “a vital role in
the formation of modern cosmopolitan literature” (Yu 21).
At the time she met him, however, he was working as a local reporter, translator,
and commentator on literature, including works by Théophile Gautier, Guy de
Maupassant and Pierre Loti. With Leona’s assistance, and the help of her Martinique
servant, Marie, Hearn translated Creole folktales into English. Even though his time with
Leona was brief, I will show that their friendship had a significant impact on her life and
on her writing.
Lafcadio Hearn was a reporter in Cincinnati, but after having read some of the
color sketches of the New Orleans area written by George Washington Cable, he packed
his suitcase and took passage on a steamer down the Mississippi. When he first saw New
Orleans, he was enchanted, but he was soon disillusioned when he found himself in poor
health and in dire financial straits. He finally secured a job at the Item, translating
excerpts from foreign presses and making social commentary on current events. Then he
went to work for the Times Democrat. Jackson describes him as a very observant and
insightful person, in spite of being blind in one eye and having only partial vision in the
other. She relates that he “had been born on the Greek island of Santa Maura, the child of
a runaway marriage between an English surgeon-major in the British army and a local
Greek girl” (288). The marriage ended in divorce and Hearn’s mother went back to
Greece. Soon after his mother abandoned Hearn, his father sent Hearn to live with his
aunt in Wales. Jackson surmises that this was the reason that he became “moody,
distrustful of even the most sincere of friends” (288). Hearn then moved to Europe and
from there to New York, and then finally settled in Cincinnati. While there, he “married”
a woman of color in an unofficial ceremony, but soon thereafter, he left for New Orleans.
In a Hearn biography, American Days, Tinker relates that Hearn’s first work in New
Orleans involved writing sketches about cooking, civic problems, and music-- anything
that took his fancy. He also started work for the Times –Democrat in 1881 and “often
translated the works of French or Spanish writers” into English (Jackson 289). In some of
his book reviews, he praised George Washington Cable, “Father Adrien Rouquette . . .
Dr. Alfred Mercier . . . and Elizabeth Bisland” (289). Hearn met Bisland while they
worked for the Times-Democrat, and they remained friends after she left to work at the
Cosmopolitan Magazine in New York in the late 1880s. In 1906, Bisland published a
two-volume biography of Hearn, which included letters to his friends while he was living
in New Orleans and New York.
While in New Orleans, Hearn became very close friends with a young surgeon,
Dr. Rudolph Matas, and Hearn later introduced Matas to Leona. When Hearn published
his novel, Chita (1889), he dedicated it to Matas. Forty-three years later, when Leona
wrote her memoir about her relationship with Hearn, she dedicated her book to Matas as
well, in a gesture that honors her friendship with Matas, but more significantly, reveals
her lingering literary and emotional debt to Hearn.
The immediate and close connection between Leona and Lafcadio was expressed
through their correspondence, and their passion was obliquely channeled through their
discussions of literature. While their association was brief, for Leona, at least, its intensity
lingered for a lifetime, and because of this I have chosen to give attention to this facet of
her life. This serves to inform her biography and to humanize her life work. While I will
avoid biographical fallacies, I will not assume a disconnect between her poetry and
Hearn—particularly involving those poems that were specifically addressed to him. In
addition, some specific biographical detail is necessary to address some discrepancies in
scholarship. Because of conflicting accounts as to the date of their meeting, I have used
excerpts from several sources to corroborate my facts.
Some scholars have noted that Leona met Lafcadio when she was in her teens;
however, she was twenty-six at the time of their first meeting. During my interview with
the Queyrouze relatives, they related that Leona may have arranged a meeting with Hearn
or was introduced to him. They said that she met him at a library on Royal Street and that
he accompanied her home. In his biography of Hearn, Jonathon Cott asserts that Leona
and Lafcadio met in January 1887 at “Fournier’s secondhand bookshop on Royal Street,”
and he describes Leona as “a pretty young Creole woman with black hair and brown
eyes” (201). After a brief conversation, Lafcadio escorted her home. Cott’s information
was clearly based on Edward Larocque Tinker’s Lafcadio Hearn’s American Days.
Tinker relates how Hearn met Leona in “Fournier’s old book shop on Royal Street”:
[A] young, pretty girl, unmistakably a Creole from her jet black hair and deep
brown eyes, passed the shop and seeing him inside, hesitated, then entered. Going
up to him she said: “I know you are Mr. Hearn, I recognized you from your
picture in the Times-Democrat . . . . I want to ask your advice . . . . Hearn was
captivated by her youth and enthusiasm and intrigued by the acumen of her
cascade of questions--questions which she had been saving up for months in the
hope of some such opportunity--so he was kindly and offered helpful advice . . . .
They drifted out of the shop together, and Hearn only left her when they reached
her door (262-263).
However, Junko Hagiwara states that they met at Garcin’s bookstore, noting that
“Queyrouze knew that Hearn often stopped by this bookstore because she knew Garcin’s
daughter” (3). While some scholars cite Leona’s age at the time of their meeting as
fifteen, this might have been caused by some confusion between Leona and Elizabeth
Bisland, who met Hearn at the Times-Democrat when she was fifteen or sixteen. By all
other accounts Leona met Hearn when she was twenty-six, in 1887, the year she returned
from working in New York.
As in anyone’s life, there are moments of clarity, which are remembered for a
lifetime, and Leona’s recollections of her meeting with Hearn reveal the significance she
placed on this moment. In her memoir, The Idyl (1932), she recalls that “in the Latin
heart of the old Creole town, in the well known second hand dealer’s shop of books rare
and antique, there it was that I first met Lafcadio Hearn, on a mellow spring-like day of
January 1887, the last year of his stay in New Orleans” [UU-70 6:46]. While she admits
that time had blurred many of her memories, she says that some were so clear that they
could have happened yesterday. She vividly remembers their first meeting. This excerpt is
from her original manuscript in the archive:
. . . as I walked in the shop, I heard Garcin’s familiar voice: Ah! Voici justament
ma jeune amie, Mademoiselle Leona Queyrouze, Monsieur Hearn. There was no
further introduction; and it was surely as informal as he could have wished, in his
dislike of conventionalities. His first words to me were: So you are one of the bees
that come to the garden for flowers with the golden dust to make the divine honey
and the tiny goblets of amber colored wax that hold it. I am afraid there shall be
little left for me, I replied. But the garden is large and the flowers are plentiful
[UU-70 6:46].
In several interviews, Leona describes their meeting in reverent detail, which
further underscores the significance of the moment for her. Each time she describes the
event she adds nuance:
I was a girl, romantic and poetic. I had just returned from New York where I had
been working for the Harper’s Bazaarand was then writing for L’Abeilleand the
old Picayune. He showed an interest in me from the beginning. He was not shy,
but full of reserve and of observing powers [UU-71 7:52].
In another interview, the reporter summarized Leona’s recollections and quoted
some of her exact words:
[They met] on a Spring [like] day in January [sometime] in the 1880s, in a
secondhand dealer’s shop in the French Quarter. She saw Monsieur Jean Garcin,
the proprietor, whom Hearn had called the “Vendor of Wisdom,” roaming with
lordly mien among his “Isle of books,” and she saw him, the great Hearn, not then
great, but young and striving, standing by the open volume of “L’Origine de tous
les Cultes,” a man sphinx-like, with “the introspective stare of a statue . . . . the
delicate features of his face, the thin sensitive nostrils.”
Monsieur Garcin introduced them, and Hearn compared her to a bee that came to
this garden of flowers, and she replied the garden was big enough for him also
[UU-71 7:52].
In a different interview she described their meeting in this manner:
“I remember vividly, although I was a girl at the time, my meeting with Hearn . . .
. I was in a bookstore flipping leaves of poetry volumes when I noticed the little shriveled
man. He too was looking through books and holding the volumes close to his eyes,
almost to his nose. We were introduced and from then on he became a visitor at my
father’s home at oldNo. 17 St. Louis street, calling frequently [UU-71 7:52].
By the time they met, Hearn had been in New Orleans for almost ten years as a
reporter for The Item and the Times-Democrat and had become disillusioned by New
Orleans society. Indeed, he had a reputation for writing rather unflattering
characterizations of French Creoles in The Item; therefore, his friendship with Leona, a
French Creole, was an unlikely alliance—perhaps for both of them. Regardless of their
cultural differences, their relationship progressed rather quickly as if they both knew that
their days together were numbered, sharing as Hearn described, “a few grains of sand.”
In The Idyl, she remembered that the “first call was soon followed by another, and
he became a frequent visitor” (6). Subsequently, there were a series of letters and
personal visits over the next five months that caused some speculation and rumors. In the
same manner as she had described their first meeting, Leona shared some of the details of
their brief relationship. In a newspaper article dated June 29, 1932, she relates how Hearn
came to see her while trying to avoid contact with other visitors at her home:
[Her] home on St. Louis Street was the meeting place for Gayarré, the two famous
Dr. Merciers, General Beauregard . . . and other celebrities. Poor Hearn would
come to see us and when he heard the chatter of visitors would turn away from the
door, leaving the servant mystified or would stick a note for me in her hand and
walk hurriedly off [“Reveals New Hearn” UU-71 7:52].
In Lafcadio Hearn’s American Days, Tinker explains the level of intimacy and
privacy that they both shared. During their time together, Leona taught Hearn about
Creole proverbs, and their passion was channeled obliquely through their discussion s of
Hearn found excuse[s] for coming back, and that the habit of calling was formed.
She discovered that he left immediately if any one else came in. He explained this
away by saying that he hated small talk, but she believed his sensitiveness had
even more to do with it. So it came to be tacitly understood that on certain
afternoons she was at home to him alone. They always sat on a sofa near the
window in the large high-ceilinged drawing room with its handsome old furniture,
where the light was good so he could read. Here they talked frankly and openly. . .
She helped him with his Creole proverbs . . . He often gave her invaluable literary
advice (263-4).
Leona’s description in The Idyl of her home, Hearn’s visits there, and his
friendship with her servant, Marie, will serve to enliven her biography with sensory
The massive porte cochère or courtyard gate opened and as it closed slowly he
walked through the spacious and shady, arched corridor or hall-way leading to the
immense court-yard all flooded with sun, and in which grew a luxuriant and
partially tropical garden between the great walls covered with creepers and vines
of all kinds. There he paused beneath the lofty arch to take a long look and then
was shown up the high stairs by Marie, our old Creole family servant who
announced in low, soft tones: Massie Lacadie, but stopped short, unable to
pronounce the rest of the name. English and Marie had never grown familiar. As
we met in the parlor, more properly speaking, the library, he said: your strong old
Spanish home and the sudden vision of the unsuspected garden, in fact sometimes
in the atmosphere makes me think vaguely of the Alhambra [UU-70 6:46].
Well into her late seventies, Leona was still able to re-capture their time together.
In an interview, she described the intensity of their discussions, which revealed an
intellectual passion unimpeded by Hearn’s request that Leona view him only as a
“younger brother”:
He came through the big porte cochère. He paused by the lofty arch. He went up
the high stairs. They sat in a room with a huge book case, with statues of dragons
and other monsters, with bacchantes and fauns. And they spoke of his poems
again. Precious thoughts came from his mind like a golden metal.
“I would like for you to look upon me as a younger brother,” he said. They spoke
of philosophy, of Hypatia. They became intellectual friends. He came again and
again. He would say, “I come to claim a few grains of sand of your time.” He gave
her a copy of Herbert Spencer’s “First Principles of Synthetic Philosophy.” They
talked of Heine’s poems [ UU-71 7:52].
Hagiwara believes that Hearn was “afraid of falling in love with her [which] can
be observed in his first suggestion to her when he dared to say that he wanted her to
consider him a brother” (2). In her poem, “Le Regret,” Leona may have been expressing
the same fear tinged with regret. She describes two people who are reading together, and
as they read about “love and songs of sorrow,” theyrealize their own passion even as they
know that it can never be acknowledged. By the poem’s end she is left alone with only
the busts of Scevola1 and Diana for company.
Together, they lean towards a book.
Young are these two. The old copper lamp
With its open eyes, pierces the profound darkness
Making them sparkle and shine,
Two pupils under its tawny breath.
They read together in two soft accents
Of thriving love and songs of sorrow,
Of simple things that inspire misfortune,
And the crying voice of the soul.
As he reads again to the woman beside him
One wonders, are they friends or lovers?
The blood of their hearts beat, pressing.
Their blood is the same, their homeland the same
But do they live in each other’s eyes?
No, they are subject to the hand of Chance.
The future lies between them and their eyes
Will never meet, nor cross the impenetrable shadow.
Their hearts shall flee like waves on the sand,
Their happiness will bend like ocean seaweed
Unsettled by the waves; his bitter breast
Will Retreat, rolling far from the dunes.
1 Scevola was the Roman soldier who failed to kill the Etruscan king who was
blockading Rome. Upon his capture, he placed his offending left hand in a fire. So
impressed was King Porsenna by Scevola’s courage that he ended his siege of Rome.
They turn to another page,
But as he reads, his voice falters; there is a change
In him as the flood fades.
And with pure clarity the sky opens
tearing open the horizon, showing the way
Because they now know that their hands will never touch
And their lips will remain silent
For they will guard their inner secrets
And scold their hearts despairing
Even as the need to confess rises to overflowing.
Such is the searing wound, like a hot liqueur,
Before it rights itself, trembling for an instant
Before falling without a voice
Revealing nothing, and with silent eyes
They lower their eyes again to the familiar words.
In the shadow of the chamber, now there is one
Figure cast upon the wall, alone.
Nearby, the bust of the wild and menacing Scevola
Smiles at the chaste and fiery mouth
of Diana, reveling under his bronze mask
An obscure angle, put there by the sculptors’ hand
1885 (C.R.A.L. 227) [UU-70 6:47].
(Appendix 267)
This poem suggests that Leona believed that there was much unspoken passion
between them, and that even though their time together was spent on reading and
discussion, for Leona, at least, there was much more than this. Her references to Diana
and Scevola symbolize dedication to courageous passion, juxtaposed against Hearn’s
misplaced propriety. In the poem, “Le Désir,” she describes the “kiss that never reaches
the lips/ the whimsy of a butterfly attracted to a star,” and then says that it is our
“misfortune to live and to love/ where rising suns give birth to our lost tears” [UU-70
While these poems indicate that Hearn affected Leona emotionally, they also
show that he had a great effect on her writing. When they first met, he told her that he had
seen one of her poems in the L’Abeilleand that he had liked it. Encouraged, she asked if
he would review her next poem, “A Legend of Mainz,” if she left a copy at the bookstore
for him to collect. He agreed, but when he responded the next week, he regretted to tell
her that he found no value in the poem, and she discarded it. What can be gleaned from
the letters between Hearn and Leona is that he discouraged her from writing poetry,
saying that it was of such poor quality that she should not pursue a writing career. He said
to her: “I hope you will be discouraged as much as possible because I have too sincere an
admiration of your power in other directions to wish to see you attempt such valueless
labor” (Idyl 8-11). Leona admitted that “the sting of his sarcasm was sharp and corrosive
like that of the wasp, and the wound it inflicted smarted long and sorely,” but also
acknowledged that “he was gifted with a keen sense of humor” (The Idyl 6).
In another interview Leona described Hearn as “was usually a hard task-master.
He would often read my poems and essays and say, ‘That’s not worth much, Leona,’ and I
would promptly throw them away” [UU-71 7:52]. In The Idyl, she says that often when
she was ready to throw some her work in the fire, he would tell her to wait “until you
have taken out some lines which may be used later, in some other writing.” She “realized
that it was as hard for him to please himself as for others to do so. His criticism of his
own work was merciless until it was completed” (5). He did, however, encourage her
prose and tried to interest her in reading one of his favorite writers, Herbert Spencer.
Significantly, Hearn offered Leona advice that if she had taken heed, might have
changed the direction and outcome of her writing career. Noting her propensity to write
flowery and sentimental verse, Hearn advised her against her present course and pointed
the way towards a new direction in writing—that of realism. Founded upon principles
established in French literary circles, realism was taking hold in American literature, and
it paved the way towards a new means of expression embraced by iconic American
writers, such as Mark Twain, Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Charlotte
Perkins Gilman, Edith Wharton, Henry James, Jack London, and Stephen Crane. These,
among others, defined and dominated the American literary landscape at the turn of the
century. Leona’s failure to utilize the advice offered by Hearn resulted in self-defeating
literary endeavors. Hearn critiqued her attempts at blank verse and encouraged her to find
the true “art-spirit” of undistorted and unadorned depictions of real-life experiences. He
tells her that only these “faithful pictures” will endure through time:
We are all apt, all of us, until something suddenly reveals our error to us, of
rendering blank verse without a thought of its intrinsic value,--without any
definite comprehension of its anatomy. It lives, and it delights: we do not think of
asking why or how, any more than we think of trying to define the laws of grace
revealed in the movements of a thoroughbred . . .
What is wanted, what will succeed, what will endure, are reflections of present
existence, artistic and faithful records of what we hear, see, and feel through the
impressions made upon us by those social forces of which we form integers.
Realism . . . insures originality . . . . no two lives are absolutely alike, no two
minds alike, no two life-experiences alike, one who simply attempts to make a
faithful picture of what is . . . without trying to ornament it or exaggerate it, or
distort it, must become interesting if the true art-spirit is there (Idyl 8-11).
As history will show, it was her misfortune not to follow his suggestions about
realism. While she did take note of his comments concerning blank verse, her resulting
rhymed verse, which adhered to the aesthetics of the Romantic period, only exaggerated
her distance from mainstream American poetry.
Unaware that she was disregarding valuable advice, Leona thanked Hearn for his
criticism, and he responded by saying “Thank you for what I have never before received,-
-a kindly word in return for disagreeable criticism” (Idyl 18-19). Together, they began to
work on their own projects, and during his visits he became acquainted with Leona’s
“Martinique-born maid, Marie, who proved to be extremely useful” in helping him
become familiar with the Creole dialect that influenced his novel Chita (Hagiwara 3). At
the same time Leona was working on the Paul Morphy biographical sketch, “The First
and Last Days of Paul Morphy” (that later would be used in Francis Parkinson Keyes’
novel The Chess Players). This intimate working association might have been
opportunistic on Hearn’s part, for he has often been described by scholars as a
“wandering dreamer, a rootless cosmopolite, a self-styled exile, a frightened escapist, a
heartless lover, a shameless friend” (Yu ix). However, he affected Leona deeply, and in
his biography of Hearn, Jonathon Cott states that when Hearn left New Orleans he left
Leona broken-hearted. When I asked the Queyrouze family if they were aware of any
romantic involvement between Leona and Hearn, they could give no definite answer
except to say that there had been “talk.” Apparently Hearn had earned himself a bit of a
reputation because of his nightly excursions into disreputable parts of town accompanied
by a friend who was notorious for getting into fights, and “rumors of his many
indiscretions were brought to [Leona], but she did not believe them” (Tinker 265). All
that the Queyrouze family remembered hearing about their relationship was that Hearn
had spent many evenings at supper with the Queyrouzes and that Leona had assisted him
in translating Creole folktales into English. They believed that her wealthy French
Catholic family would have never approved of a romantic association with a person of
such meager means, especially someone who was not Catholic. Tinker cites other
At first Hearn attended the reunions of this group of older men who met at her
father’s house, but it is not surprising that this did not last long. Their tempers
were too hair-triggered and his own peculiarities were too marked. When he
began to write Creole proverbs and folklore a feeling arose that he was
encroaching on a field that was theirs by right of inheritance (265).
During their brief association, Hearn avoided, if possible, any contact with the
men of Leona’s salon and only visited the Queyrouze home in the afternoons. Leona said
that “he disliked making new acquaintances, and called when he thought there were less
[sic] chances of meeting outsiders.” Furthermore, he “shunned the crowded avenues to
popularity, including literary clubs which he considered like centers of mutual
admirations or as he once expressed it more forcibly: Praise Exchanges” (Idyl 5). But his
personal visits to Leona ended, according to Tinker, after a quarrel. “Hearn had always
told his friends that he would never marry an intellectual woman, whether this had
anything to do with it is pure conjecture” (265). After their disagreement, he reportedly
told her that he would never speak to her again, and she responded with a poem--perhaps
aimed at Hearn-- in L’Abeille entitled “Solitude.”Tinker summarizes this poem:
It is preceded by a Latin quotation, “De Profundis Clamavi” (from the deeps I
call), and tells how she awaits him, counting each beat of the wing of seconds,
asking whether he does not remember the agonized call for help forced from a
suffering soul anxious for life . . . . “Nevertheless, you have not come, following
your path, your eyes upon a book” (266).
They must have resolved their differences soon thereafter because Tinker notes
that Hearn went with her to visit her father’s plantation. Apparently there was an
overgrown and vine-encroached garden behind the main house, which had such a sad
appearance that Hearn wrote about it as though it was a garden where the witch-like
Medea grew “strange herbs [ . . . and made] potions and charms [in] her haunted and
sinister garden” (267). Hearn remarked that Medea had lured a bee-keeper to her island in
order to learn the secret of making honey, and that she seduced him instead—thus, it was
her own fault that she never learned to make honey. Leona responded to Hearn in
L’Abielle with the following verses (translated):
“Résponse” a L.H.”
Medea, you have spoken the words of truth
and have taken your name, thus, woman of somber eyes
with a heart shy yet proud, filled with rebellion and shadow
And you hold the hand of a friend named: Treason!
Poets, make your honey, for she will make it poison
With curses and prayers without end
Calling from the heavens when hope grows dim,
And her screams will shake the walls of your turret.
She drinks deep the dew of the rose’s trembling chalice;
Taking the rays of morning for her own
even as she sees in the night with cold clarity
the places of tombs that give rise to hate
where she will reap her harvest while humanity sleeps
and quietly claim her own like a moth in the night
May 27, 1887 L’Abeille
[UU-70 6:45]
(Appendix 270).
When Hearn read “Response” he wrote, “Medea is much too weird. Of course, she
is but a shadow; yet, the shadow is so fantastic that one hesitates to look towards that
which cast it” (Idyl). This response is significant because it serves as a glimpse into the
character of their relationship. Their association appeared to be defined by Leona’s’
willingness to be both pupil and admirer, but when she strayed from that role, Hearn
recoiled. Others were not so put off by the power that cast the “shadow.” One admirer,
Bowman Matthews, wrote this response:
To Medea!
Salve! O Medea! Enchantress of the mystic eyes
Taught by Ancient Magicians the future to Devise
Whose piercing gaze discerns the secret springs of thought,
By occult science reads the lines that Fate has wrought.
Whence comes the power, O Seer, what potent spirit dwells
Within those orbs of darkness to work its wondrous spells?
Art thou the same Medea that to Jason gave the fleece,
When the Argo came to Colchis with the hero band of Greece?
A traitorous friend was Jason, but if I prove to be untrue
Take back the “poet’s honey,” the floral cup of dew!
Give me the draught of poison, and I will drink to you!
[UU-70 6:45]
Hearn, however, seemed to be retreating from more then just Leona’s words, and
as it turned out, she was the last the last friendship he made in New Orleans. Not long
afterwards he departed for Martinique, and Leona described his departure in The Idyl,
making reference to the last grains of sand that had escaped the hour glass of their time
Grain after grain the sands have been running, carrying along the hours, days and
weeks, and June was at hand already, leading in the long and languid summer
months. He had accomplished his task of love, Chita. In one of his last visits he
told me that he was making final arrangements to leave New Orleans; and he
handed me a large envelope saying: this is not intended for the family album. It is
to remind Medea sometimes of Aristeus, the honey maker. It was his photograph
with the inscription To Miss Leona Queyrouze—with sincere wishes of her
friend.—Lafcadio Hearn,--June 1, 1887 (11).
On his last visit to her, once again, Hearn offered her advice on her writing. Leona
wrote down his parting words “as soon as he had left the house, to preserve the accuracy
of the meaning” (11). He urged her to look beyond the physical world into the depth of
her psyche to find meaning and significance in her work and advised her against looking
only at earthly beauty for inspiration:
[Do not] seek inspiration merely around you in the exterior world and its powerful
vibrations which fill our senses with the ecstasy of beauty. It is in the psychical
depth of our own Self that we must look to find treasure which Aladdin’s lamp
never could have revealed (Idyl 12).
One has to wonder what would have happened if the tenure of their relationship
had been extended to the point where Leona would have taken his advice, for he was
inviting her to join the realists who expressed their insight in terms of everyday
experience; however, this question presumes that longevity would have granted influence
and does not consider Leona’s significant exposure to literary circles in New York. In
any event, when they parted ways, they were taking different directions in their literary
careers, one leading to recognition and the other obscurity. Hearn departed to find new
inspiration on new soil, and his farewell to Leona was both wistful and poignant, much in
the romantic style favored by Leona:
If we don’t meet again on this little planet, which is possible but not probable, we
surely will later in some other cosmic station, before we reach Nirvana, the great
Terminal. Could we not make an appointment and try to remember it?
(Idyl 12).
A short time after Hearn left he wrote to his friend, Matas, on July 1, 1887: “I am
not skeptical now, but I do not know what to do, I fear to write to her. All fire and nerves
and scintillation; a tropical being in mind and physique,--I could never be to her what I
should like to be” (Nishizaki 90-91), and apparently his fear overcame his impulse.
Regardless of the speculation as to whether this was truly a love affair, Hearn’s impact on
Leona was deep and long lasting. Matas, who was a close friend to both Lafcadio and
Leona “treated Queyrouze’s romantic involvement with Hearn as a given” (Hagiwara 2),
and when Leona was questioned in an interview about her about her relationship with
Hearn, she responded in this way:
[She] smiled when asked if Hearn were in love with her and said in her quick
French accent: “That is hard to say. There was perhaps some romantic attachment.
But Hearn was not a man to speak of love. He had a wandering mind then and
couldn’t fit into a conventional marriage” [UU-71 7:52].
After Hearn’s departure, he spent two years writing travel sketches in the
Windward Islands of British Guiana, in St. Pierre, and on the island of Martinique. From
there, he went to New York to review the final proofs of his novel Chita. In 1890 he left
for Japan, never to return (Bisland 98).
While Hearn was in New York in 1889, Leona may have been there at
approximately the same time--but this is only speculation. Leona spent a year there in
1886 and once again in 1888-9 to translate French and Creole plays into English for the
American stage at the request of Mary Booth, the editor of Harpers Bazar. Booth had
become acquainted with Leona during the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial
Exposition in 1884. Records indicate that Leona traveled to New York several times.
Whether she saw Hearn there in 1889, however, is impossible to determine. There are
some indications that this may have occurred. In the Hearn biography, Bisland includes
numerous letters, and several in particular that Hearn wrote during this time. One is
written to an anonymous man: it reads in part:
To___________ 1889
. . . I have been shivering here, and have got to get South somewhere soon,--if
only till I can get back to the tropics. I am sorry to confess it, but the tropical Circe
bewitches me again—I must go back to her (469).
Others letters are written to an anonymous woman:
--there are no more mysteries,--except what are called hearts, those points at
which individualities rarely touch each other, only to feel a sudden thrill of
surprise as at meeting a ghost, and then to wonder in vain, for the rest of life, what
lies out of soul-sight . . . . . . . . I have been so afraid of never seeing you again
. . . .
To______ March 7-8, 1890
. . . . I shall be very sorry not to see you again . . . .
I might say love you,--as we love those who are dead—(the dead who still shape
lives);--but . . . I cannot say. . . .
. . . . –Forgive all my horrid way, my dear, sweet, ghostly sister.
Lafcadio Hearn
(Bisland 470-475).
Whether or not these letters were written to Leona is uncertain; indeed, this raises
the question as to why they were in Bisland’s possession and not in Leona’s. Perhaps they
were meant for Bisland, but this does not explain Bisland’s reasons for leaving the
salutations in the letters blank when she included them in the Hearn biography.
Regardless of speculation, there remains an interesting correlation between Hearn’s
request for Leona to view him as a “brother,” and his reference in the farewell letter to his
“ghostly sister.”
Hearn left New York and finally settled in Japan where he quickly assimilated.
By 1895, he already had a wife and child and had begun the task of translating Japanese
folktales into English, a life work that won him admiration and widespread fame. As for
Leona, she returned to New Orleans having found the pace and the people of New York
too fast for her. She also realized that her translation work for the New York stage was
not a feasible project “because of the incompatibility of New York and New Orleans
cultural and theatrical interests” (Hagiwara 2).The Queyrouze family told me that Leona
left New York, quite simply, because it was not a French town. Since only twenty years
had passed since the end of the Civil War there was still residual animosity, and Leona
retreated to the security of her traditional and parochial culture.
When Leona returned to New Orleans she seemed a changed person. No one can
say for sure what brought about this change; perhaps it was a final farewell to an
unrequited love or the repudiation of American mainstream literary culture in New York.
Whatever the reason, there was a distinct difference in her writing from that point
forward, almost as if her psyche had been split in two—between the public philanthropic
activities as evidenced by her articles and essays, and the private self as revealed in her
poetry. As I shall demonstrate in Chapter Six, her rhetoric articulates the stages of grief as
it vacillates between anger and resigned endurance at her perception of the usurpation of
her culture by those she called “Anglo Saxons.” Her work is elegiac, and her verses are
filled with loss and longing, not only for the loss of her culture, but for the loss of love.
One such example of this can be found in a poem Leona published seven years after
Hearn’s departure entitled “Fantôme D’Occident: A Lafcadio Hearn Au Japon:” She
likens Hearn to a moon and says that once the moon is hidden, the stars can reveal
themselves. However, these stars—like pupils-- cast their lights on the water much like
Ophelia, who falls into insanity and despair after having been ignored and cast away
during Hamlet’s obsessive pursuits (much like Hearn’s).This ultimately leads to her
drowning—a theme that is pervasive in Leona’s oeuvre.
The golden Chrysanthemum now blossoms
unrestrained under the vast night skies
In a place of mystery, and in a strange embrace
The growing slender threads catch the light.
The ghost of the moon appears without a sound
Pretending to hide its face with its hands.
--a distant phantom, with a vague complaint
All at once it disappears, fainting away.
It comes from a country where the pure and blond Night
Can never entirely escape the bonds that tie,
Of azure blooms and white magnolias.
The moon gives birth to the trembling stars
Each one a tearful pupil, where like the shadow of Ophelia
In a deep river, they cast their veils
(L’Abeille December 23, 1894)
[UU-71 7:52]
(Appendix 250).
Likewise, in the poem, “Le Désir,” she says that it is our “misfortune to live and
to love/ where rising suns give birth to our lost tears” (C.R.A.L. March 1885/ Appendix
249). These two poems in combination with “Le Regret,”and “Solitude,”indicate the
depth of her feelings for Hearn and explain the sense of reverence she feels for him even
years later when she was asked by the Hokuseido Press in Tokyo to submit The Idyl
(1932) for publication. This clearly indicates that there must have been some significant
connection between the two of them for Leona to have held onto the few brief letters
Hearn had sent to her, the ones that are included in The Idyl. This romanticized
remembrance of Hearn written before her death still holds the hallmarks of young love.
When she was finished with her manuscript, she entrusted it to a friend, and in one of
life’s odd twists of fate, “the man who broughther manuscript to Hokuseido in Japan was
John Garcin, whose father had owned the New Orleans bookstore where Hearn and
Queyrouze first met” (Hagiwara 4).
Her attachment to Hearn also raises the question as to whether her marriage in
1901 was one of convenience. Other than the “Bonds of Matrimony” document
witnessing their marriage at St. Mary’s Church in New Orleans dated December 26, 1901,
there are no letters or keepsakes in connection with a widower Pierre Marie Etienne Barel
whom she married when she was forty-one. The only items in the Queyrouze papers are
of a legal nature, such as his will and ownership of property, succession papers, transfers
and lists of real estate, tax receipts, and the final accounting of the assets of his first
marriage to Marie Jeanne Juilliat. When I asked the Queyrouze family about Pierre, they
told me, simply, that he was a family friend who lived in the neighborhood. There is only
one poem written just a few weeks before her marriage that may provide some indication
of her relationship with Pierre. The poem speaks of two people who are joined in
melancholy rather than joy. There is as sense of resignation and a call for peace and
harmony. Note that the setting of the poem is similar to that in “Le Regret,”but it lacks
that same emotional intensity:
We come together at this old table in our ennui
Before the hands of ice pass over us.
Yes, a tangled golden glow of light envelops us
And serenity comes to us in this place.
Come, review this book with me. It is the one
That will ease our confusion. Here is the place.
We choose not to believe that our lives are passing, but the trace
Of our tears and the echo of our laughter tells us so.
No, our stirring should be in harmony
Attuned on a lute with radiant chords
As our spirits become an offering to the Divine Breath.
Just as my hand turns these sheets of poetry
So, too, shall we be joined in the end,
I, you, as it has always been, in infinite sweetness
[UU-71 7:54]
( Appendix 261).
Perhaps her decision to marry was also based on the loss of a family circle that
had long supported her. Many of the men in her salon had been like fathers to her, and
they all passed away in the mid 1890s: General P.G.T. T. Beauregard and Placide
Canonge died in 1893; Alfred Mercier in 1894, and her father, Leon, and Charles Gayarré
died in 1895. Even after further research and the final edit of her upcoming biography,
these questions might remain unanswered, but what is known for certain is that Leona
seemed to slide into a private retrograde towards the close of the century. Wrapping
herself in sentimentality instead of looking forward, she turned to her poetry and looked
to the French Romantics for her inspiration, concentrating on the themes of death and
loss. Whether this has any biographical associations is perhaps less important than the
fact that her backward inclining is something that she shared with many of her French
Creole contemporaries who constructed a mythical cultural past, imagining it to be a time
when benevolent chivalrous plantation owners enjoyed an agrarian aristocracy.
In public Leona remained socially active and involved, associating with many
members of local organizations who held tightly to their disappearing culture. One such
group was The French Society of the Fourteenth of July, which was founded in 1890, and
presided over by Mr. Romain Senac. They opened a French school for boys at 724
Dumaine Street in the French Quarter, a school which was the “product of the labor and
patriotism of the members.” They chose Leona as the director of the school. Senac
declared that it would be a “patriotic institution inspired by the love of France” and cited
the purpose as the “propagation of the beloved French language and keep it from being
absorbed by the prevailing language of commerce [“French School: Formal Opening”
May 20, 1895. UU-71 7:53].
In addition, this society-- and many like it-- attempted to stem the rising flood of
Anglo-Saxonism by the creation of the Creole myth, which shall be discussed in Chapter
Two. This cultural bunkering sealed their fate, for as the stream of America moved
forward, the Creoles retreated into the backwater where they stagnated, preferring to
romanticize an imagined past, a fate that Leona shared. In many cases their cultural
blindness had an element of obstinacy that bordered on fanatic zeal, and many, such as
Charles Gayarré, his friend, Alexander Dimitry, and Placide Canonge went to their deaths
with this carefully nurtured vision. In another ironic twist of fate, Leona, who shared their
narrow vision, gradually began to lose her sight. As she advanced in years, she lost most
of her vision and spent her time as a recluse writing manuscripts with the help of a
companion and her brother Maxim.
Towards the end of her life Leona was still vital, as Jerry remembers her, but
rather quiet. She was almost blind, often kept to herself, and was fearful of strangers.
Jerry recalls that Maxim was very protective of Leona, and that she made no decisions
without him. Other than taking walks with Maxim, she remained at home. Leona did not
have a phone, for she preferred the grace and continuity of letters, and she never quite
mastered the typewriter even though her friends had urged her to do so before she went
entirely blind. In an interview she shared the writing technique she employed late in life
to compensate for her blindness and inability to concentrate for long periods of time:
I jotted down notes on bits of paper, on calendars, grocery bills, or on the back of
letters. I stuck them in my mirror or pinned them on a string stretched across my
room. All were numbered finally and put in a box. When my young friend who
lives with me got ready to type them for me into a book we sorted them out
[UU-71 7:52].
Leona could not even read the final draft of The Idyl when it was sent to her from
Japan. The Queyrouze family told me that until her death in January 1938 due to
congestive heart failure, Leona had a personal maid and one of her duties was to make
sure that Leona’s long full skirts did not brush against the small ornate iron coal burner
stove that was situated in the middle of the room. Thus, long into the twentieth century,
Leona remained a woman out of time and out of place, holding on to the vestiges of a
fashion and a culture that had disappeared long ago. She had failed to follow the literary
path that Hearn had urged her to follow, and in doing so, sealed her fate of obscurity. Her
life story serves as a relic of a vanished culture, and one that inhabits and gives meaning
to the concept of a lost cultural moment.
Among the great federation of States whose Anglo-
Saxon life and inspiration swallows up all alien
immigration, there is one in which a Latin
civilization, sinewy, valiant, cultured, rich, and
proud, holding out against extinction
--George W. Cable The Creoles of Louisiana (1).
When the historical lens widens, it provides a frame to view not only individual
identity, but cultural identity as well, and in this case, grants a perspective on the
denotation and connotation of the term Creole. Leona Queyrouze was born a French
Creole in a time when Louisiana was being transformed, not only by the Civil War and
the subsequent Reconstruction, but by the changing demographics of her region. Long
before she was born, the fabric of her French Creole culture was unraveling, beginning
with the influx of Americans that began following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and
continuing with the flood of immigrants into the area mid-century. In effect, she became
an immigrant in her own city, New Orleans, and this sense of displacement permeates her
literary work. Throughout her essays and poems, there is a sense of loss and an obligation
to document the people and place of a quickly disappearing culture. Some historians trace
the origin of the demise of the French Creoles to the beginning of the nineteenth century
when the promise of rich soil for farming lured many Americans into the newly acquired
territory that included Louisiana. Rosan Augusta Jordan and Frank de Caro assert that the
“challenge to French ethnic hegemony had begun . . . virtually with the coming of les
américains after 1803, the resulting ethnic strife of the 1820s, and the waves of Irish and
German immigrants who flooded New Orleans between 1830 and 1860” (41). Other
historians also point to the French Creole attitude of complacency and lack of industrious
entrepreneurship as a factor in the ultimate demise, which is described by George
Washington Cable in The Creoles of Louisiana (1884). These and many other factors
contributed to the French Creole’s cultural downfall, and Leona was born into a time
when this submergence was almost complete.
Placing Queyrouze’s work into historical context can add nuance to our
understanding of the history of the region during the aftermath of the Civil War in
southern Louisiana and can provide an intimate glimpse into the life a French Creole in
the closing years of the culture. In her, we can find one of the voices of the “Silent
South,” those individuals of complexity and insight who do not fall nearly within the
parameters of political, cultural and ethnic delineation. Such is the case with Leona
Queyrouze who is at once an American woman writer, a French poet, a composer, a
French Creole, and a Southerner. She is all of these-- and none. Her life and work defy
boundaries and encourage us to look past our preconceived notions of literary and cultural
framework and to hear a voice that speaks at the close of the century and at the end of her
cultural place in the New World. While some scholars are quick to point out the flaws in
the economic and social construction of the French Creole culture, this kind of argument
is insupportable if it rests solely on the logical basis that a culture, which is inherently
flawed, represents each individual within that culture, and if it implies that an imperfect
society is one that should be dismantled. If that is the case, then all societies and all
cultures fall within these parameters. I argue that a worthier discussion should involve
one which investigates the resistance to a dominant culture. As such, the work of Leona
Queyrouze serves to chronicle this experience, and her poetry, short stories, essays,
music, and articles represent a voice aware of its demise, trying to rise from the ashes of
the South and the French Creole culture, an endeavor that ultimately fails. Many stories
are written of successes, but failures have their lessons, too. Perhaps through the
telescopic lens of history, her failures can lead us to successfully learn more about what is
lost and what is gained when ethnic markers are lost in the flood of mainstream culture.
Before we can fully address the twilight of her culture, we must first understand
what it means to be a Creole. Werner Sollars in Creole Echoes describes the difficulty of
this attempt for the term is “often the subject of debates, adopted or rejected by countless
authoritative-sounding commentators.” He cites Johann Friedrich Blumenbach who
believes that the slaves who came to America from Ethiopia first used the term in the
1700s. Sollors includes Balzac’s definition of Creoles as mixed races from “Europe, the
tropics and the Indies” (xviii), He adds that Mme Reybaud thought the term had to do
with one’s complexion and that Whitman reveled in the exotic confusion of dark
European and African skin tones. Others, such as Mayne Reid, denied that there was any
mixed blood. Still others, like Wilhelm von Humboldt referred to Creoles simply as
“Americans,” or more simply yet, as Gary B. Mills says in the Encyclopedia of Southern
Culture, that a Creole is “‘anyone who says he is one’” (Sollors “Forward” xviii).
Understandably, theses viewpoints point to a persistent confusion regarding the
term, and in order to sort through this, I will focus first on the genesis of the term and
then turn to the contributions made by George Washington Cable and Charles Etienne
Arthur Gayarré who had a determinant hand in the connotation of this term. Granted,
Cable had more influence because his work was more widely read, but I will address
equally each man’s contribution to demonstrate the polarity of the debate. By the end of
the nineteenth century, the term Creole was used to describe an exotic culture that was
introduced to the world stage by Cable, but it was also defined by the perpetuation of the
Creole myth fostered by Charles Gayarré.
Cable begins The Creoles of Louisiana, with the question, “Who are the Creoles?”
and likewise I will attempt to answer that question starting with the historical use of the
word and then describing the conflict surrounding it as the cultural demographics began
to shift after the Louisiana Purchase. In Creole New Orleans, Joseph Tregle describes the
historical misconceptions about the use of the word Creole. Some claim that the Spanish
conquistadors used the term to specify the children of white Europeans born in the New
World, and when Louisiana became a Spanish territory, the term “criollo” was used there.
In the 1600s and 1700s the term Creole meant simply “native-born” (136), and prior to
Spanish control, Louisiana people also used the term in this way. Supposedly, it was the
Spanish who considered “Louisiana slaves as criollos” (137), but there is still debate
surrounding this account. The origin of the word is also described in the Harvard
Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups:
“Creole” refers to people, culture, to food, music, and to language. Originally
from the Portuguese crioulo, the word for a slave brought up in the owner’s
household, which in turn probably derived form the Latin creare (create), it
became criollo in Spanish and créole in French (Thernstrom 237).
While there is some debate and speculation over the origin of the word, what is
known for certain is that when Louisiana became an American possession, the French
Creoles found themselves belonging to a nation of English customs and language. In
order to differentiate themselves from the Americans, they began to strengthen their
cultural identity and to take measures to solidify the fluid term, Creole. The Harvard
Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups describes this process of identification:
Louisianans of French and Spanish descent began referring to themselves as
Creoles following the Louisiana Purchase (1803) in order to distinguish
themselves from the Anglo-American who started to move into Louisiana at this
time. The indigenous whites adopted the term, insisting, most unhistorically, that
it applied exclusively to them. The life of this dying group is depicted in George
Washington Cable’s Old Creole Days (1879) and in some of the works of
Lafcadio Hearn (Thernstrom 237).
After the Louisiana Purchase, the non-indigenous people who had lived longest in
the region felt that they had greater claim to the land, so they were quick to use the term
Creole because they had been born in the New World and wanted to preserve their
investment in the land. At this point, they did not associate the term with color or
distinguish between white and black, perhaps because “color never enjoyed power to
mandate the language or habits of white men in prewar years” (Tregle139). From the
beginning, the use of the term in the New World revolved around the assertion of culture
and the pursuit of power.
This complex term has occupied the discourse of contemporary scholars because
its use touches on so many aspects of the region—its history, politics, and diversity. Their
responses demonstrate that the term is still highly contentious. Sybil Kein says that
“Creole has come to mean the language and the folk culture that was native to the
southern part of Louisiana where African, French, and Spanish influence was most deeply
rooted historically and culturally” (Kein xv). Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson says that the
“native white Louisianan will tell you that a Creole is a white man, whose ancestors
contain some French or Spanish blood [or . . . ] a Creole is a native of the lower parishes
of Louisiana, in whose veins some traces of Spanish, West Indian or French blood runs”
(8). Historian James H. Dormon offers this definition:
The precise definition of the term “Creole” has been the source of unending
controversy in Louisiana studies. My own working definition holds the realities of
historical usage, i.e. “Creole” meant simply “native to Louisiana” during the
period between circa 1720 and the outbreak of the Civil War. As such, blacks
(both slave and free) as well as free persons of color and indeed white Europeans
were all designated “Creoles” if they were born in Louisiana, or if they descended
from those were born there (616).
The definition offered by Dorman, however, changed long before the Civil War,
and it began its transformation during the influx of other cultures in the region after the
Louisiana Purchase, most conspicuously, Americans from the northeastern United States.
At first, when the Americans freely called the locals Creole, whether black or white, the
white French Creoles would correct them as a matter of courtesy. At first the French and
Americans lived together on equal terms according to an account by Alexis de
Tocqueville in Journey to America. “‘The French and Americans may criticize each other
mutually . . . but at the bottom there is no real enmity’” (Hirsch and Logsdon 7).
However, when the French Creoles began to lose their foothold in the area during the mid
1800s--both economically and politically--the Creoles began to feel threatened by the
Americanization of their city and retreated into the bastion of their parochial society.
In Creole New Orleans, Hirsch and Logsdon state that the influx of Americans
into New Orleans was a driving force behind the formation of the Creole identity and the
Creoles often magnified their identity as a buttress against the invading American
cultures. They derided the Americans and called themselves “cultural aristocrats” and the
Americans “uncouth backwoodsmen” (91), but as in all polarities, there is some truth and
much fiction. At first, the Creoles felt no threat, “no risk that such definitional partnership
might diminish their social status or prerogative of the dominant class” (Tregle 139).
When they began to feel the sting of associations, however, they used the term ancienne
population to separate themselves from the Americans, blacks, and the foreign French,
but the term did not have a long life, probably because it was equally confusing. Their
intent was to show that they were the descendents of the “casket girls,” (perhaps
legendary) who came from prominent French families who sent their daughters to the
New World with all of their belongings in a trunk (casket) to wed successful Frenchmen
in New Orleans. Creoles felt this background gave them the prestige of land and of pure
bloodlines because they were not of mixed blood, nor were they newcomers like the
Americans and the newly arrived French. Paul F. LaChance further distinguishes the
French Creoles from the “Foreign French” who were not as wealthy as their Creole
counterparts, but who were better educated.
When the Americans began settling in the area, they used the term Creole
indiscriminately, because they did not understand its importance to the locals who were
“engaged in struggle for the very soul of the community” (141). The dividing line
between the Americans and Creoles was Canal Street because it separated the downtown
area, which was predominantly French Creole, and Uptown, which was American. Each
had separate city councils and municipal courts, and each used a different language in
their businesses and schools between 1836 and 1852 (Hirsch and Logsdon 93). This
separation was not discouraged by the Creoles who disassociated themselves from the
Americans for reasons of pride and insecurity. One can imagine the position they were
in—they were confronted with the aggressive, entrepreneurial and industrious Americans
who showed early signs of mercantile and industrial success, and they saw their very own
French market place and government buildings being taken over by the English language.
They saw their own resources dwindling and their social circles thinning.
Even so, some Creoles still believed that the two cultures could co-exist, but all of
this changed when “Americans accused some of their Creole rivals of having mixed
ancestry” (Hirsch and Logsdon 98). This “new usage of the word Creole emerged during
the Reconstruction era when the struggle for white supremacy brought about a
fundamental and lasting rapprochement between all white conservatives, regardless of
their antebellum ancestry” (98). Even though they had struggled against the
Americanization of their city, the Creoles soon abandoned their resistance, if not their
disdain, for American culture, and aligned themselves with the Americans. Quick to hold
on to the only power they had left—their whiteness-- the Creoles actually hastened their
demise by trying to associate themselves with white Americans. In doing so, many
abandoned their own cultural history.
Upon the advent of the Civil War, Creoles were further threatened by the
inference that they were a people of a mixed blood, and as a reaction, they sought to
separate themselves socially and semantically. In the pre-Civil war era New Orleans’
social division had been along ethnic lines: “Latin versus Anglo-Saxon, native born
against foreigner . . . Color had played no role in the confrontation [perhaps because] only
white men [were] political persons.” French Creoles had “unchallengeable white
supremacy” which had “made it possible to accommodate pan-racial Creolism. The Civil
War changed all that” (Tregle 172). At the knifepoint of the Civil War, the term Creole
split into two halves along the color line.
In the Strange Career of Jim Crow, C. Vann Woodward describes the pre-war
social system in New Orleans as a tripartite structure consisting of whites, free persons of
color, and slaves. Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson explains that most ethnic groups
intermingled freely in the crowded neighborhoods of the Crescent city. Many children
were born of these associations. Joan M . Martin notes that the “sexual relations among
European settlers, African slaves, and native Americans during the period of French rule
in Louisiana (1718-1768) resulted in the creation of a third race of people neither white
nor black and neither slave nor completely free” (Kein 57). This occurred largely because
of a miscegenation arrangement called Plaçage where quadroons would enter into longstanding
relationships with white men from Europe. Plaçages were left-handed
marriages, or mariages de la main gauche. These arrangements “created a third race of
people in Louisiana . . . a separatist self-focusing community” (Kein 69). It also created a
“class of free people of color which was well-educated, cultured, wealthy, and powerful”
(69). Joy Jackson describes this group, as “half-white, half-Negro”:
who were the descendents of free person of color who referred to themselves as
colored Creoles. They were, as a whole, a prosperous, educated, French oriented
petit bourgeois faction of local society. From antebellum times they had been a
close-knit group, holding themselves aloof from the darker-skinned slaves. Most
were business and professional men, but some were poets and writers; some,
musicians who studied European music in France (277).
The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups also defines this culture as one
based on a Caribbean social structure:
In the United States in the 20th century, Creole most often refers to the Louisiana
Creoles of color. Ranging in appearance from mulattos to northern European
whites, the Creoles of color constitute a Caribbean phenomenon in the United
States. The product of miscegenation in a seigniorial society, they achieved elite
status in Louisiana, and in the early 19th century some were slaveholders. Many,
educated in France, were patrons of the opera and of literary societies. . . .
Louisiana Creoles of color thus constitute a self-conscious group, who are
perceived in their locale as different and separate. They live in New Orleans and
in a number of other bayou towns. Historically they have been endogamous, and
until late in the 19th century spoke mostly French . . . . Their ethnicity is
exceedingly difficult to maintain outside the New Orleans area. Over time, a great
many have passed into white groups in other parts of the country, and others have
become integrated as blacks. This latter choice is not based wholly on appearance,
for many Creoles who choose to identify as Afro-American are white in
appearance (Thernstrom 237).
This unique social system survived in New Orleans largely because the city was a
“continental city, most picturesque, most un-American, and as varied as the streets of
Cairo. Here one would see French, Spanish, English, Bohemians, Negroes, mulattos”
(Jackson 20). There were many “free colored” in New Orleans; in fact, Julia Street was
named after Julia, a free woman of color (26) who owned the land. People of all races
attended the theater, and the French opera house was the first place in the country where
“grand opera was heard” (27) by a diversity of people. It was a “veritable sandwich of
races”(27). The Creoles of color sent their children to France to study; they opened
schools and owned businesses. The ethnic lines were so blurred; in fact, that it was
“difficult to enforce laws against a race when you cannot find that race” (29).
Even though New Orleans was the site of slave auctions, most slaves who lived
within the city worked as domestic servants. With some notable exceptions (described in
Chapter Five), many were treated with more respect than those who worked on
plantations. The hardships agricultural slaves endured and the horrors they experienced
were well known among the slave community. In fact, the threat of being “sent down the
Mississippi” was often used to frighten slaves into submission. According to the Slavery
Code of 1724, slaveholders treated slaves as movable property. Slaves couldn’t carry
weapons, assemble, or buy or sell property. They had no property of their own and could
not receive gifts from whites. They could not hold office or be served by the legal system
or give testimony. First time runaways were branded; the second time they were
hamstrung; the third time they were killed. After the Civil War, the Slavery Code was
replaced by the Black Code during a wave of “anti- black fanaticism.” The Creoles,
afraid that their racial purity would be questioned in this new regime or that they “might
be confused with blacks” (Tregle173), joined forces with other whites in order to retain
their dominance in the social hierarchy.
Whereas once the danger confronting them had been humiliating loss of
Gallic identity to a devouring Anglo-Saxon homogenization, now it was
the infinitely more horrible possibility of being consigned to debased
status in the “inferior” race, identified as half-brother to the black, as sort
of mixed breed stripped of blood pride as well as of any claim to social or
political preferment (173).
So strong were their fears of association by blood that, even today, one can
still detect a defensive sensitivity among some French Creoles. Virginia
Domínguez investigates the “long history of slavery in the United States and of
white ownership of African slaves has left in Louisiana” and notes the prevailing
“traditional association of white with upper status and of blacks with lower
status.” She points out that “white Creoles today” recoil from “the mere
suggestion of possible African ancestry” because it “invokes a lowering of social
and economic status” (63). Thus, she argues, “to identify someone as Creole is to
invoke in the course of a particular conversation historically linked connotations
of social and economic status . . . . of how things used to be and how in their
opinion they ought to be.” Often, this is used as “the major criterion by which
individuals are identified as Creole” (63). This becomes a vital distinction in
southern Louisiana, where “often, if not always” this becomes “the crucial
variable that individual New Orleanians manipulate in making themselves
members of a group, or in identifying other as member of a group. Status, then, is
frequently more of a determining factor on group membership than genealogical
ancestry” (263).
This hypersensitivity about ethnicity still lingers into the 21st century—where the
term has continued to evolve. Until recently, as Tregle points out, individuals who
belonged to a “mixed race” used the term Creole as an adjective or used the term Creole
of color; the “noun Creole”had only for been used for white (133). In the twenty-first
century, this has changed once again, for one will find the term used by people in
Louisiana in a variety of ways. Thus, the fluidity of the term Creole persists, and its
definition remains dependent on regional, local, and personal interpretations.
In spite of the vagaries of the term, one individual was instrumental in influencing
the perceptions of the connotations of this social marker. George Washington Cable was
responsible, in large part, for introducing the Creole culture to the national stage. He
enjoyed immense popularity, and with his friend Mark Twain, he toured the country
giving lectures. They were part of the Local Color movement that followed the Civil War.
After his service in the war, Cable returned to New Orleans, his birthplace, and began
working as an accountant. He also worked for the New Orleans newspaper the Picayune.
After being discovered by Edward King, the editor for Scribner’s Magazine, Cable began
the serial publication of Old Creole Days (1879), a collection of short stories, and The
Grandissimes (1880), a novel describing the lives of the Grandissime brothers, one white
and the other of mixed blood. In these novels, he provided a glimpse into an exotic world
that was largely unknown to the rest of the country.
These works served to fuel the debate concerning Cable’s sympathy and/or
antipathy towards the Creoles. On the one hand, he seems to romanticize their lives,
describing their soft patois infused with the flavor of the West Indies, and the alabaster
skin and rich silks and lace of the women and the dashing good looks of the men. On the
other hand, one of the main characters of the Grandissimes, Joseph Frowenfeld offers an
indictment against the injustices of the caste system and plaçage practices in place during
the time the novel is set (1804). With vivid detail Cable describes the world of the Vieux
Carré, where historical figures walked along the same streets as their fictional
counterparts; he juxtaposes the straightforward industrious Yankee with the hedonistic
and indolent Creole.
Lafcadio Hearn praised Cable’s work, hailing it as the “‘most remarkable work of
fiction ever created in the South’” (Tregle 174); however, the French Language
newspaper in New Orleans, L’ Abeille,was harshly critical of Cable, even going so far as
to attack Cable’s personal ethics and character. Dr. AlfredMercier, who was the founder
of the Athénée, a member of the Queyrouze salon, and a personal friend of Leona’s
admitted that Cable “appraised Creole life dismally” (Tregle176). The Creole lifestyle
was exposed for its worst atrocities. These characters were a “searing representation
committed to a dead past, long ago abandoned by enlightened and progressive
communities of the world . . . its hallmarks are indolence, ignorance, cruelty, superstitions
and hypocrisy” (Tregle 175). Cable continued his exposé with his1884 The Creoles of
Louisiana and in his 1885 essay “Freedman’s Case in Equity.”
Not only did Cable’s work bring negative attention to the Creoles, the Creoles
also believed that Cable had transformed their culture into an exotic curiosity. Visitors to
New Orleans in the 1880s often looked for the characters that Cable described in
Grandissimes and Old Creole Days. One local complained, “‘Northern people come here
to New Orleans to study us as curiosities . . . trying to identify the localities and types of
persons” (Jackson 14). The Creoles felt Cable added insult to injury when he used the
word “Creole to mean native born—including white, Negro, and those of mixed
ancestry.” They were incensed, and “in order to redress the grievances which they felt
Cable had inflicted upon them, numerous Creole writers and their sympathizers attacked
his interpretation of their background and culture” (Jackson14-15).
In “Creoles and Americans,” Tregle describes how Cable was vilified by the white
French Creoles because of the perceived betrayal of their culture. Beginning with his first
character sketch of 1873 of “’Sieur George,” which described gambling addictions, Cable
experienced a “veritable flood of abuse and damnation . . . In newspapers, pamphlets and
public meetings” (131). But it was less about Cable than his timing, because at the time
he was publishing, there was a “radical transformation of long-established ethnic and
racial conventions in the New Orleans community” (132).
[This was] challenging emerging new concepts of identity and producing
confusion in altered relationships which in many ways continues to
confound out understanding . . . [resulting] in fear and resentments
[which] drove Creole passions to formations of hardened orthodoxy . . . a
veritable mythology” . . . at their very core stand the explication of Creole
itself, rigid, absolute, and closed to any gradation of meaning, it holds that
the word can never be used except to designate a native Louisianan of pure
white blood descended from those French and Spanish pioneers who came
directly from Europe to colonize the New World. Thus, even Acadians, or
Cajuns, are rigorously excluded . . . in the specific insistence that no black
or person of mixed blood can or ever could have been correctly termed a
Creole, no matter his parentage, place of birth, language or cultural
orientation (Tregle 132-133).
When the Americans began to settle in the newly acquired region after the
Louisiana Purchase, the white French Creoles felt the necessity to affirm their separate
identity and the impulse served to foster the creation of the Creole myth. The Creoles
characterized themselves as aristocrats by virtue of “empyrean ascendancy” (Tregle135)
and looked upon the Americans as commoners. They considered the Yankees to be cold
because they were not able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life such as music and dance.
On the other hand, a Creole was someone who had “‘gracious intellectualism,
spontaneous and fecund spirit, subtle, delicate and penetrating refinement, and an
exquisite suavity, delicious perfume and particular cachet” (136). A Creole New World
aristocrat devoted his time to “theater and opera . . . thoroughbred horses, dueling, foils
and the pleasures of dining and gaming tables.” The women were “paragons of gentility,
style, grace, cameos of beauty and flirtatious charm” (136). In many ways, Leona
Queyrouze and her brother, Maxim, aspired to represent and to uphold this ideal, even
into the twentieth century.
As an essential ingredient to the formation of the Creole myth, the Creoles would
never admit that the purity of their race had ever been commingled with Africans and the
best way to do this was to deny the entire history of plaçage and miscegenation. Anthony
G. Barthelemy explains that “threatened as they were by the tarbush, white Creoles who
had previously found sexual alliances with non-whites inconsequential now discovered
that their prerogatives literally denigrated them and their families” (Kein 262). Rushing to
protect their identity, the attempted to “cover their tracks, to deny their consanguinity
with their Creole brethren on the other side of the color line” (262). In order to
accomplish this, they created the fantasy of racial “purity.” Barthelemy states that “this
disavowal and hypocrisy reflected white Creole’s most primeval fear, that they would be
made to share inferior status and debasement with those of their own blood whom they
themselves so condemned” (Kein 263). Many sought protection under the law, and “the
provisions that existed in Louisiana law to limit a child’s right to knowledge of paternal
descent” became crucially important. These laws had been “originally designed for
economic reasons,” but became “more important in protecting white Creoles from the
stigma of knowing their colored brothers, sister and collateral relatives (Kein 263).
Jackson describes how many prominent Creoles (many of whom were members of
the Queyrouze salon) were adamant in their declaration of racial purity.
The poet-priest Adrien Rouquette and the local French paper L’Abeille
led this offensive. For them, “Creole” meant a white person of native
French and Spanish stock. Unfortunately, the “myth of the Creole,”
which grew to full maturity as a result of this controversy, pictured the
original Creoles as polished aristocrats, free from human faults as
greed and money-grubbing, a portrait, which was far wide of the mark.
Genteel literature on Creole life [that depicts this] “golden age” [is
found] in the works of Grace King and Kate Chopin, as the result of
this romanticizing of the Creoles in the last twenty years of the century
Long before the Civil War, the Creoles had lost their hold on the region—the
Civil War was merely the felling blow. In spite of myth building, their world belonged to
the past. By 1860, Tregle says that “the Creoles had clearly lost” even as the “first
generation born after the purchase came into maturity, young men such as the historian
Charles Gayarré, the playwright-editor-impresario Placide Canonge, the linguist
Alexander Dimitry, the physician Armand Mercier and the priest-poet Adrien Rouquette”
(Tregle 156). These men hoped for “La Renaissance Louisianaise,” and they were
instrumental in engendering and fostering the romantic Creole myth. They championed
the ideas of white supremacy, and attacked and demonized George Washington Cable
who they regarded as “the aggressive agitator for the rights of Negroes” (Woodward
Strange Career 38). The Creoles felt that in losing the war, they had lost doubly. Their
“hopes for political and cultural dominance had vanished in the relentless demographic
Americanization of the city” (Tregle 173). So the Creoles retreated into a fiction,
imagining themselves to be proud aristocrats who had suffered as the hands of the
Yankee hordes and had been stripped of wealth and prestige. They saw themselves as
tragic and valiant figures in the myth of their own making, recalling the old days when
they had ruled over the domain of sugar and cotton with the just and gentle hand of a
superior race, treating happy and content slaves like kindly father-figures and gentle
guides. Situating themselves in the fictitious world of Sir Walter Scott, the Creoles
erected a mythical Creole nobleman, a noble and kingly demigod who revered the sacred
purity of the gentle women folk; he was a man of unquestionable honor finding in fiction
an “amelioration in the reassurances of an imagined past” (174).
As part of this fiction, the 1875 Jewell’s Crescent City Illustrated defines the
Creole as irrevocably white. In an 1885 public address at Tulane University, Gayarré
painstakingly and thoroughly described the etymology of the term Creole asserting that it
could only mean those of pure white blood. He also changed the term to include an
adjective to describe those who were descendants of the “aristocratic” and “chivalrous”
lineage of Creole stock” (Tregle 180). What Gayarré did not relate at this time was the
“he had himself fathered a child in 1825 by a free woman of color” as revealed by his
biographer Edward M. Socola. Tregle claims that Gayarré’s obsession with the purity of
the blood lines was born “more of racial fears than of ethnic pride . . . [and] so met the
emotional needs of a distraught society” (181). His audience listened to his long and
rhetorically overblown speech “The Creoles of History and the Creoles of Romance” and
presumably decided to believe every word.
Illustrious members of Creole society hoped for La Renaissance Louisianaise.
This group consisted of the Creole cultural elite, including Placide Canonge, Cyprien and
Numa Dufour, Charles Deléry, Victor Debouchel, Charles Gayarré and Henri Vignaud,
many of whom were members of the Queyrouze salon. They refused to see that the
economic system, which had supported their lifestyle, was based on human injustice. An
example of their obtuseness can be seen in an 1866 article in the Daily Crescent that
declared that the “institution of domestic servitude” had been “wrongfully denominated
‘African slavery’” (Tregle 165). In many ways they were trying to escape the reality of
their situation and to deny responsibility, but ultimately they could never escape their past
or deny what Tregle describes as a “haunted heart--” forever haunted by the past. He
shows them to be part of a “society grounded in the abomination of racial arrogance and
social injustice . . . ignorance, moral insensitivity and cultural impoverishment” (178).
For many, the mirror that was held up to them by the progressive ideologies of the Union
was not one they wished to endorse. In their blind complacency they had refused to see
the signs of change so clearly outlined in Cable’s 1884 Creoles of Louisiana. In Cable’s
other novels and character sketches, he exposed aspects of their culture that were difficult
to balance with the Creole assumptions of identity as the refined aristocrat. To that end,
they attempted to “shoot the messenger” and turned their backs on social progressivism.
In their refusal to become a part of the future, they condemned themselves to the past.
Only the myth survived them.
The Creole myth became “so universally accepted as truth that they found
ratification even in the pages of otherwise competent professional historians” (Tregle
182). Tregle gives proof of the French Creoles success in transforming their myth into
historical fact by citing the 1915 the Louisiana State Court of Appeals ruling. The court
stipulated that “‘when a person is called a Creole this evidences an absence of any Negro
blood’” (183). The Louisiana Historical society affirmed theaccuracy of the definition
put forth by Gayarré , and in 1922, a New Orleans newspaper article gave his definition
of Creoles: “Here in Louisiana a ‘Creole’ has never been anything but a descendant of the
original French and Spanish settlers born in Louisiana instead of France or Spain.” The
same article states that if the term is used in reference to black people, it is most probably
an anachronism of slave trades, and therefore was not applicable.
In the end, one must ask: Who won the claim to history? Cable or Gayarré? If one
were to ask people on the street what the term Creole means they most likely will say that
it describes a person of mixed blood—according to Cable’s definition. However, if one
were to ask that same question in southern Louisiana, the answer might be very different
indeed—perhaps it would describe the French, the Acadians or Cajuns, or Creoles of
Color. The macaronic path of this term implies that it is as fluid and complex as the
people it describes—a people of synthesis—of language, ethnicity, culture, and politics—
indeed a mosaïque.
Leona’s worldview, however, had a much narrower focus, and she attempted to
write into existence an idealized white French Creole culture and to preserve its claim to
history. For her the demise of her culture was also the loss of a dream, and she did not
blame the Creoles for this; instead, she blamed the Americans. In her unpublished work
in French entitled “Silhouettes Créoles,” Queyrouze describes her culture and the ways in
which it was being transformed by Americanization. In this (translated) sketch, she
speaks to “those who did not know the New Orleans of an earlier time,” those who have
not “known how to speak the strange Creole language.” She says that it was similar to the
West Indies French, but this original language is dying in the face of Dickens and
Tourgueneff.”1 She bemoans that fact that “because of slavery, there has arisen barbaric
1 Ivan Tourgueneff (1818-1883), Russian Writer
prejudice against the character traits of the former Louisianans, the ones who at last have
disappeared.” She attacks the Americans, saying:
other tyrannies no less flagrant and with abuses no less grave have succeeded here
in masses, those who are the descendents of the victorious North, those with a
feudal past. So well have they succeeded, that there are those of us who believe
that we will not survive the transformation, so firmly entrenched are they now,
that they can now declare“ for a long time now, this has been our country!”
She states that “the period of the old Creoles are gone forever, and hardon its
ruins rises another creed: the one of money,” and she makes the charge that the “money of
the old American republic is a tyrant more inexorable than that of a despotic crown, for
the empire is absolute, more than . . . the divine rights of crown or throne.” Those who
are victorious, she says, only succeed in putting down others. The words of “Danton1
remain true through the centuries. In truth, the revolutions are done to put down those on
top, only to make those who were at the bottom rise to the top.” She criticizes the
Americans and uses the words of Charles Gayarré, defending the term aristocracy as it is
applied to her culture. Granted, “there did exist an aristocracy in Louisiana. But how
some apply the term now is ridiculously false . . . our society was essentially plebian and
democratic.” She argues that “the true type of Creole was a chivalrous Frenchman” but
this has changed because of the “absorption of the Creole race into the Anglo Saxon
element, notably those from the east”:
The shape of the face lengthens . . . and sharpens . . . and loses it softness; the eyes
become more piercing and have a metallic light in them, and the voice changes as
well; one generally had a deep and vibrating tone of the Creole, then it rises . . .
into an American voice, becoming sharp and strangely pointed. At last the soft
1 George Jacques Danton (1759-94), lawyer, and leader in French Revolution—later charged
with a conspiracy to overthrow the government and was sent to the guillotine
French language can now only be remembered . . . now it has the rhythm of the
English language, or to be more exact, American.
Her words can be viewed as a reaction against the principle of manifest destiny
espoused by Anglo-Americans, and in her final indictment, she describes the effect this
ideological mandate has upon marginalized cultures. She charges that “the irresistible
force of assimilation takes over rapidly with resistance—opposition; the tides rises to
submerge us, the current drowns us” [UU-70 6:47].
In this excerpt, Leona uses the theme of drowning, and this continues in her poem,
“Imprecatio.” She speaks of the “fading flower of our Creole race” that had once been a
“proud race.” She blames this on the “other nation” that has exiled her culture into
oblivion, submerging it completely:
[It] Crushes under their heels the generations
Of the French and the Latin, and the grand Spanish
And all those who knew the same passion
To love, to seek vengeance, to hate, to forgive
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cut off and exiled, we are ushered to the
Large rolling river where its heavy waves take us under
Taking all, carrying all, into the tomb of the abyss
[UU-71 7:55].
(Appendix 255).
In a poem written to Leona, an admirer shares her sense of loss and refers to a
bracelet that Leona wears as a symbol of a proud heritage. He refers to Leona as a “lost
princess of a wasted line:”
Thy band, Leona, like old Rome’s proud halls,
Whose polished columns, yield not to decay;
Their classic heads, served the vulgar Galls,
Themselves, their masters, even in our day,
Though Plantagenets, Tudors, and Capulets all have passed away
And thou quaint bracelet, Leona’s fondest charm,
Ancestral relic of a glorious race,
Thou once encircled a royal Briton’s arm;
And even now a nobler arm grace:
For thou when worn, Leona’s wrists embrace.
And ne’er did’st thou on worthier arm shine,
Than hers, lost princess of a wasted line
January 1890 [UU-70 6:45].
These are just a few examples of the voices of a culture struggling against its
demise, and they serve to demonstrate that the French Creoles’ duration as a hegemonic
culture was as brief as it was passionate. As M. Lynn Weiss says in Creole Echoes, “this
dynamic society that began the nineteenth century as a cast-off French possession . . . .
By the century’s end, saw the demise of a viable Francophone community”
(“Introduction” xxxiii). One of the roles that Leona assumed as she began her writing
career was to speak for her white French Creole culture, with the hopes that the power of
her pen could serve as a buttress against the flood of change. She was attempting to
salvage her island of aristocratic, chivalrous, and intellectual French culture—a
mythological and idealized version of a culture that existed only within the lines of
poetry. In her elitist and classist worldview, she did not acknowledge that the changes in
her beloved Vieux Carré was not a fall from grace, for the old Quarter had always been a
mixture of cultures, and many could lay claim to the term Creole. Even as she was
unable or unwilling to relinquish her dream of an idealized culture, she simultaneously
questioned its existence in “Agonie” C’etait une reve, helas un reve tour cela!( It was a
dream, alas! A dream all! (Appendix 237). In spite of her misgivings, she devoted her
writing career to the reconstruction and preservation of a time and a place, never truly
acknowledging that she was chronicling the casualties of dreams. Even so, her purpose in
writing does not mitigate the need for the study of a marginalized body of work, which
can “contribute to a more complex understanding of the origins of American literature
and culture” (Weiss xxxiii), and Chapter Three will investigate the unique culture of
these people and this region, a place that was “arguably the most multicultural of places
in North America,” one that offered “considerable gifts to American literature” (Weiss
xxxvi). This largesse can prove beneficial only if we are able to acknowledge these gifts,
and take responsibility for them—for regardless of culture and class, we share a national
past, and we must, in turn, acknowledge that without the voices of the marginalized our
national discourse is diminished by their absence.
Indeed, hospitality is a salient characteristic of the
inhabitants of Louisiana, and is inherent in them.
They do not consider it as a duty or a virtue . . . .
The Creoles of Louisiana owe their impulsive
generosity and that kindness verging even on
imprudence, greatly to their direct descent from the
Latin races, whose blood courses through their veins
--“The Creoles” Leona Queyrouze
As the historical lens widens its perspective even further, we can see how
dependent the Creoles were upon the cosmopolitan nature of the city of New Orleans. In
many ways their environment and their identity were inseparable—their subsistence
depended upon the other in a dialectic system of self-reflexive definition. Only when this
nineteenth century city is revived in our modern imagination can we grasp what it meant
to be both Creole and an inhabitant of the Vieux Carré. To that end, this chapter will
attempt to once again breathe life into the Quarter, with the sounds and sights of the
streets, including details that will serve as descriptive detail for the Queyrouze biography.
Leona’s world was essentially French, in customs, art, architectureand cuisine, but more
importantly, she believed that the continued existence of her culture depended upon the
survival of the French language and literature.
Most citizens in New Orleans were Catholic and most spoke French, but by 1855,
the use of the French language began to be overtaken by English, which was used in the
major newspapers, in most market transactions, in the government, and in the theatre. By
1860, the French dominance in the region began to subside. The free population in New
Orleans was “99,071, of whom 48,601 or 40 percent, were foreign-born” in 1860. (Tregle
164). The Creoles began to become fearful of the newcomers because many of them came
to Louisiana to pursue agricultural and mercantile opportunities. The Creoles perceived
this influx as a threat to the established Creole culture. Many, including Charles Gayarré,
were vocal in their dismay over the changes that were occurring in their region, and
Gayarré became the spokesperson for the sentiments of many of the Creoles. They
became fearful that their carefully nurtured culture would be eroded by the influx of other
cultures and languages, so they started their own publication in 1861 under the guidance
of Emile Hiriart. It was called La Renaissance Louisianaise: Orgame des Populations
Franc-Americaines du Sud, and it was supported by the following members:
Placide Canonge, Cyprien and Numa Dufour, Charles Deléry, Victor Debouchel,
Charles Gayarré, Henri Vignaud, and Dominique Rouquette. It was committed
passionately to a double goal, absolute victory of the Southern Confederacy and
creation . . .[of a] community whose heart, mind, and spirit was irrevocably
French (Tregle 168).
Many of these people were individuals who would mentor Leona in later years as
she joined them in the Queyrouze salon. However, dramatic changes were about to occur
that no written document or adherence to French customs could prevent. No matter their
allegiances or loyalties, their carefully constructed world collapsed the same year that
Leona was born—1861.
The city was occupied by Union forces for fourteen years beginning with the fall
to Farragut in April 1862 and ending when the Union troops left in 1876. Louisiana had
the longest Reconstruction period of any state, and the effect of this was deep and long
lasting, but the decline of the Creole culture was also caused by the changes in language,
education, commerce, and government. By 1868 elementary schools could no longer
teach in French. All legal documents had to be in English. In a periodical Le Carillon,
Creoles tried to hold on to their language and their culture, declaring that French was “the
language of civilization which will serve forever to vanquish German Mysticism and
Anglo-Saxon materialism’” (Tregle 170). In “Silhouettes Créoles” Leona criticizes the
Americans for their subservience to another creed—“the one of money . . . a tyrant more
inexorable than a despotic crown.” Emily Toth articulates the Creoles’ sentiments
regarding the Americans when she summarizes Kate Chopin’s view of a certain “type” of
French Creole:
The angry, unregenerate Frenchman . . . loathed everything “American.” In New
Orleans, that meant virtually everyone who spoke English and lived outside the
French Quarter, where the old Creoles had hunkered down, grumbling about bad
times and rude upstarts (63).
The tension between the two factions was further exacerbated when Creoles were
subjected to counterattacks by American writers who questioned the purity of the Creole
blood and claimed that Creoles were actually descendants of “Moors and slaves brought
into Gaul by Roman legions” (Tregle 170). So vitriolic were some of the editorial
exchanges that two editors actually challenged each other in a duel. The Creoles now
found little humor in the Yankee’s ignorance about the term Creole.
Americans thought that the Creoles were still too connected to France and that
their loyalties to family excluded them from joining into the progressivism of the
Yankees. To some extent, the Creole demise was their own fault—for they were so
“behind in education and political experience” that they could not “assure their continued
hegemony” (Tregle 151). This is easy to determine in hindsight, but at the time, the
cultural decline of the French Creoles was not readily visible, even to outsiders. For
instance when Lafcadio Hearn saw New Orleans for the first time in 1877 from the ship,
he was enthralled by what he saw:
. . . I first viewed New Orleans from the deck of the great steamboat that had
carried me from the gray northwestern mists into the tepid, orange-scented air of
the South . . . my impression of the city [was that it was] drowsing under the
violet and gold of a November morning . . . . Even before I had left the steamboat
my imagination had already flown beyond the wilderness of the cotton-bales, the
sierra-shaped roofs of the sugar sheds, the massive fronts of refineries and storehouses
(Hutson 6).
However, to Hearn’s discerning eye, he could see hints of the decay. In a letter to
a friend Hearn wrote:
When I first saw it first—sunrise over Louisiana—tears sprang to my eyes. It was
like young death—a dead bride crowned with orange flowers—a dead face that
asked for a kiss. I cannot say how fair and rich and beautiful this dead South is
(Hutson 6).
In many ways Hearn was seeing beyond the carefully constructed world that the
Creoles has created, a world that was quickly disappearing, for they failed to
acknowledge the surge of change that was poised to engulf them. Instead, the wealthy
French Creole citizens of New Orleans occupied their time enjoying cultural
entertainment: Theirs was a world of opera and theatre, balls, dancing, and soirees.
Today, it is hard for us to image how insulated they were, for mass communication and
technology have connected and homogenized our culture, but for the nineteenth-century
Creoles, their Francophone culture was carefully nurtured by French newspapers, books,
conferences, foreign education, and theatre, thus enabling them to ignore the burgeoning
culture that was overtaking their city. They were isolated in the French bastion of
“Frenchtown” or Vieux Carré --what we now call the French Quarter. On the other side
of Canal Street the American contingent flourished.
To accurately perceive this consciously created world, one must look closely at
the lives they constructed for themselves, and the Queyrouze family provides an intimate
glimpse. When I interviewed the family, they recalled visits to the Bayou home of Maxim
(Leona’s younger brother) who was a respected attorney in New Orleans. They said that
entering his home was like stepping into another world, a world filled with the art,
furniture, and the elegant trappings of French culture. Such was Leona’s world.In order
to get a true sense of her surroundings, one can look for descriptions written during her
lifetime. A newspaper article entitled “Miss Queyrouze: a Distinguished Lady of the
Crescent City” describes her home as one with “Spanish architecture with thick walls,
domed gates, flagged yard that leads to a winding stairs which gives entrance to a parlor
that might be called more properly a museum of rare art and historic lore.” In the parlor,
there are portraits over which hung “Generals’ jeweled swords, the gifts of grateful
monarchs, medals, letters and commissions. The rarest of art gems are inscribed: ‘From
your friend, Napoleon Bonaparte.” Leona’s favorite place to sit was on the “chair on
which Napoleon sat in council of war, and she claimed that the “only entire set of
furniture which was the property of Marie Antoinette that ever crossed the Atlantic
Ocean” was her parlor set.” Each piece in the set was “covered with the royal coat of
arms and stamped with the initials of the manufacturer. The silk was woven for each
piece of furniture . . . was mellowed by time to a softer hue of crimson and purple”1
[UU-71 7:52].
Another newspaper article written by Ella A. Giles on March 3, 1889 quotes an
admirer of Leona who described Leona’s home:
[In] a curious old house in New Orleans [Leona] had a salon that seemed a quaint
survival of the eighteenth century. It was furnished with the regency furniture
brought from France by her ancestors, who came to Louisiana in the days of the
profligate monarch [UU-71 7:52].
Leona, as well as many other French Creoles, constructed an environment that
served to isolate them from the rest of New Orleans society. Hidden from the streets,
through arched pathways, were their Caribbean inspired courtyards, filled with tropical
plants and fountains. In many ways, this further insulated the Creoles from the
cosmopolitan diversity that filled the streets past their gates. Their enclosed society
matched the physical world within which they ensconced themselves, and Leona captured
this self-reflected environment in her descriptions of the typical homes in the Vieux
Carré, many of whom were similar to her own. In her unpublished French manuscript,
“Silhouettes Créoles,” she makes strong connections between her culture and the
1 A photograph of Miss Queyrouze at her writing desk can be found at the LSU Hill Memorial
Library special exhibits “Creoles.”
architecture of the Quarter, saying that “the French and the Spanish still haunt here; their
rich breath still moves through these thick walls.” Describing the history and form of the
structures, she says that “these simple buildings were built principally under the Spanish
regime.” Because her extensive descriptions serve to illuminate more than architecture,
and define her social parochialism as well, I have included a translated excerpt in its
The walls lean against one another, and the arcade has a wide façade with a series
of regular festoons. The balconies have iron railings, rising above the first floor.
The archways hide the inner courtyard and shade the houses during the warm heat
of the day. Ridged cords line the high ceilings of vast rooms on the ground floor.
A heavy door with ornate carvings and a door knocker closes against the street
noises and opens into an immense corridor paved with stones and bricks;
overhead there is a big arch with a simple seal of an old cloister etched into the
stone. The shade offers a fresh respite in the warm days, but can be cold in winter.
This corridor, like a long hall, is separated from the courtyard by a range of arches
that open to the first floor, the only place to enter the apartments. Between the
corridor and the courtyard, there is usually an iron gate that is always closed so
one can safely leave the door unlocked to let in the breeze during the unending,
intense and implacable heat of the day. Through this gate, one can see a courtyard
with high and impassable walls, at the base of which are several plants and
climbing vines; the tenacious vines climb the walls covering it like a cloth of
green; the glycine foliage climbs the damp green walls, and the diaphanous
clusters of lilac perfumes the air, inclining towards the ground, losing its leaves in
curls. The honeysuckle and the bamboo, similar to the Alphonse Karr1, tramples
other more fragile vines, twisting together their numerous arms, mixing their
perfume and hues. In this courtyard there are arbors and trees. Now and then, the
starry fine leaves of the tropical plants with their thin blades tremble in the
slightest breeze with a dry clicking sound and cast shadows on the white stones in
the penetrating heat. From the bottom corner of the long courtyard, the walls rise
up to the top of the cupola, with its green pointed top that catches rain water that
falls into an enclosure decorated with wide iron circles . . . . The severe and
implacable façade of these abodes exudes a physical calm, but if one were to pass
during the day, one might hear bright noises, all at once, clear and radiant, coming
from the places that these walls shelter. Over the balcony, past the opened Persian
1 a plant with the same name as Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1808-1890, the
French novelist, critic and floriculturist.
blinds, one clearly could hear the laughs, songs, and sounds more joyous than the
mere study of the piano [UU-70 3:37].
The “implacable facade” she describes separates her society from the burgeoning
mix of cultures outside her gated courtyard, and her choice of words suggests that she
viewed her culture as one of refinement and exclusivity. In an article reprinted from The
Home Journal of New York found among the Queyrouze papers dated Sunday March 3,
1889, entitled “Leona Queyrouze,” Ella A. Giles alludes to this connection between the
society and structure when she describes the “tightly closed buildings” and the “relics and
antiquities of Frenchtown.” In her article, she describes the exotic hidden world of the
salon and observes that “there are certain typical Southern and foreign-blooded women in
New Orleans of whom it is almost impossible to make satisfactory pen-portraits as it is to
mirror the peculiar scenes among which they move”:
Leona Queyrouze is such a woman. She lives on St. Louis street one of the ancient
homes whose heavy doors and high walls on all sides defy the scrutiny of the
passer-by [ . . . There is] no hint . . . of the beauty lodged in the interior of the
paint -worn and time-stained building. Upon being admitted to the dingy,
darksome place, and stepping upon the damp and slippery gray stone floor
[below] these sepulchral entrances [and] hearing the sound of singing birds and
falling waters, [one] suddenly step[s] upon a golden beam which the sun sends
shimmering down . . . . In the near distance are trim flower beds lining the stone
wall and jars of brightly blooming plants and rose-vines reaching up to the ivied
galleries. The living apartments are not on the ground floor, but up in the air,
where more birds are chirping and singing and more vines are climbing and
thrusting their tendrils through every crack and cranny, and where, leaning from
the gallery, stands another dusky figure like unto the one that swung open the
ponderous door at the pealing of the gong, and who speaks in pure Spanish as she
escorts the guest on further through mysterious passages . . . through richly carved
doors . . . [to rooms] lofty and spacious . . . filled with mammoth mirrors and rare
pictures, elegant rugs and once-gorgeous tapestry [UU-71 7:52].
Connecting the physical salon to the cultural one, Giles offers a sketch of the
people who often visited the Queyrouze home:
[In] the ancient drawing room . . . on Wednesday evenings gray-haired judges,
learned physicians and ancient painters [visited] . . . . Later frequenters [ . . . were]
Lafcadio Hearn, Mollie Moore Davis and others of established fame in the gifted
coterie of New Orleans writers . . . . There is a chess-board and a whole game of
Paul Morphy, used when he was only ten years old, and on which his father and
grandfather played, one of the most prized relics [UU-71 7:52].
Giles then turns her attention to the physical details, all of which are
representative of the French culture that this salon nurtured and preserved:
The parlor [is . . . ] furnished in the “Directoire” or Bonaparte style . . . . The
tables came from the reign of Louis the Fourteenth and are direct family
heirlooms. Here is a fine old chair in which Napoleon used to sit; there upon the
wall is one of Napoleon’s autograph letters framed in old oak and to which is
attached a decorated medal given by him to Leon Queyrouze . . . . Here is an
antiquated bronze clock . . . here is a wonderful profile of Napoleon the First
when he was consul . . . . A unique little bookcase holds ------beautifully
embellished volumes and a skull . . . . [In] the family apartments [there is . . .] a
bronze bust of Scevola, who ‘burnt his hand not to betray his county. . . . [In] the
parlor used daily, which is an immense one, there is an abundance of statuary . . .
antique and modern objects of art and vertu. There are busts of Byron, Hadyn,
Mendelssohn, Gluck, Rousseau, and Voltaire. There are on the walls masques of
Augustus and Venus. On a handsome mantel stands a lovely Venus looking over
her shoulder as if eyeing the fine bust of Plato
Giles concludes that in this place she senses a “hazy consciousness of
concealed treasures and dimly felt occult influences”:
Even the quaint door-knobs and the queer collection of bric-a-brac suggest
profound secrets . . . . Everything seems to have designs upon the imagination.
One becomes dreamy and speculative in such an atmosphere. Why is the head of
the “Dying Gladiator” decorated with swords, flags, drinking cups and pistols?
Why is the Bust of Soule, the French lawyer, placed between Diana and Venus?
[UU-71 7:52].
To answer Giles question, I suggest that Leona perceived her station as one of
reason and argument (Soule) situated between love and war (Venus and Diana). These
classical figures featured prominently in Leona’s poetry where one will find references to
Diana and Scevola, and the setting of two of her poems, “L’Regret and “Nocturne” is in
this parlor. When Giles notices lying on a shelf “an incongruous Puchinello dangling its
limbs and grinning from a corner where it has been suspended by a bright green string [ . .
. bearing] the Creole inscription Pantin tire, Pantin pas Tire (As you pull the proper
string creatures move),” she asks her about it, and Leona admits, “Yes, I put it here.
Punchinello means much to me. He is, after all, my favorite in this bizarre room.” This
unapologetic recognition suggests a self-conscious quality about the choices she has made
in constructing her environment, one in which she has “pulled the proper strings” to
create her world.
Both Giles’ and Leona’s descriptions of the French Creole home conjure ethereal
and mystical images, so very different from the practical ideology and architecture of late
nineteenth century America. When Leona speaks of the bronze bust of Scevola, “who
‘burnt his hand not to betray his county,’” she acknowledges that she “placed him near
the door way to guard like a sentinel the Napoleonic parlor from the influence of the
mixed period.” By her own admission, she reveals that she is consciously attempting to
separate herself from the American culture that was taking over her city. Indeed, her
parlor is a relic of the past and a fortress of French culture as once described by her
admirer as an “ancestral relic of a glorious race.”
When I questioned the family about the fate of the belongings described in this
article, they told me that much had been lost during the war. They related that Leona’s
brother, Maxim, had stored his living room furniture with friends but that they never
returned the items; additionally, there had been a theft at one of the homes as well: A
thief entered through the basement window on the house on DeSoto Street and stole
several things. However, some of items that Giles had described can be found at the
Louisiana State Museum. Giles mentioned that “there are on the walls masques of
Augustus and Venus. On a handsome mantel stands a lovely Venus looking over her
shoulder as if eyeing the fine bust of Plato.” In a letter dated September 26, 1922, the
museum curator, Robert Glenk wrote to Leona while she was living at 1465 North
Robertson Street in New Orleans. In the letter, Glenk acknowledges the gifts to the
museum, which were the following:
A bronzed mask of Diana, one of Venus, and one of the Dying Gladiator” [and the
loan of] “one large portrait of yourself—an oil by J. Genin, one large water color
(pastel) likeness of yourself by Rivoire, a large bronzed bust of Mesmer, two large
bronzed plaster busts—one of Beethoven and one of Schiller, with their supports
to hang against the wall, and one granite head of an idol dating from the Stone
Age in Egypt (Access No. 8247 & 48) [UU-69 4:28].
The family had no knowledge of the whereabouts of the remaining items; perhaps
these things were sold along the way. Even today, the remnants of many gilded
possessions can be found in the antique shops along Royal Street. Try as she might to
resist, Leona’s world was changing: Canal Street, which had separated the Creoles from
the Americans, symbolically, became the city center. Outside her cloistered walls, New
Orleans was a city of bustling activities and commerce that was quickly becoming the
“mixed period” that Leona feared--the infiltration of Anglo culture. To read her profile of
the Quarter, one could get the erroneous impression that her world was predominantly
white French Creole, hardly the case in a city that included a 30% population of people of
color. Beyond her carefully preserved bastion of French culture was the thriving
cosmopolitan city of New Orleans whose architecture bespoke of different sensibilities
and directions.
Late nineteenth century New Orleans is described by Marie Adrien Persac (1823-
1873), whose work is profiled by John H. Lawrence in The Historic New Orleans
Collections Quarterly. Persac was a Louisiana artist who painstakingly documented in his
drawings and gouaches (opaque watercolor) the architecture of the city. He was known as
“a chronicler of the antebellum plantation scene and the post-Civil War commercial
architecture of New Orleans” (2).Lawrence describes the drawings “of the two sides of
Canal Street in New Orleans stretching for the Mississippi to present-day Basin street
offer[ing] a view of post-Civil War New Orleans that showed a city undamaged by war
and ready for business” (2). In the same publication, John Magill in “Persac’s Canal
Street” describes Persac as an artist who brought “the 19th century street to life with its
ironwork galleries and balconies, mule-drawn streetcars, stone paving blocks, gas
streetlights, and tall wooden poles supporting telegraph wires” (3). Magill describes the
shift in commerce away from the Quarter to Canal Street, which demonstrates the decline
in one area and the growth in the other:
The first few blocks were lined with small houses and manufacturers,
while past the Customs House . . . . were large clothing and hardware
dealers mingled with a few retailers. Between Chartres and Rampart Street
was the center of the city’s fashion and luxury trade . . . dry goods,
notions, fashion, and jewelry stores. Its counterparts were New York’s
Broadway and Chicago’s State Street . . . . By 1873 Canal Street was also
the center of town. Throngs of people gathered here for events ranging
from carnival parades to political demonstrations. . . . . By the mid 1880s
electric streetlights replaced gas, and countless telephone and electric
wires tangled overhead on tall poles. Electric streetcars replaced mules,
while paving stones gave way to asphalt . . . . Although the French Quarter
was declining as a business center, Chartres and Royal Streets still
remained important shopping districts, but Bourbon Street, previously a
fashionable residential district, was being invaded by commerce. The most
important building on Bourbon Street was the French Opera House [which
was . . . ] built in 1859 (Magill 3-5).
In the Creoles of Louisiana Cable describes the vibrant world of their culture
epitomized by the boulevard known as Canal Street. His sketch suggests that the
perceived “dividing line” between the French Quarter and the American Garden District
was an amalgamation of cultures, rather than the separation and insulation depicted by
Leona. Cable’s description interweaves the people and the place:
Here stretches out in long parade, in variety of height and color, the great retail
stores, displaying their silken and fine linens and golden seductions; and the fair
Creole and American girls and the self-depreciating American mothers, and the
majestic Creole matrons, all black lace and alabaster [ . . . along] eighteen-feet
sidewalks are loftily roofed from edge to edge by continuous balconies . . . . all the
street-car lines in the town begin and end [here]. The Grand opera house is here;
also the Art Union. The club-houses glitter here . . . . At the base of Henry Clay’s
pedestal here people rally to hear the demagogues in days of political fever . . . .
Here sit the flower marchandes, making bouquets of jasmines and roses, clovepinks,
violets, and lady-slippers. Here the Creole boys drink mead, and on the
balconies above maidens and their valentines sip sherbets in the starlight . . . .
Here the gay carriage parties turn northwestward . . . .here the funeral train. . . .
here the ring-politician mounts perpetual guard. Here the gambler . . . [It was a
place of tethered horses, roaming goats, and fluttering lines of drying shirts and
petticoats (266-268).
While this description suggests harmony, there were clear ideological differences
between the Creoles and Americans. Creoles loved to go to restaurants and dances on
Sundays, and the mostly Puritan Americans considered this practice scandalous. They
also deplored the other entertainments of horse racing and theaters that Creoles enjoyed
on Sundays. They thought that “New Orleans with its gambling dens, ballrooms, theaters,
race tracks and rampant sexual permissiveness stood condemned as the ‘modern
Golgotha’” (Tregle 150).
In spite of the lingering tension between the two cultures, progress was being
made in the city. John Tregle and Joy Jackson describe some of these advancements: In
1879, Colonel James Buchanan Eads saw the completion of the jetties. This was a type of
dyke system laid parallel to the river that narrowed the flow of water, thus causing the
river to be self-cleansing, forcing the refuse out into the gulf rather than allowing it to
build up at the mouth. That way, it prevented the build up of refuse, logs, and silt to
replace the continually dredging. In 1876, people began taking the train, the New Orleans
and Lake Rail Road to New Lake End, a popular resort where they could swim in the lake
or have a picnic. There was also a restaurant and a hotel, and one can still see the
remnants of this today in an area some locals call Bucktown. This resort was renamed
West End Park in 1880. Another recreational site was located at the Spanish Fort where
people could stay at the newly rebuilt Ponchartrain Hotel. There was also a theater and a
casino there. The Railway Company turned it into an amusement park in 1883, but it was
closed in 1903.
With these advancements, the city retained much of the French and Spanish
cultural influence. Even as New Orleans underwent the inevitability of Americanization,
the newcomers who settled in the area created a unique culture that accreted the Creole
cuisine, architecture, customs and traditions into a newly formed local identity, an
inclusion that is unique to New Orleans. When the Americans built their mansions in the
garden district, they included many Creole architectural elements into their designs, and
they adopted many of the local customs and traditions as their own.
One of the major differences between the Creoles and the Americans was their
perception of change. Fearing cultural usurpation, the Creoles perceived social change
negatively and did not relish the notion of Americans adopting their customs and
traditions. As Alfred Mercier, said, they feared their French “wine” was becoming
“diluted,” a remark reflecting their cultural elitism. Regardless of the French Creole’s
perception, until the late nineteenth century, New Orleans was “always a cosmopolitan
city . . . [its] mixtures of European races set it apart from most of the South” (Jackson
17). Women wore “fine velvets, heavy silks, crepes and taffetas” in winter in the 1880’s
(3) and, vendors sold “estomac mulatte (a flat ginger cake with icing), both coconut and
pecan pralines, candie Tiré, (pulled candy), and rice cakes called cala. The favorite
beverage sold was La Biere Creole, a beer made from the juice and pulp of pineapple” (3-
4). Jackson explains that New Orleans retained much of the exotic ambience even during
the postbellum era and beyond:
[New Orleans] managed to carry over into its late nineteenth-century life many of
the customs, sights and sounds of antebellum days. Because it had French and
Spanish heritage in addition to its bustling American business philosophy, the
panorama it presented to visitors was unique. The architecture of the Vieux Carré
and the French Market, the quaint street vendors, and the French patois of a
sizeable part of the Negro population enthralled the visitor from the North, where
conformity was fast overcoming individuality in cities (9).
While the Americans were adopting some of the French customs and traditions,
the Creoles were embracing some of the Americans’ commercial efficiency and
organization. In his America Revisited (1882) a visitor from England, George Augustus
Henry Sala (1828-1895), describes this amalgamation:
Occasionally in the French Quarter, you are forcibly reminded of the alldominating
influence of the Anglo-Saxon language, institutions and character . . .
Still . . . street after street are French . . . I surveyed a genuine French pharmacie
in the Rue de Chartres. It seemed to have been transported . . . all was subdued,
composed, and serene. No doubt you could obtain sinapismes, and vésicatoires
and tisanes. . . . In the dim recesses of the store, you could discern rows of shelves
laden with tall old white gallipots, and about the whole place there was a gentle
soporific odour of aromatic drugs . . . . A grave and bald-headed gentleman sat in
a rocking chair . . . reading the Abeille de la Nouvelle Orléans. . . . Next . . . was
the épicier . . . [with] a plentiful supply of things alcoholic . . .absinthe and cassis,
vermouth and parfait amour—all the alcoholic frivolities of the people . . . who
never get tipsy . . . . Here you are at once reminded that the tropics are over the
way, or round the corner, so to speak. . . . The coffee made in New Orleans is the
most aromatic and the most grateful to the palate . . . there is a French café or an
estaminet . . .The cafés lack Parisian splendour, but they are neat and trim . . . and
the customers quench their thirst with orgeat, bavaroises, sirop de groseille . . .
little French stationers’ shops and cabinets de lecture . . . The very pencils and
pens are French . . . . and objects religieux (de Caro 86-88).
Often the center of trade was the Market, and it was the place where the cultural
diversity of New Orleans converged. In the Historical Sketchbook and Guide to New
Orleans and Environs (1885), in an article prepared for the World’s Industrial and Cotton
Centennial Exposition, entitled, “The French Market,” Will H. Coleman described the
market. He used material from several authors, including Lafcadio Hearn:
As you near Jackson Square, a stream of busy-looking people appears, laden with
baskets and bundles - - - - its entrance is a marble topped stand, over which stands
the title and sign of the Café Rapide . . . Every race that the world boasts is here,
and a good many races that are nowhere else. The strangest and most complicated
mixture of negro and Caucasian blood, with negroes washed white, and white men
with mulattoes . . . The dresses are as varied as the faces . . . the floor of the
market is not at all clean . . . At the end of the market . . . eat and trade a halfdozen
Indians . . . Natchez, Choctaws and Creeks; [all. . .] have melted away into
mulattoes . . . . You enter the Bazaar market . . . . evidenced by two tin cupolas . . .
. This market is the most cosmopolitan of all. The air is broken by every
language—English, French, Italian, and German, varied by gombo [sic] languages
of every shade . . . . The bright sun leaks drowsily through the spider webs . . . the
monotonous cries of the boys, “cinq à dix sous, “two cents apiece, Madame” . . . .
At about three o’clock in the morning the sounds of many loaded carts . . . creak
and rumble . . . as they go up the street . . . not “king’s English” alone is subjected
to pretty rough handling, but every language on the globe is slanged, docked or
insulted by uncivilized innovations . . . Nearly all trades, profession, colors and
castes are represented with baskets on their arms . . . . Strangers who come into
town late at night, bringing into the city with their rural tastes and appetites . . . .
they look very modest when they climb on the high stools . . . [to order] “café au
lait” or “café noir” (Coleman 89-93).
In spite of the thriving market, most businesses were moving to Canal Street,
which was quickly becoming the town’s center and was a magnet for people from all over
the area and from abroad. Jackson cites Charles Henry White’s description of Canal
[It was] a great open street fringed by two and three story buildings . . . crowded
trolley cars . . . policemen . . . a wide expanse of hazy sky and yellow clouds of
dust hovering over an idle crowd [of . . . ] race track touts, bookmakers, jockeys,
commercial travelers, longshoremen, country folk in town for a day, clubmen on
their way to an afternoon at the Pickwick of Boston clubs, and sightseeing naval
personnel from visiting foreign vessels (13).
The city was a virtual feast of entertainment. In 1882, Mark Twain wrote that
New Orleans was “well outfitted with progressive men [and that New Orleans. . . ] was
the best-lighted city in the Union” (200). He said that he enjoyed the men’s clubs and
pleasure resorts and the high quality city newspapers. All over the city was an abundance
of flowers and gardens, and the lavish Mardi Gras celebrations and carnival balls of 1880
brought in an estimated 40,000 visitors who came to celebrate the season. Travelers could
stay at hotels or at Pension Privee (a type of bed and breakfast featuring Creole food) or
rent a room (chambres garnies /chambres a louer). For entertainment, visitors could also
go to baseball games, dances, the racetrack or gambling establishments. There were four
theaters: Grand Opera House, French Opera House, St. Charles Theater and the Academy
of Music. Wagner’s operas were performed at the Grand Opera House Leona often
attended the opera with Placide Canonge and published her observations about the
performances in the local newspapers.
Not only did the city center offer much entertainment, there were attractions
outside the central city as well. Lake Ponchartrain had two resorts, the Spanish Fort and
the West End. There one could eat or stay at a hotel, visit the gardens, listen to a German
band, see the nightly fireworks, or see vaudeville acts. This area was internationally
popular and as evidence of this, Oscar Wilde lectured at the Spanish fort in 1882 (Jackson
23-24). Before 1900, visitors could also see cockfights and dogfights on the outskirts of
town. In 1883, the Southern Pacific Railroad was finally completed from New Orleans to
California, which made its commerce and attractions even more readily available across
the continent.
Beginning in December of 1884, New Orleans hosted the World’s Industrial and
Cotton Centennial Exposition, where Queyrouze’s Symphony Indienne was played by the
Mexican Army Band. Burke was director-general of the Exposition held at the Upper City
Park (now Audubon Park). The primary purpose of the Exposition was to celebrate the
anniversary of the first time that a bale of cotton had been exported from America (from
Charleston South Carolina) to a foreign port in 1784. Unfortunately, the exposition closed
in June of 1885 with a deficit after having lost money over its six month run. In spite of
this set back, the city moved forward, and there were advancements in education,
particularly for women. Tulane University was founded in 1884, taking over the buildings
of University of Louisiana, and Newcomb College opened in 1886 for women and
focused on physical education and the arts, especially ceramics.
Women married young in the 1880s, but the nineteen year old Leona was not
inclined her to become a wife and mother. She speaks of this in her poem, “Lolotte”
Happy little Lolotte
With her head in the air
And the heart of a butterfly!
In the mirror she dances
and looks with satisfaction
at the gilded splendor of her hair.
In the street she imagines
that her every steps captivates
all the handsome boys she sees.
At the dance she acts the ingénue
and responds without acknowledgement
to the compliments she receives.
Little happy Lolotte.
So loved, so pampered;
she charms purely for the pleasure of it all.
So why then, at the flower of her age
does she enter into marriage,
when she had all the time to choose?
(Appendix 259).
In 1885, Jackson notes that southern belles would “‘read clever books, and discuss
their fingernails; they are shocked at the conversational appearance of the word leg, but
are enthusiastically devoted to the ballet. A young lady could receive a gentleman alone
or go for a drive in his carriage, but the couple had to be escorted by a chaperone to
theater, concerts, or balls’” (16). The “Society Bee” column in the Daily Picayune
reported on the social elite. As probable reference to this or to Leona’s publications in
L’Abeille, Lafcadio Hearn referred to her as one of the “bees” when he first met her. But
she turned the image of a flighty social bee into a darker and more powerful one in her
poem to Hearn about Medea, entitled “Response.” Far from belonging to a group of
women who were concerned with superficial appearance, Leona projected a powerful
image through her Medea who “reap[s] her harvest while humanity sleeps/and quietly
claim[s] her own like a moth in the night.” She warned Hearn that she was a fearsome
Poets make you honey, for she will make it poison
with her curses and cries without end,
falling from the heavens, and when hope grows dim,
her screams will tremble the walls of your prison.
She drinks deep the dew from the roses’ trembling chalices
And takes the rays of morning’s glory for her own
But she also rules the night.
[UU-70 6:45].
(Appendix 270).
Clearly, Leona was making a strong public statement about the power of women,
even if Hearn chose to recoil from it. This was the voice of Leona at her most
impassioned and forceful, and it can be found in her poems and articles in defense of her
Creole culture that will be discussed in detail in Chapter Six.
At the same time that Leona was taking issue with the prevailing perception of
women, laborers in the region also sought to affect changes in the work place. Unions
began to gain strength in its membership and activism in the late 1800’s, and there were
several strikes for better wages and working conditions. In 1887, the Louisiana Farmer’s
Alliance and Cooperative Union was officially established, designed to protect farmers
from fraud and to join together to become a political force. Also active at the time were
the Knights of Labor who were equally concerned with labor issues, and they accepted
blacks into their organization.
In many ways, however, the French Creoles separated themselves from the
burgeoning contemporary society surrounding them, and it is difficult to find references
in their writing about other social groups—other than Anglo-Americans. In the
construction of their cultural island, they excluded from purview the people in the other
districts of the city. These other ethnic groups were busy creating their own culture and
entertainment, and as is commonly known, from their ranks jazz was born. At dance
halls, early jazz musician got their start, and in Jazz Masters of New Orleans Martin
Williams theorizes that jazz evolved because the classically trained Creoles of color
played in local bands, sometimes made up of freedmen, and the combination of passion
and education gave birth to Jazz in the 1890s. The fact that such an important movement
is notably absent in the French Creole writing indicates a current of cultural isolation.
Regardless of cultural divisions, all citizens in New Orleans dealt with local
problems in varying degrees. In the 1880s, the city was rife with disease, such as yellow
fever, diphtheria, typhoid, small pox. In the fall of 1890 the police chief, David
Hennessey, was assassinated, and many suspected that the killers had been hired by
powerful Italian families. Nineteen suspects were jailed, and even though several were
acquitted, a cadre of outraged citizens stormed the jail and killed several of the inmates
and dragged others out to be hung. This incident made international headlines in March,
1891, and was a source of shame and embarrassment for law abiding citizens. In 1894,
there was a riot on the docks because the British cotton shippers tried to hire black
screwmen (those who secured bales of cotton in the cargo areas of a ship before it sailed)
at lower wages than whites. The white workers retaliated by throwing the black workers’
tools overboard; several were beaten and some drowned. The violence continued until
Governor Foster sent the militia in 1895 to keep the peace.
There were now more visible signs of the demise of the French Creole culture. In
the Quarter, most were surviving rather than thriving:
[Many were] eking out an existence. . . the family plate, mahogany, and crystal
had long since passed through the dealers’ hands in Royal Street . . . .from the
1880s on, the Creoles were a declining ethnic group and no longer a vital factor in
politics . . . in its twilight hours (Jackson14).
By the time that Cable described the Creole culture and the Vieux Carré, Jackson
says, their “way of life was only a museum piece which would pass out of general
existence within thirty years” (14). The use of the French language was fading in the
1890s. Many of the once beautiful homes were being replaced by the turn of the century
shotgun houses and double tenement houses. By the end of the century, Jackson Square
was little more than a slum. On September 29, 1915, there was a hurricane that almost
destroyed the Old St. Louis Exchange Hotel, which was then torn down; it also destroyed
the World’s Fair buildings at Audubon Park—the place where Leona had heard her
symphony played by the Mexican Army Band only 30 years before.
Leona was witness to all of this and to the gradual disappearance of all that had
been familiar-- the remnants of the life she cherished. Bourbon Street was a seedy
commercial district; her beloved French Opera house had burned down; the French
Quarter was often the site of criminal mischief, and the exhibition site where her
symphony had been performed in 1884 was marked by nothing more than a stone, much
like a headstone on the grave of her culture. In “Imprecatio” she expresses this loss when
she says that “Our ancestors’ language/ Is now denigrated and only found on headstones”
(L’Abeille May 3, 1891—Appendix 22). This sentiment is clearly expressed again in her
1911 poem “Agonie:”
Once my soul held a cherished vision
and like a tree, it grew in strength and love
and its very summit held the skies aloft
with branches blooming into stars
And the night sky opened for the daughter of Ionie
and the tender violets bloomed without fear
to hope and was blessed by light--
So when were the dreams of souls broken?
What insidious worm began to gnaw at its core?
Which parasite drank up the sap of its heart?
And silenced the music of the heavens?
And leave my soul in the darkness of tombs
with its stars extinguished and blossoms closed--
Was it all a dream-- a dream all?
[UU-71 7:55].
(Appendix 237)
The decline in culture and fortune followed the Queyrouze descendents. When I
asked the family to describe the homes the family had occupied after they left St. Louis
Street, Adele Cressy, Maxim’s granddaughter, responded to me in a letter:
The house on Villere is long gone. The City bought the whole square and
built a school. The house was a typical New Orleans shotgun single with
boxwood steps and a wonderful side porch in the back and a brick alley. It
had 4 rooms plus a kitchen and a bath had been added beyond the kitchen.
We lived there during the 2nd World War. After that we moved to De Soto
St. and lived with my grandfather.
--August 5, 1996.
While no one can understate the necessity for sweeping social changes in the
closing decades of the nineteenth century, one must acknowledge that the demise of any
ethnic culture affects us all. We lose the ability to recognize the sources of influences and
infusion of other sensibilities into our national culture. In order to understand who we are
as a people, we must understand those who left their imprint upon us. But in order to
experience their lives, we must also experience their deaths and find empathy for the
feelings of loss of a people and a place, with “its stars extinguished and blossoms closed.”
While we can visit the places where they once lived and see the remnants of their culture
in the architecture and customs, unless we understand what those relics represent, we will
treat them as superficial exoticisms and fail to see their true significance. One way to
understand the vision that the Creoles cherished is to study the places they inhabited, and
while time has separated the people from the place, one cannot understand one without
the other, for they are inextricably linked. The enclosed tropical courtyards, the bustling
French market, the balconies where Creole beaus drank their mead, and the narrow streets
where alabaster Creole matrons marshaled their daughters are still there, but the French
Creoles have disappeared into America. The festivals and foods are still celebrated, but
the people of the French Creole culture that created them are no longer clearly
identifiable. What remains behind indicates the extent of the cultural development of this
French colony—truly a foreign country—on American soil, and the Creoles’ attempt to
remain a separate region by retreating into their secluded courtyards and practicing their
French customs and language could not stem this tide of change. Outside their shuttered
windows, New Orleans was slowly became increasingly Americanized. Granted, the
insulated world they created became less a reality and more “all a dream” as the
nineteenth century progressed, but the fact remains that many Creole writers chronicled
their experiences during the disappearance of their social construct, and their work can
prove beneficial for anthropological study. Even as they recognized that their efforts to
preserve their culture were in vain, they joined together in their salons, which were folk
groups trying to conserve the last vestiges of their French heritage. As I will demonstrate
in Chapter Four, in their concerted attempts to safeguard their culture, they ultimately
became instrumental in its transformation.
Our country is our security as home is our
shelter; it is dependent on us as we are
dependent on it, and thus a state of reciprocal
custody is established. It is not a solid, compact
whole, but a mosaic, an aggregation of interests
welded together, and whose homogeneity
insures its duration –“Patriotism and Wagner”
Leona Queyrouze
Several prominent Creole community leaders tried to preserve the French Creole
culture, many of whom were Leona’s closest friends and members of her salon circle. She
was supported and mentored by this group of men a generation apart from her. “From an
early age, Leona Queyrouze was surrounded by older men who were at the same time her
mentors, confidants or suitors” (“Special Exhibits” 9). These men were prominent
figures: General P.G.T. Beauregard, Placide Canonge, Charles Gayarré, Drs. Armand and
Alfred Mercier, Rudolph Matas, and Paul Morphy. Each one of these men influenced her,
and a close look at each one of them will assist in understanding the part that they played
in her life. While George Washington Cable was not one of her associates, his literary
representation of the Creoles proved to be instrumental in the formation of their identity;
therefore, a discussion of his work will be included because it represented an antithesis to
the positions held by Gayarré, and many other Creoles.
In this chapter, I will widen the historical lens to encompass the members of the
Queyrouze salon as a folk group because each contributes to its shared sense of identity.
Their habits and customs reveal much about their underlying belief systems and their
worldviews, which is vital to this project. Richard M. Dorson expresses the importance of
this kind of study by stating that “a long step forward in American folklore studies can be
made if folklore in the United States is seen in its proper relation to major periods and
themes in American history” (115). The “everyday life” that anthropologists and
folklorists study re-captures the spirit of the people who practiced and preserved their
customs and traditions, expressing what Gottfried von Herder calls the spirit of the
herrenvolk, the mystical bonds of blood, tongue, culture and tradition. Harris M. Berger
and Giovanna P. Del Negro believe that these “everyday practices may produce power
relations [and . . . ] resist and transform them” (7) and this is key in a study of an ethnic
culture engaged in a power struggle to survive. This also answers the new historicist
mandate to include groups that had “hitherto been marginalized, half hidden, or even
entirely excluded from the professional study of literature” (Greenblatt and Gallagher 11).
Elliott Oring defines “members of an ethnic group” as those who “share and identify with
a historically derived cultural tradition or style, which may be composed of both explicit
behavioral features as well as implicit ideas, values and attitudes” (24). A folk group is a
microcosmic unit differentiated from the larger social system. Its members often share
many of the same fears and beliefs handed down through generations, while consciously
retaining their customs and traditions in order to preserve their sense of community. Thus,
the group is maintained through a socially constructed process and is measured by an
established, if often unspoken, criteria. Their social ties are strengthened when they
interact with the larger social system, as evidenced by the Creoles’ relationship with the
Americans. Indeed, the fact they did not consider themselves to be Americans illustrates
this point.
Some critics might assert that the Queyrouze salon does not fall clearly within the
parameters of a folk group because its transmissions were not based on oral traditions and
material culture and its reliance upon customary practices was not primary. Added to this
is the fact that the members of the salon belonged to an elite class rather than popular or
folk classes, but folklore does not belong solely to a class, it belongs to any group that has
features in common, such a religion, ethnicity, region, or occupation. The members of the
Queyrouze belonged to a self-professed elite class, but they shared a common heritage,
faith and community, and were united in the bonds of a common purpose. To stave off
the influences of Anglo-American culture, the group directed its efforts towards
preserving French traditions. Leona believed in this endeavor, and with the members of
her salon, she pursued her passion for opera, music, and literature. What differentiates the
Queyrouze salon from other white French Creole salons in New Orleans was the extent of
their involvement in preserving French literature through the Athénée.
Her published essays were often an outgrowth of these associations, and at times
she echoed the sentiments of Gayarré. He believed that the Creoles, who were racially
pure, intellectually sophisticated, agrarian aristocrats, were beleaguered and
misunderstood. At other times, Leona departed from Gayarré when she spoke out against
social injustice in The Crusader under the pseudonyms, Salamandra and Adamas—names
that symbolized unwavering and unassailable ideals. On many occasions, her subject
matter dealt with current political debate, and in some cases, her editorials and poetry
were dedicated or addressed to group members.
The formation of her personal and social identity was inextricably tied to her
association with her folk group. Rosan Augusta Jordan and Frank De Caro describe the
“role played by folklore in establishing identity whether personal or sociocultural” (31),
and Elliott Oring adds that “identity has always been a central issue in folklore studies,
even when the term was not specifically used” (31). An application of these concepts is
particularly relevant when investigating folk groups who demonstrated intentional
isolation, such as the French Creoles in Louisiana.
Jordan and de Caro assert that Louisiana offers a unique opportunity to observe
the ways in which the study of folklore serves the “need to establish identities in term of
race, class, and ethnicity” (33). They focus their discussion on the “development of
folklore studies in Louisiana in which a concern with racial and class identity is an
important factor,” and they look closely at the American Folklore Society of New Orleans
in the 1890s and the work of Lyle Saxon and Louisiana’s “rich mélange of cultures” (32).
Because Louisiana’s population had such a “long history of negotiating and modulating a
variety of influences,” it was fertile ground for this kind of study. Jordan and de Caro cite
the large artistic and intellectual community within the environs of the city that included
the French, and they focus on “The Louisiana Association of the American Folk-Lore
Society [which] was founded . . . [in] 1892 in New Orleans, largely through the efforts of
Alcée Fortier, a Tulane University scholar of Romance languages and a potent force in
Louisiana intellectual affairs” (33). Its membership was comprised of many of the all
white (mostly female) social and intellectual elite in New Orleans, both American and
Creole. Some of the members that Fortier recruited were his colleagues at Tulane. This
group “prompted an interest in folklore among the flourishing community of intellectual,
writers and artists that had emerged in New Orleans during the previous decade.” One of
the foundations for this movement was a “national revival of interest in the South (which
was conceptualized in the most romantic and exotic terms)” and this “helped create a
national market for Southern ‘local color’ writing.” This spurred the “literary careers of
writers like George Washington Cable and Lafcadio Hearn, whose writing incorporated
dialect and quaint local customs” and the dissemination for their work “helped create and
publicize a romantic image of New Orleans, with its lush semitropical climate and its
culturally distinctive inhabitants, notably the white Creoles and Afro-French Creoles of
color (33). This romantic image (in its most benign form) was encouraged by the Creoles,
and by their participation, they brokered the commoditization of their own culture.
From today’s perspective, many of their activities now appear elitist and racist, as
they appropriated the dialect of African Americans and portrayed them as an exotic
species—and used them as an outlet for their creative impulses. Jordan and deCaro point
out that perhaps this focus on the black culture was a way to use “folklore, however
unconsciously, to mark their own sense of white identity” and social superiority, crucial at
a “time when to do so was politically and psychologically important for Southern whites”
(39-40). Specifically for the Creoles, their “anxiety may have been more broadly based on
feelings that their ethnic culture was under siege,” and this may have increased their
“need to find distance from the most marginal ethnic group of all, the African Americans”
(41-42) as well to a means to cleanse themselves of the stain of their slave-holding past.
Much of the material the association gathered was used to “establish the antebellum
plantation world at its benign best” (44). However, in their bid to separate their identity
from the black population, they undermined their intentions, for the stories they related
were inextricably tied to slavery. The stories often portrayed the “happy coexistence” of
the “peculiar institution” of slavery and its false sense of harmony, and this “nostalgia and
apologia” counterbalanced the Creole need to separate (44).
Leona engaged in this nostalgic myth-building in her abbreviated English version
of “Silhouettes Créoles” entitled “The Creoles.” Listing the positive characteristics of the
Creoles, she portrays them as victims of the commercially savvy Anglo-Americans who
take advantage of them. She notes that “hospitality is a salient characteristic of the
inhabitants of Louisiana, and is inherent in them.” The Creoles have an “impulsive
generosity and . . . kindness,” and she lists their “chivalrous traditions” and their “bravery
which soon grows to be temerity and rashness when the apparently peaceful but in reality
fierce temper of the Creole is roused.” While she acknowledges that “their supreme fault
as a fraction of the American nation is to be so little practical,” she blames the Americans
for their failure to thrive. The fact that the Creoles had “no special genius for speculation,
and are not skilled in commercial tricks” is characterized as a virtue—indeed, they
became innocent victims because they were “liable to be deceived in many ways.”
Moreover, the Creoles did not “deserve the reputation of cruelty established for them by
outsiders, more or less interested in doing so, and who found credulous and enthusiastic
dupes to echo their rhetorical lamentations about the pitiful condition of slaves in the
South” [UU-70 6:48]. However, her defense is logically flawed, if not consummately
elitist. She creates an equivocation by stating that the Creoles were “liable to be
deceived” (duped, if you will) because of their virtues, while accusing others of being
ignorant dupes for believing that slaves experienced “pitiful conditions.”
She substantiates her claim against the negative perceptions of her culture by
recounting the legend of the slave Christine who was purchased for one thousand dollars.
So devoted was Christine to her kind mistress that when she was freed, she asked to be
sold for one thousand dollars so that she could return the money to her mistress.
Assuming that this legend would contravene any historical claims to the contrary, Leona
closes her account by saying that she could “quote nothing better than this in defense of
the so dreadfully calumniated slave owners in Louisiana” [UU-70 6:48]. Her goal in this
excerpt appears to cleanse the historical record and to make the Americans culpable for
maligning the Creoles.
This allegiance to a folk myth is indicative of the “varying motives and
perspectives” of a folk group ( Jordan and de Caro 46), and in order to study the
Queyrouze salon I have deconstructed its components into biographical sketches in order
to arrive at a sense of how it functioned and the purpose it served. Oring points out that
folk groups are often the “other” as distinguished from the larger social system, and this is
clearly the case for the Creoles in relation to mainstream America. This kind of folk
group, explains Oring, “share and identify with a historically derived cultural tradition
and style, which may be composed of both explicit behavioral features as well as implicit
ideas, values, and attitudes” (24). Ethnicity, then, is speech, thought, and action based on
a sense of identity. These groups are units within a “broader organization ofsocial
relations” (30), and this contrast strengthens their cultural traditions. Oring further shows
that the “cultural context encapsulates a system of ideas, symbols, behaviors, and the
social context is a set of principles governed by interrelationships and sets of behaviors in
the comparative context” (140).
One of the most important elements found within a folk group is a shared belief
system, and this can be seen the fierce ethnic pride of the French Creoles. Other elements
at work are the twin laws of Folklore—those of conservatism and dynamism. An ethnic
group-- such as the Queyrouze salon-- is one that upholds cherished traditions and
practices—hence its conservatism. At the same time it serves as a chronicle of social
changes and the angst that these changes caused, thus demonstrating the dynamism of a
folk group. When they told their stories and paid service to the myth of the Creole, they
were engaged in the twin acts of preservation and creation. The self creation of lore
reveals a distinct point of view—one that is created for and by the larger community or
social group. In the case of the Creoles, this lore was a way to preserve their past, to hold
onto their present, and to attempt to secure a position in the future.
This identification process was intensified through American and Creole
interactions. Barbara Kirsheblatt-Gimblett describes the “folklorism effect,” which
postulates that an object changes when it is observed (152) and Regina Bendix explains
the role the tourist plays, to a certain degree, as an “agent of change” upon the host
culture and the “degree of cultural resilience” the host culture exhibits in the process of
negotiating the outsider’s gaze. (143). In the case of the Creoles, the American gaze
created within them a self-awareness that forced them to make more reflective choices
about their behavior. They found themselves placed on public display—not merely going
about their private lives--and this self-consciousness transformed them into an exotic host
culture. Many Creoles complained that tourists would travel to the Quarter with a copy of
Cable’s Grandissimes in their pockets while looking for the “real life” characters
described in the novel. The Creoles became incensed at their commoditization into an
exotic curiosity. Even more troubling for them was the fact that under the microscopic
lens, their foibles became magnified.
However, there were some benefits derived from this attention, for it served to
preserve some Creole customary festivals. Bendix explains how economics play a factor
in the objectification of a culture. Using the example of a Swiss Interlaken festival, she
demonstrates how local customs and traditions create an economic boon and these are
“open for strategic use” by the host society as a means to perpetuate its culture (143). An
example of this theory in practice in New Orleans is the Mardi Gras celebration, which is
not only a stimulus to the local economy but a means to display and therefore preserve a
unique culture. While this may raise some question about the authenticity of a culture--
one that self-consciously produces traditions for tourist display-- the host culture may
consider that the benefit of self-preservation overrides other considerations.
The value of applying a folklore lens to the Queyrouze salon is that it can reveal
the values, fears and beliefs of microcosmic culture, one that was consciously selfdefining
and self-preserving. As such, the salon is a social document constructed by its
own ideology, trying to affect change and preserve tradition, thereby abiding by the twin
laws of folklore. This also underscores the need to approach their culture from a new
historical perspective where their social system is seen in context, enabling us to explore
not only what it is, but what is does-- how it functions within the larger framework of
New Orleans society, its contact with American values, and the political, economic and
ethnic framework within which it existed.
Each member of the Queyrouze salon contributed to the construction and
perpetuation of their folk group in a mutually influential and defining system. As I
interpret this group, I acknowledge that by observing it from the present, as Richard
Handler and Jacklyn Linnekin indicate, my mediated perceptions are compromised for I
am “distanced or apart from the object reconstructed” and I acknowledge that I am
engaged in a “process of interpretation” that makes “meaning in the present through
making references to the past” (287). In spite of these limitations, I will re-assemble the
group with brief biographical sketches in order to show how each one informed Leona’s
worldview. The salon members were from an elite class: Mollie Moore Davis (journalist),
Paul Morphy (chess champion), P. G. T. Beauregard (Confederate General and
politician), Placide Canonge (novelist and dramatist), Alfred Mercier (physician), Adrien
Rouquette (clergy), and Charles Gayarré (historian). These people would later mentor
Leona, and through descent, she inherited many of their values, beliefs and assumptions.
However, just as every new generation brings its own perspective to society, so does
Leona bring her own unique viewpoint.
While Leona’s salon was dominated by men, there was one notable exception,
Mollie Evelyn Moore Davis. She was also a member of the Louisiana Association of the
American Folk-Lore Society and served as a magnet for the Crescent city’s social elite.
Jordan and de Caro state that she and her husband, a journalist, came to New Orleans in
Lacking funds for impressive living quarters, the Davises took up residence of
Royal Street in the French Quarter, taking advantage of cheap rents in what was
then a rather shabby residential area. But the Davises had the vision to recognize
in the French Quarter houses . . . the potential for creating an interesting and
romantic environment . . . Her parties were the social center for the city’s
intellectual and artistic elite (34).
Davis was a regular contributor to the Folk-Lore society and wrote several
volumes of poetry, short stories and sketches, some of which were published in the
Journal of American Folklore. She also translated one of Leona’s poems, “Response:”
Medea, hast thou said, and rightly thou
Hast named her, this proud woman with sad eyes
And savage heart where dark rebellion lies;
And who in each loved hand sees treason glow!
Poet, thy honey sip! The poison slow
Is hers of curses wild, and hopeless cries,
And prayers unheard from anguished hearts that rise,
And shrieks that shake the donjon to and fro.
Drink thou the dew from trembling chalices,
Take for thine own the morning’s mysteries;
But leave to her the midnight wan and chill
Where blessings fell there grow the flowers of hate;
There is her harvest, there, when all is still,
And, mist-like, flies the night-moth desolate
(L’Abeille May 27, 1887) [UU-70 6:45]
While there is no correspondence between the women to be found in the
Queyrouze collection, Davis’ position in Creole society was one that would have brought
her into close association with Leona. Perhaps Davis was received by the Creoles because
she and her husband chose to live in the French Quarter and because they shared a similar
love of literature. Leona’s acceptance of Davis indicates that Leona’s resistance to
Americans was more general than particular and that she crossed that cultural divide
when she encountered someone who was a kindred spirit. However, Leona’s association
with women seems to be more the exception than the rule, and this sense of isolation
filters into her work, as I shall demonstrate in Chapter Six. Unlike other women writers in
the period who shared a literary discourse and a sense of commonality, Leona seems to
have had little of this kind of companionship. Hers was a world of men.
The man who was closest to Leona’s age was Paul Morphy (1837-1884), and he
was twenty-four years her senior. Leona took piano lessons from his mother at their house
at 417 Royal Street (present location of Brennan’s Restaurant). At the young age of
thirteen, Morphy was already famous for his skill at Chess, and in 1850 he defeated
reigning chess master Janos Lowenthal of Hungary. By 1857 he had defeated all the
American chess players, and then approached Howard Staunton of England who refused
the challenge. Morphy then tackled the French champions. Even thought he was
blindfolded, he still managed to beat them after ten hours of play. He returned to his
home in New Orleans in 1859. After failing to inspire anyone else to join him in
competition, he retired from public life in 1860.
During his lifetime, he garnered much praise and attention and had many women
admirers, but he later told Leona that he did not give much credit to his fame. Leona
remembers that his “most salient characteristic always was an invincible aversion to
popularity, which gradually developed into an unusual disdain of celebrity” (Weise 9).
Morphy died in 1884 of apoplexy at the age of forty-seven after a long bout with mental
illness. At the time of his death, Leona was twenty-three, and when she met Hearn three
years later, he encouraged her in her writing of the Morphy biography. (This unpublished
manuscript can now be found at the Williams Research Center in New Orleans). Hearn
considered her “Morphy Sketch” to be a “‘psychological work’ reflecting not only
Morphy, but Queyrouze as well” (Wiese 9). In this sketch, Leona lavishly praises
Morhpy’s brilliance and skill, and her fondness for him is evident. Hearn’s assessment is
accurate, for this work reveals Leona’s desire to idealize and romanticize those she held
in high esteem. This same idealization and sentimentalism surfaces in her memoir about
her relationship with Hearn, one that she wrote towards the end of her life, and the Idyl
reveals as much about Leona as it does Hearn. A common thread throughout her oeuvre is
a tendency to romanticize her loved ones, and this ideality extended to her own culture.
Another influential member of her salon was Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
(1818-1893), who was Leon Queyrouze’s close friend. A native of New Orleans,
Beauregard served in the U.S. Army until February 1861. He then joined the Confederate
Army and had an illustrious career. During the war, he directed the attack on Fort Sumter,
served as second in command in the First Battle of Bull Run, and took command at
Shiloh. In 1863 he defended Charleston, and in 1864 he defeated General Butler at
Drury’s Bludd, Virginia. When he returned to New Orleans after the Civil War in 1866,
he tried his hand, unsuccessfully, at several business ventures. After a failed attempt to
secure a Foreign Service appointment or to garner a commission, he resorted to working
the state lottery, and he was often criticized for his connections with this program.
Beauregard was one of the members of the Athénée, a social organization created
to provide a literary outlet for its members, and he encouraged Leona’s writing career.
The Athénée was comprised of all male members, but because of Leona’s impressive
intellectual and literary skill, the group invited her to join, and she became the only
female member of this society. When she presented her speech “Patriotism and Wagner,”
Beauregard was one of her sponsors, and because of him, she became the first woman in
New Orleans to read from her own work in public. Through him, she became acquainted
with local and state politicians, and he introduced her to the president of Mexico when he
attended dinner at Beauregard’s home. Thus, he proved to be a supportive and wellconnected
member of her salon who aided her in furthering her career and providing
access to influential political figures.
Leona was very loyal to the members of her salon, and when James Redpath,
Jefferson Davis’ biographer, launched an attacked against Beauregard’s character, Leona
was quick to defend him. In 1890 she took exception to Redpath’s claim that Jefferson
Davis had the “utmost contempt for that frivolous little Frenchman Beauregard.” She
admonished Redpath, saying that “to destroy is a far easier task than to create. She cited
Beauregard’s integrity, and criticized Davis, saying that a person who “scatters his
opinions, words & manuscripts to the four winds, really speaks confidently to no one”
[UU-68 2:17]. Her defensive response indicates her inability to countenance any slights
against those she idealized, a quality that permeates her work
Perhaps her closest companion in the salon was Louis Placide Canonge (1822-
1893), even though he was almost forty years her senior. Placide was born into a
prominent Creole family profiled in Grace King’s Creole Families of New Orleans
(1921). His grandfather had been a prominent judge and had four sons: “All were
educated in Paris at the Collége Louis le Grand” [Lycée Louis le Grand ] (King 395).
Placide returned from France a very cultured young man and quickly became involved in
New Orleans society. He was an “elegant man, known for his sharp wit . . . . Because of
his worldly interests, refined opinions and sophisticated tastes, New Orleans came to
regard him as the prototypical Frenchman” (“Special Exhibits” 11:5). Grace King
describes him:
. . . for half a century [he was] was the bright light of literature in New Orleans.
He was the brilliant collaborator in the “Abeille,” the only French newspaper in
Louisiana, and infused into it a vitality that it lost at his death. He was also the
hero of his time in the gay world of society. He wrote light comedies and proverbs
in prose and in verse, which under his direction were acted in the private and
exclusive salons of the society leaders, the roles being filled by the beaux and
belles of the “beau monde” (396).
His passion for theater and opera was well known, and he served as director of the
French Opera House or two years (1873-1875). He also loved to write plays, and Le
Comte de Carmagnola “debuted in New Orleans in 1852 and later had a run of one
hundred performances in Paris. Canonge created two amateur theater clubs and served as
manager of the Orleans Theater in 1860” (“Special Exhibits” 11:5). He was known for his
out-spoken nature, and because of this was involved in several duels. During the war, and
was forced to leave New Orleans because he was openly hostile towards the Union in his
role as the editor of Courier Louisianais. When the war was over, he began his
journalism career once again, first attempting to start his own newspaper, L’époque,and
then finally working for L’Abeillein 1882 at the age of sixty. He would continue his work
there, often writing under the nom de plume, Réne, for the next eleven years until his
death in 1893 at the age of seventy-one. During his lifetime, Placide encouraged and
supported Leona’s literary career. As editor of L’Abeille, he offered an outlet for her
work, at the same time he inspired her poetry.
Leona and Canonge wrote to each other regularly and his letters to her can be
found among the Queyrouze papers: eight letters in 1887, sixteen letters in 1888, thirteen
letters in 1889, and thirty-five in 1890-1891. A study of these and the letters, and the ones
to his dear friend in Paris, Henri Vignaud, reveal a man who was sensitive and
vulnerable, a condition belied by his polished social grace. As a long-time friend and
companion, one who often accompanied him to the opera, Leona was privy to this private
side for Canonge. The closeness of their relationship is revealed in her poem, “á
L’Opera,” that she dedicated to him.
This poem was inspired by Verdi’s opera, La Traviata, which tells the story of
Violetta Valéry, a kept woman who falls in love with Alfredo Gremont, a man who truly
loves her. She leaves her reprobate life and begins her idyllic days with him only to have
these shattered by the disapproval of his family. Forced to leave him, she falls into
poverty and sickness, and when he finally comes her to reclaim her, it is too late.
Catherine Clément believes that the social injustice portrayed in this opera have
to do with the victimization of the female heroine on two levels: one is at the hands of the
family and the other at the disposal by her society. In her family, Violetta is subjected to
“harsh familial law” and she had no way out of this but to follow a “deadly rite of
sacrifice” (60). She also “embodies the secret schemes of the seated bourgeoisie, who
adorn her, dress her, undress her, and prostitute her” (61).
These themes underscore the message of injustice when Leona asks the question,
in her poem “a l’Opera”: “Qui n’s pleure, souffert? Et, qui l’ose avouer” (For whom do
we weep? And for what do we dare to claim?). Sharing how deeply the opera affected
her, she describes her awakened pain and sadness, which indicates a level of trust and
intimacy in her relationship with Canonge:
A L’Opera dedicated to Placide Canonge
Our chairs were touching as the soft accents of
Violetta’s song disturbed the space between us,
Her hymn learned too late burned into our hearts,
Embracing us both with powerful sweetness
Entering our sleep, awakening the pain.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
At one time we believed that nothing could affect us
To the bottom of our being, that all was silence.
But the art of the archer is to make us quiver.
Pulling like a golden chain to places where silence moans
And we find the strength to live again only to suffer
[UU-71 7:56]
(Appendix 262).
This poem compares Violetta’s experience to their own, cloaking both in a robe of
victimization. The grief she shares with Canonge intensifies when she writes her eulogy
for him in 1893.
“In Graeciam”
Hommage douloureaux rendu á Monsieur L. Placide Canonge l’ami tant
regretté, mort le 22 Janvier 1893.
The hand let go and dropped the fragile vessel
Once so full of mead, and the echoing vase
Is broken, spilling its fragrant liqueur . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. .
With its perfume, I will write my sacred poem to you,
And from my memories I will pluck
My verse, soft and sad, in this diaphanous hour
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Suddenly a strange cold comes over me
Blowing against the flame and against the phalanx
Where the flare of tombs ignites the granite
Which towards you inclines, and I resist and curse
For I saw the thunderbolt strike the trees
Illuminating how cold, how heavy, is this white coat of marble.
Three times the Angelus repeated the word, and my song begins its ending with a
sob [UU-71 7:55] (Appendix 252).
In this poem she situates Canonge within the realm of the gods, which serves as
another example of her predilection to idealize her loved ones. For her, Canonge was the
quintessential Frenchman, a man of grace, intellect, and refinement.
Perhaps less intimate, but no less influential, in Leona’s life was Alfred Mercier
(1816-1894). He was a Creole born of French parents who moved to Louisiana. Like
Placide Canonge, Mercier was educated at the Collége Louis le Grand in Paris. He
returned to Louisiana, but left once again to spend time in Boston before taking a “Grand
Tour;” this included five months in Italy and Sicily before returning to France. While
there, he provided news of the 1848 Revolution to newspapers in New Orleans. After he
married, he began studying medicine, and after he graduated he brought his family to
Louisiana and opened his practice in New Orleans. When the Civil War broke out, he
returned to Paris and while there tried to garner support for the Confederate cause. After
the Civil War, he again returned to New Orleans and began his writing for the New
Orleans Picayune and Les Comptes-Rendus de l’Athénée Louisianais.
Mercier wrote against the practice of miscegenation and questioned the church’s
dictates regarding the celibacy of priests. He wrote love stories as well. His publications
are as follows: Le Fou de Palerme (The Fool of Palermo 1873), which had been inspired
by his sojourn in Italy and Sicily, La fille du prêtre (The Priest’s Daughter 1877), which
criticized the Catholic Church’s stance on celibacy, and L’Habitation Saint Ybars ( The
Saint Ybars Plantation 1881), much of it written in Creole patois. In 1885 he was
honored with the distinction of being elected as an officer of the Legion of Honor by the
French government.
Like Placide Canonge, he loved the theater and opera and contributed several
reviews of performances at the French Opera House. In 1876 he became “a founding
member of l’Athénée Louisianais. This group created the Comptes Rendus de l’Athénée
Louisianais, which served as a vehicle for the publication of local French writers.
Queyrouze often published her poetry and essays in the Comptes-Rendus, a “collection of
literary and scientific papers” (Tregle 183). Mercier served as the organization’s
secretary and treasurer until his death in 1894 at age seventy-eight.” (“Special Exhibits”
9:2). As the “founder of the Athénée Louisianais for the preservation of the city’s
cultural heritage [Mercier was] its guiding spirit from 1876 to his death [on May 12]
1894” (Tregle 183). However, even at the time that the Comptes Rendus was publishing
the work of French Creoles, it was becoming a relic of the past, no “morethan a nostalgic
remnant in the midst of an American city” (Tregle 184).
Mercier tried to keep his culture alive but not-- as some critics argue--at the
expense of other ethnic groups. Tregle asserts that Mercier did not believe in “Creole
‘aristocracy’ or cultural superiority.” Rather, he “found simple satisfaction in the simple
joy of keeping alive the endangered use of the French tongue” (184). Mercier was
instrumental in preserving the Creole discourse and as such demonstrates the
Conservative law of the Twin Laws of Folklore. But his hopes to keep the French literary
culture alive in New Orleans failed, primarily because many Creoles did not take the time
to read, write, and publish. Leona was an exception, of course, but when French
bookstores were going out of business because of lack of patronage, and when the
Athénée meetings were attended by fewer and fewer people, Mercier could see that they
were losing the battle of cultural preservation. By the 1890s, the Athénée meetings only
attracted “fewer than fifteen” (Tregle 184), and French foreign visitors were greeted by
fewer of their kindred spirits. When Mercier died at age seventy-eight in 1894, the
Athénée, for all practical purposes, died with him. Although it was revived by Alcée
Fortier in the 1900s, it essentially ceased to exist until its resurgence one hundred years
later in 1980s. In an article “Progress of the French Language” (“Progrés de la langue
Francaise”) written for Les Compte-Rendus in 1883, Mercier wrote:
The day when we will no longer speak French in Louisiana . . . . there will no
longer be Creoles; the original and powerful group they formed in the great
national family of the United States will have vanished, just a wine poured into a
running river loses it flavor and color
(“Special Collections” 9:2).
Mercier, like Leona, could see that the transplanted culture in New Orleans was quickly
becoming devoured by the surge of Americanism, and he used similar imagery to
describe the experience.
Another avid defender of the French Creole culture was abbé Adrien Rouquette
(1813-1887). He was not a member of the Queyrouze salon, per se, but he is included
here because of several associative factors: his adherence to romantic literary traditions in
his work, his friendship with Lafcadio Hearn, his correspondence with Leona in 1885,
and his vociferous attacks against George Washington Cable. Rouquette, like Leona, was
part of the local aristocracy and wrote poetry, “inspired by French Romanticism” (Tregle
289). His “life and work were living examples of French Romanticism transplanted to a
Louisiana setting and thriving vigorously long after Romanticism had ceased to be a vital
force in European intellectual circles” (290). He was born in New Orleans and was the
child of a Frenchman who had settled in New Orleans and had pursued the same
occupation as Leon Queyrouze, as a wine merchant. Rouquette attended school in New
Orleans at the Collége d’Orléans, and later continued his education in Kentucky, New
Jersey, and then in Nantes and Renne in France. He returned to the states in 1883 and
began living with a Native American tribe on the Bayou Lacombe, but he often visited
France. He entered the priesthood in 1841 at “the Plattenville seminary in Assumption
parish and was ordained a priest in 1845” (“Special Exhibit” 10: 4). For fourteen years he
served at the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans where he became a vicar. It was during
this time that he befriended Lafcadio Hearn. However, he retreated from the pressures of
a large parish to lead a monastic life, choosing to serve in a small chapel at Bayou
Lacombe. He succumbed to a mental illness late in life and died in 1887 at the age of
seventy-four, the same year the Hearn departed New Orleans.
As a member of the same folk group, he shared with Leona many of the same
values, beliefs, and fears. Their social values descended from a very similar family
background and education, and their writing styles favored the aesthetics of the French
Romantic tradition. Moreover, they both wrote in defense of their culture, which was
spurred by an underlying fear that their way of life was under assault—one fueled by the
writing of George Washington Cable. Rouquette “bitterly criticized Cable’s portrayals [of
Creoles] and refuted [these] in the columns of the French daily, L’Abeille” (Tregle 290).
Rouquette and Leona were joined in their efforts to counteract Cable’s depiction of their
culture by the venerable historian, Charles Etienne Arthur Gayarré.
Charles Gayarré (1805-1895) became the most vociferous defender of the Creole
culture. In The Great South, Edward King described Gayarré as a “‘prominent historian
and gentleman of most honorable Creole descent’” (Tregle 171). He was considered to be
the “Father of Louisiana history,” and Grace King described him as “not only the
historian of Louisiana but the history of it as well.” When he died “a great and a good and
useful life had ceased to exist in the community . . . and a great, good and useful volume
had been closed” (269).
The son of “Carlos Gayarré and the youngest daughter of sugar planter Etienne de
Boré,” Gayarré “was raised in wealth and Creole privilege” (Jackson 299). He was born
in January of 1805 and grew up on his grandfather’s plantation, which was situated a few
miles from New Orleans (299). He went to a private school at his cousin’s (Fourcher)
plantation and then left for boarding school at the College of Orleans. After his
graduation in 1825, he left to study law in Philadelphia and passed the Pennsylvania bar
in 1828 before returning to New Orleans to practice law. He quickly ascended the
political ladder, first becoming a representative in the legislature in 1830, then serving as
Attorney-General before becoming a senator for the United States. After his marriage to
Ann Buchannan of Mississippi, he began completing his history of Louisiana, utilizing
archive material he had collected during the previous eight years. During his tenure as
Secretary of State, he was instrumental in procuring and disbursing funds that provided
for the erection of the statue of Washington in the State House Rotunda and the statue of
Jackson in Jackson Square.
During the Civil War, some New Orleans citizens left for the countryside, and I
assume that the Clara Queyrouze took her infant daughter to Leona plantation near St.
Martinville while her husband was as war. Likewise, Gayarré retreated to his rural home
Roncal “named for the old home of the Gayarré’s in Spain” (King 187), but in spite of
this self-protective move, he nevertheless lost most of his fortunes during the war. He and
his wife took measure to keep their valuables safe:
[They buried] his wife’s jewelry and diamonds and his treasured heirlooms; the
shoe buckles and sword hilt studded with brilliants that belonged to his father; his
grandmother’s miniature in a frame surrounded with diamonds; de Boré’s
snuffbox; in short, all the priceless innumerable trinkets of generations of his
family (King 288).
However, his valet, William, spied on them, stole their belongings, and sold them.
Gayarré said that William was “‘the most accomplished valet and rascal in the world’”
and that he was able to “live on the proceeds” for many years thereafter (King 288).
After the war Gayarré served as a reporter for the Supreme Court Judges in
Louisiana, and throughout the rest of his life, he often had to rely on his writing for
economic support. He completed the History of Louisiana Volume I in 1846, which was
“the official history of Louisiana from its colonization by Iberville to its cession by
France to Spain” (King 80-182). (He completed Volume II French Domination in 1847,
Volume III The Spanish Domination in 1854, and Volume IV The American Domination
in 1866). In addition, he wrote several historical articles, lectures, and sketches. When
asked by New Orlean’s “People’s Lyceum” to give a lecture, he offered “The Poetry and
Romance of the History of Louisiana,” one that was culled from a larger body of work
entitled The American Domination, comprised of several lectures.
Gayarré’s work serves as an example of both of the Twin Laws of Folklore,
Conservatism and Dynamism. In the act of attempting to preserve his culture, he was
also constructing a self-defining narrative. Oring describes this dynamic: when folk group
members attempt to define their culture, they are simultaneously preserving and changing
it because the attempt “goes beyond society and culture, and informs analysis and
interpretation” (140). Gayarré’s speech “The Creoles of History and the Creoles of
Romance” given at Tulane, Iargue, was an example of this dynamic. He was articulating
“a system of ideas, symbols and behaviors” in a “social context” (140) and transforming
it at the same time. By carefully constructing his vision of a Creole he contributed to the
Creole myth. By this act he was attempting to resurrect a mythological past and to lay
claim to the future interpretations.
Grace King describes Gayarré’s method of creating a carefully constructed
narrative. She often visited Gayarré at his home, and even though she admired him, she
had reservations regarding the accuracy of some of his accounts in his lectures. Gayarré
admitted that if he “gilded” the facts a bit, he could lure his readers into listening, but the
disadvantage of this was that his slanted truths became perpetuated errors, as they were
repeated and retold. King, however, does defend the practice by saying that some benefit
was derived of this practice. In Gayarré’s accounts “the things of the heart became
confused with the things of the mind, [but] the gain has been that . . . the history of the
State is vivid and picturesque” (King 282); however, King deplored the fact that
Gayarré’s “poetic sentiment” had made its way into the “education systems of today.”
Indeed, she says, “it has been in truth too generously prolific” (282). She points out that
“our historical questions were to him questions of memory, and his memories have
become historical documents” (271). She admits that even it was possible to redact these
sentimental contributions to history, the result “would produce indeed something like a
collapse in our native pseudo-historical literature” (King 282). This indicates how much
this folklore structure relied upon his narrative.
In the waning years of his life, Gayarré became increasingly bitter about his
failure to mitigate the negative perceptions of his culture. Worse still, he witnessed the
disappearance of his way of life and felt that he was powerless to stop it. Like many
Creoles, he felt that he had become an unwilling immigrant upon his native soil. During
his lifetime, he had “seen the transplanted flag, language, and government become home
bred to the soil” (King 270). He did acknowledge, however grudgingly, that the Creoles
were partially responsible for their own demise, although he places the greater burden of
blame upon the shoulders of the Union. In an 1873 interview with Edward King for
Scribner’s Monthly, Gayarré says that “‘the Reconstruction had engendered such misery,
and fear of ‘negro government’ was so widespread, that Louisiana’s white population
stood ready to embrace any change in authority and submit . . . to ‘any other species of
despotism’” (Hair 107).With rancor, he blames the Americans, saying that there was “‘no
hope for salvation’ as long as the Yankees kept ‘their stinking puritan foot on our breast’”
(qtd in Tregle 170).
Leona shared some of Gayarré’s sentiments, and in her writing, one can find
similar rancor. As she had with Beauregard, she was quick to defend her dear friend,
Gayarré, for he had supported her and encouraged her career throughout her life, and
when she stood before a podium at the armory of the Continental Guards to present her
lecture on “Patriotism and Wagner,” Gayarré had stood by her side and had introduced
her. Later, when Gayarré came under fire for his romanticized views of the Creole
culture, she rushed to his defense. She believed that he was an “impartial Louisiana
historian,” and quotes his views regarding the Creole culture in her “Silhouettes Creoles”:
The appellation of aristocracy is one that suits us well to employ for there did
exists an aristocracy in Louisiana. But how some apply the term now is
ridiculously false, for how it existed is nothing similar to the shadow it casts; our
society was essentially plebian and democratic [UU-70 6:47].
She adds to his description of the “the true type of Creole” by saying that the
quintessential Creole was a “chivalrous Frenchman and Spaniard.” Like Gayarré, she
casts the blame for their social afflictions upon the Americans: The change, she says, had
been caused by the “absorption of the Creole race into the Anglo Saxon element, notably
those from the east” [UU-70 6:47]. The underlying assumption in this statement is that
the “pure” French were being diluted and deluged by the flavorless and relentless flood of
America, adopted Gayarré’s role as defender of their culture.
Gayarré died at age ninety on February 11th 1895, the same year as Leona’s father.
According to King, Gayarré continued to write until a year before his death. However, his
“circle of friends grew smaller as he lived on, outliving them” (290). He was survived by
his wife who passed away in 1914. At the time of his death, he lived in a small house on
Prieur and Kerlerec (Leona also lived in a house on Kerlerec) and he was buried in the
old St. Louis Cemetery in his grandfather’s tomb. Leona publicly acknowledges him on
May 2, 1891, discussing “how our river destroys so much, including the old cemeteries
where our beloved ancestors lie in rest, so many of old Creole families.” She laments the
passing of the “sacred traditions” that are “all we have left.” She believes that tradition is
their “only inheritance . . . and our honor that we brought from our homeland.” Therefore,
with the passing of Gayarré, she says that she is witnessing “one our the last knight of our
Creole race—this historian Votre humble et fidéle ami [UU-71 8 :60].
With equal fervor, Leona joined with the other Creoles in their passionate
rejection of George Washington Cable. He proved to have a deep impact on the Creoles
and was instrumental (as was Gayarée) in the development of the Creole identity. Cable
depiction of the Creole culture functioned as a counter-narrative to the one created by the
Creoles, and thus served as a key component in their construction of the folk group
identity. By negation, he aided the Creoles in defining their identity. In other words, he
described characteristics that the Creoles sought to reject from their composite structure,
and thereby provided a contrast that helped delineate the folk group.
Two of the many ways a group defines itself are by contrasting its structure to
another and by making self-conscious choices about its behavior when subjected to the
gaze of others, and Cable facilitated the group in both of these areas. Another benefit he
provided was to strengthen the social connections within the subject group, particularly
because the Creoles felt that their ethnic culture was under attack. Overall, the folk
group’s attitudes, beliefs, and values were more clearly articulated within this context.
The Creoles felt that they were fighting a battle for survival, and with pen and ink they
dueled for the right to write history. Cable, they believed, was an outsider who did not
have the right to claim their story.
In “Creoles and Americans,” Tregle points out that even Cable was born in New
Orleans, his family was from Virginia, and that distinction proved to be very important to
the French Creoles. Joy Jackson says that Cable was “not a typical New Orleanian—if
such a figure really existed. His father was a Virginian; his mother, of New England
ancestry” (284). While most French Creoles were Catholic, Cable “was devoutly
Presbyterian, taught Sunday school, and refused to do any work or follow any frivolous
amusement on Sunday. He was also deeply imbued with a humanitarian zeal” (284).
His background alone was not the issue that divided him from his fellow citizens
in New Orleans, but rather his depiction of their culture in his novels. To give his work
verisimilitude, during his “walks through the Vieux Carré, he carefully selected
picturesque buildings to use as the settings for his stories . . . copying down the broken
English which he heard among the humbler residents” (Jackson 285). When he used this
dialect to give voice to his characters, he “infuriated the aristocratic, upper echelon of
Creoles” who felt he demeaned them. While this proved to be unsettling for elitists, the
issue that was most inflammatory was Cable’s “indiscriminate use of the word Creole to
include the colored Creoles and well as white French-speaking New Orleanians.” This
proved to be “the sorest point of all” (286).
In Grandissimes Cable depicted the “Creole society as an aberration of history,
committed to a dead past long ago abandoned by enlightened and progressive
communities.” They were prone to “white supremacy [ideology] and meaningless family
pride . . . indolence, ignorance, cruelty, superstition and hypocrisy” (175). Cable revealed
the evils of miscegenation and of slavery in his description of the death of Bras Coupe in
a “sweeping condemnation of their culture” (175). The issue that was most incendiary for
the Creoles was expressed in Cable’s The Creoles of Louisiana (1884), which inferred
that the Creoles did not have pure bloodlines. Tregle provides evidence of Cable’s low
opinion of Creoles by citing his work “Creole Slave Songs.” In it, Cable describes “‘low
white Creoles—not milk white or lily white or even probably white, but just white
enough to make them ten thousand times better than a negro’” (176). With this kind of
rhetoric, it is not surprising that many Creoles took offense given their heightened
insecurities about ethnic identity. Grace King felt that Cable sacrificed the Creoles on the
altar of the Yankee dollar. She emphatically believed that Cable simply “did not
understand the Creoles” (Jackson 286).
Dr. Alfred Mercier who founded the Athénée Louisianais deplored Cable’s
indictments, but admitted that the situation might be even worse than imagined. Exposed
to the world, the Creoles could no longer hide their deficiencies and questionable
practices in the relative obscurity of an isolated cultural island. They never forgave Cable
for holding up a mirror that reflected their secret foibles, deficiencies, injustices, and
indolence. Cable so upset the Creoles that in 1879 Gayarré declared that even God had
put a curse on their community. This curse is described by Cable as the “haunted
heart”—a heart haunted by the sins of the past, and in 1885 he declared that only evil
could come from “a society grounded in the abomination of racial arrogance and social
injustice . . . ignorance, moral insensitivity and cultural impoverishment” (Tregle 178).
Even though Cable attacked those he believed were guilty of injustice, he
nevertheless felt that there were those in the South who believed as he did—that the
Constitution allowed for equality for all. “In spite of the abuse heaped upon him, he was
convinced that there existed a “Silent South,” a great body of public opinion which
secretly agreed with him” (11). He believed that “principles of justice [were being]
violated,” and he “pleaded with the South not to demean, insult and permanently degrade
the Negro because it was morally and ethically wrong to do so” (12). Charles Wynes,
however, points out that this may have been naiveté on Cable’s part, for “there was never
any great body of public opinion constituting the ‘Silent South’” (5). Wynes reminds us
of the risk involved in speaking against prevailing sentiments and points out that “only
the most courageous or economically and socially secure dared to speak out in a vein
bound to incur the censure of the majority” (5). Indeed, even from his position of
strength, Cable proved to be fallible. The attacks upon Cable intensified at the time that
Gayarré’s friend, Alexander Dimitry, died in 1882. Gayarré turned his grief and anger
upon Cable primarily because Cable had credited Dimitry with giving him information
about Creoles. Incensed, Gayarré launched an attack against Cable in 1885 in the Times-
Democrat. He also defended the integrity of the Creole culture in a speech at the
Athénée called “La race Latine en Louisiane.” In another lecture, “Les Grandissimes” he
declared that Cable's novel was profoundly untrue.
The attacks against Cable reached such force that he, who had been a “discerning
and foremost social critic of the South” (6), was “almost driven from his native land” (8).
After 1892, he expressed his views “less openly,” eventually writing “nothing further on
the Negro” (8). By that time, the Creole myth had become de facto for most Creoles.
The Creoles continued their attempts to preserve their culture and to dynamically
lay claim to future interpretations of their society according to Folklore’s twin laws. On
April 25, 1885, the eighty year old Gayarré gave an address at Tulane entitled “The
Creoles of History and the Creoles of Romance” within which he gives a “meticulous
account of the term Creole . . . with constant reaffirmation of the ‘pure white’ blood of
all those entitled to the name” (Tregle180). However, it was widely known that Gayarré
“had himself fathered a child in 1825 by a free woman of color” according to Gayarré’s
biographer, Edward M. Socola (Tregle 181).
In 1886, the Creoles formed a society in order to come to the “‘Mutual Aid.
Assistance, and Protection’” of their culture (Tregle 182), and Vice President Charles
Villére declared that they were fighting for their survival and warned that their hold on
their region was slipping away. The land that they loved and had invested so much was
no longer theirs. Even when Villére cried “‘This is our soil. We are in the house of our
fathers,’” it was too late (Tregle 182). Leona describes in “Silhouettes Créoles” how the
period of the Creoles was “gone forever,” and the new cry was not from the Creoles, but
from the Americans. She says that the Americans have appropriated their land, declaring
that “this is now more our country!”
When Gayarré wrote “Creoles of History and Creoles ofRomance”--which
solidified the historical myth--he was mounting a counter-narrative that served as an
antithesis to Cable. Oddly enough, both men were romanticizing the identity of the
Creole—painting the culture with one brush—the sepia tones of past remembrances,
which in any pursuit of truth is flawed because it attempts to describe an entire culture as
homogeneous. Viewed through the prejudicial lens of recent reflection and un-tethered
from the influence of close chronological proximity, neither version is a complete and
accurate representation of the Creole. The diversity of the Queyrouze salon serves as
evidence that the Creoles were not homogeneous, even if they were often united in the
common cause of group preservation, battling for the rights to impose their story over
Cables’ representation.
Until Woodward’s 1951 Origins of the New South, most historians upheld
Cable’s perspective of the Creoles, but new historicists see a more complex mosaïque.
Most would agree, however, that the elite Creoles were attempting to save the vestiges of
their separate identity and that they were fighting a losing battle. Tregle shows that “the
Creoles had clearly lost” long before their battle with Cable. In fact they had lost their
claim by 1860, even before the “first generation born after the Purchase came into
maturity, young men such as the historian Charles Gayarré, the playwright-editorimpresario
Placide Canonge, the linguist Alexander Dimitry, the physician Armand
Mercier and the priest-poet Adrien Rouquette” (Tregle 156). When Gayarré died in his
home on North Prieur on February 11, 1895 there were few left to mark his passing, save
his closest friends, Leona among them. Grace King also attended his funeral and
remarked in a letter on February 17, 1895 that when the funeral procession entered the
cathedral, “there were many candles lighting the church, but the mourners were not there”
(Tregle 185). The battle he had waged as a spokesperson for his culture had been in vain,
and there were few left to mourn the loss. Even with his volumes of history, Gayarré was
no match for the power of Cable’s realistic fiction.
In defending their culture, the Creoles shared a similar belief system and a
common goal, and this served to strengthen their cultural bonds as a folk group. The
criteria for membership to this group was a belief in the superiority of French culture and
a commitment to its preservation, absolute fealty to group members, active participation
in social, cultural, and literary pursuits, and a shared sense of victimization and struggle.
As a member of this group, Leona adhered to these culturally-derived traditions, and
explicit and implied socially-constructed criteria. For example, in her “Silhouette
Créoles” she listed the sterling characteristics of the French Creoles, such as their
“kindness,” “generosity,” and “bravery,” and she rushed to the defense of those in her
group, specifically Beauregard and Gayarré, in a manner that was quixotic. Her patronage
of cultural productions, such as those presented at the French Opera House, and her
literary contributions to L’Abeille, Compte -Rendus, and other local publications indicated
her support of her culture through active participation. She perceived her role to be the
defender of “sacred traditions” that had been brought from her “homeland,” ones that
were endangered by the Americanization of her region, and she joined Gayarré in
defending against the perceived assault mounted by Cable. When she dedicated her poem
to Canonge, she referred to her failed cause, admitting that “at one time we believed that
nothing could affect us,” which spoke to the shared sense of victimization and loss.
The Creoles knew that they were fighting a losing battle even as they pursued
their dream of conservation; thus, their work can be viewed as a reaction manifested by a
self-constructed world. Jameson describes this type of dynamic as a “symbolic act” that
“begins by generating and producing its own context in the same moment of emergence.”
He uses as an example, Burke’s “dream” as a means of “doing something to the world”
and asserts that “the literary work or cultural object . . . brings into being that very
situation to which it is also at one and the same time, a reaction,” indeed, the very
“project of transformation” (81-2) that I align with the laws of folklore. The Creoles were
attempting to resist change at the same moment that they were striving to transform the
historical accounts that were emerging. Perceiving the historical narrative as still fluid,
they concentrated their efforts on incorporating their own accounts. Jameson would
describe this as an “oppositional culture” that used strategies to “contest and undermine
the dominant ‘value system,’” in order to legitimatize its own, and that the “dialogue of
class struggle” is “essentially an antagonistic one” (84). In the end, the Creoles lost this
class struggle, and they found the fault, not within their own ranks, but within the
dominant American culture.
Republicanism, Democracy, and similar words
conveying a wide sense of freedom flatter our
instinct of independence . . . .Man fights with the
most fervent enthusiasm for what he understands
the least. There have been apostles and martyrs for
all opinions and creeds. Error and truth alike have
altars and victims . . . .. Words and their
interpretation have armed man against his Kind and
Kin . . . . Diversity of interest violently divides a
nation and breeds civil war . . . . —“Patriotism and
Wagner” Leona Queyrouze
Queyrouze was born the same year that the Civil War began and because she grew
up during this period of conflict and transformation, her life cannot be separated from the
events that surrounded her. A comprehensive study of her life, therefore, must include a
segment that situates her within a political context. To that end, an overview of the social
and political upheaval of the region will be addressed. In this case, the historical camera
lens will focus on the political scene with Queyrouze as a peripheral figure in the
composition, but one whose affiliations and political commentaries provide a personal
perspective on some of these events. While many of the events leading up to the Civil
War are common historical record, a brief summary that serves as a foundation will assist
in understanding the political world Queyrouze entered. This political history will be
incorporated into her biography thus making its inclusion in the dissertation necessary.
She was closely associated with many military and political figures. For instance, her
father, Leon Queyrouze, and his close friend, General Beauregard, served in the
Confederate Army. Through Beauregard she became acquainted with Governors Nicholls
and Warmoth, and through her mother’s family, she claimed connections to Louisiana
state officials. (Her grandmother, Louisa Beauvais Tertrou, had a relative, Armand
Beauvais, who had been president of the Louisiana Senate. When Governor Pierre
Derbigny died in office, he replaced him as governor in 1829-1830). Several of
Queyrouze’s acquaintances were members of the Fourteenth of July Society and some
were members of the White League who were involved in the Battle of September 14th in
1874. This confusing medley of associations further underscores the need to investigate
the complex nature of political alliances of this era. When Queyrouze reached adulthood,
she entered this political discourse, and her personal observations can add nuance to our
understanding of the complexities of the public debates of the period. Overall, her
political commentary is predominantly articulated in abstract terms, rather then specific
issues, which simultaneously indicate, as I will demonstrate, elements of transcendent
objectivity and submergent elitism.
During the sixty years prior to her birth in 1861, the Democratic Party dominated
the political landscape, and they were what we would consider today in modern
nomenclature as “conservative.” Before the war (and after), elections in New Orleans
were often rife with fraud and corruption, whether it was the Whigs, Democrats, or Know
Nothings, but overall the Creoles usually favored the Democrats and voted to secede.
However, many people in New Orleans did not want to secede from the Union because
they were loyalists, but this may have been influenced by the fact that they lived in a port
city, and if they could not trade with the states in the Midwest, their economy would
The night before New Orleans fell to the Union, several dry docks were sunk and
steamboats set on fire; many state and city government documents were moved, and the
governor and other officials abandoned the city. After the city fell to Farragut, General
Benjamin Butler took over as military commander (with 18,000 troops) for seven months.
During his tenure, he required the citizens to sign an amnesty oath in order to keep their
property. It was during this time that Leona’s father, who refused to sign the oath, fled to
Havana, Cuba and then later to Matamoras on the border of Mexico to serve as an
advisor under General Mejia. Like many other wealthy citizens of New Orleans, Clara
Queyrouze, more than likely, took Leona and left for their plantation near St. Martinville.
Leon eventually returned and signed the oath on August 22, 1865. Others, such as the
councilmen in New Orleans, were forced to sign the oath. In A Confederate Girls Diary
(1913) Sarah Morgan Dawson from Baton Rouge describes some of the emotions many
must have felt when they were forced to sign the oath. When Dawson entered New
Orleans and arrived at a canal at Hickock’s Landing she saw twenty soldiers whom she
described as “the animal now so long unseen, the Yankee” (De Caro 263). When the
same soldier pressed her mother to pledge the oath, she objected saying, “I have three
sons fighting against you, and you have robbed me, beggared me!” (265).
While this incident describes mild resistance, many citizens of New Orleans had
not been so circumspect. As a result of the treatment of his soldiers, on May 15, 1862,
General Butler issued the General Order No 28 directed to the women of the city:
when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movements, insult or show contempt
for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable
to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.
As one can imagine, this insult was never forgiven. C. Vann Woodward relates
that the Southern resistance to the Reconstruction was “open, defiant, organized and
effective. White southerners repeatedly insulted, persecuted and sometimes murdered
Federal officials, army officers included” (194). Although Butler treated the citizens well
in some areas, such as attending to the needs of public works and provisions, he
nevertheless took advantage of the Second Confiscation Act of 1862 to seize property
from those who refused to sign the Amnesty Oath. In effect, this encouraged many
Northerners to come south to take advantage of the situation, for they could buy the
confiscated property on the cheap and sell it for a handsome profit.
Butler was replaced by General Nathaniel P. Banks who tried to handle the
growing animosity with more diplomacy, but in the face of the continued defiance, he
eventually had to take a more intractable stance as had his predecessor. In 1862 The
Homestead Act was passed, and between 1862 and 1878, “more than half the total area of
the nation” was made available, beginning the “great era of public land distribution by the
federal government,” but in effect, most went to the railroads and speculators, and only
the poorest land went to individual families (Woodward 191-192). Worst of all, the new
promise of freedom and equality that the Civil War and Reconstruction had offered black
people began to become a nightmare instead. Bell explains:
With Lincolns’ assassination in April 1865, Johnson assumed the presidency with
an entirely new set of political objectives [and . . . ] entered into secret
negotiations with northern Democratic leaders and moved to reconstitute the
southern wing of his old party by restoring the planter elite to political and
economic dominance . . . . In his Amnesty Oath Proclamation of May 29, 1865,
the new president offered full pardons with restoration of confiscated lands to all
former Confederates who would take the oath of allegiance to the national
government (150).
The subsequent U.S. administrations took measures to achieve political
synchronicity with white southerners, and in doing so, essentially abandoned the newly
freed slaves. There are some notable exceptions, and one was the Freedmen’s’ Bureau.
John C. Rodrigue describes their contribution:
Freedmen’s Bureau agents were neither passive spectators nor objective
mediators. Instead, they played an active role in free labor’s development by
working to secure a legitimate free market in labor, seeing that freedmen enjoyed
the rights of free workers, and intervening on freedmen’s behalf when employers
tried to cheat them or intimidate them with threats and violence (194).
While it is true that the Freedmen’s Bureau “played a central role in the
development of the free-labor system that came to prevail in the Louisiana sugar region”
(211), it failed in other areas. When the Bureau’s forty-acres program was dismantled,
President Johnson’s “drive to guarantee white dominance in the state’s internal affairs
was nearly complete” (Bell 153). Bell believes that the Bureau “helped to sustain the
prevailing system of black economic subservience” and that the years of “compulsory
yearly contracts, fixed minimal wages, and a repressive pass system prepared the way for
failure” (153).
The War and Reconstruction period lasted fourteen years, the longest of any other
state in the South, and it affected Louisiana adversely, perhaps more so than any other
state, in spite of the fact that during the opening years of Reconstruction, Louisiana had
garnered a large share of federal funds for public works. Unfortunately, Louisiana had
been “the most unlucky of all States’” (Hair 14) because of the extent of the corruption
and the animosity. Ted Tunnel notes that the “North reconstructed Louisiana not once, or
twice, but three times . . . . nowhere did the length and complexity of events surpass the
Louisiana experience” (2). New Orleans was deeply affected economically, for its trade
with Europe and particularly with France and England was impeded by the cotton
Reconstruction affected the Creoles of New Orleans, not only economically, but
socially, as well. The social impact revolved around their ethnic identity. Tunnel
describes some of these effects:
Radical reconstruction raised vital issues that cut across the entire political
economy of Louisiana and the South. The crux of the matter, however, was a
question of cultural identity. The Reconstruction Acts, the Louisiana Constitution
of 1868, and the laws of the Radical legislation defined Louisiana as a biracial
society belonging to white and black alike. Louisiana whites at every social level
recoiled in horror (5).
The Creole resistance to these changes may have been spurred by the fact that
New Orleans had long been comprised of a tripartite social structure and Reconstruction
re-drew those lines into white and black. Fearing a loss of authority, the Creoles quickly
aligned themselves with those in power, but many feared the sweeping changes that the
new federal and state legislation would bring. In 1867, the Reconstruction Acts were
passed; the fourteen Amendment was ratified in 1868, and the fifteenth Amendment in
1870. In 1868, the Louisiana constitution desegregated education, prohibited racial
discrimination, and eliminated French language schools. This same year, the Louisiana
Lottery Company was started, and Henry ClayWarmoth of Illinois became governor. A
complicated figure, Warmoth was a masterful politician who won both admiration and
condemnation. While he stood for “universal suffrage and loyal government” (Tunnel
152), he was also characterized as “‘the great stumbling block’ to Negro rights in the
state” (169). Overall, he was a complex and powerful political figure.
The Creoles, who feared the loss of privilege caused by associations with the
disfranchised, took measures to align themselves with those in power in the hopes that
they could re-stabilize and recover some of their way of life. Through their associations
with conservative whites, they hoped to achieve some distance from Blacks who were
targeted as the cause of the rift between the North and the South.
In New Orleans, The Crescent CityWhite League was formed in 1874, and Tregle
describes this group as one with a “predictable consequences of violence” (172). The
mouthpiece for this organization was the white supremacist newspaper, the Carillon that
declared “‘we must be either White or Black” (172). As expected, violence broke out on
September 14, 1874. Young and old alike met on Canal Street under Henry Clay’s statute
to meet with General Frederick N. Ogden, and according to Joy Jackson, whatever their
political allegiance had been prior to the war, they felt a sense of unity under the White
League and its conservative sentiments, even if for a short time (30). The clash that
ensued became known as the “Battle of Liberty Place” (Tregle 172), a failed attempt to
take over the government.
In January 1877, Francis Tíllou Nicholls (an ex-confederate who had lost his left
arm and leg during the war) was elected governor and served for two years (he was reelected
and served a second term from 1888-1892). Louisiana agreed not to contest the
Rutherford B. Hayes election in exchange for their right to elect their own governor
without the strong-arming of Federal troops. This concession regarding electoral votes
was known as the Compromise of 1877, resulting in the “New Departure.” Hayes hoped
for good will between the Northern Republicans and the Southern Democrats who
currently served in Congress. He looked forward to an era of peace between the races and
political parties, declaring that “the party of Lincoln and Grant was no longer hostile to
the South” (Hair 16). He hoped that the “New Departure” Republicans would be favored
by blacks because this party had freed them, and he anticipated that the wealthy
southerners would support the party because they wanted to be associated with a party
that was favorable to the interests of “property and privilege” (Hair 17). However, the
problem of realizing this vision for Louisiana was twofold: First, Louisiana had
experienced Reconstruction the longest, and its scars were still deep and visible; Second,
Louisiana was composed of such diverse cultural, racial, and political elements that this
optimistic outlook was unrealistic. In the New Orleans area alone, the economy steeply
declined, especially in the last three years of federal control. Still suffering from the
losses of property and wealth, many favored a traditional approach that would restore
much of what they had lost. Often, political allegiances divided the population into
demarcated factions, but for several years after Nicholls was elected governor in 1877, the
state leadership lacked a “liberal” element, and the Louisiana’s Democratic party was
“divided into three major factions:” There were “the patrician (or noblesse oblige)
conservatives, the Bourbon reactionaries, and the Lottery-New Orleans machine interests.
There was no really liberal faction (Hair 21-22).
Because Nicholls did not wholeheartedly endorse their political ideology, the
Bourbons did not consider him one of their own, and they systematically schemed to
discredit him and remove support from him. The Bourbons rejected anyone who did not
serve to uphold “true” Southern ideals of white supremacy, but they did not consider
themselves patrician, either. Bourbons “embraced the sort of Negrophobia which
elsewhere was usually attributed to ignorant poor whites” (Hair 24), and they blamed
blacks for the “scourge” of Reconstruction. They also lobbied for the interests of the
Lottery. While the Bourbons opposed the Lottery at first, they subsequently supported it
for its capacity to fund their political interests. Hence, the Lottery-Bourbon Alliance was
The years following the end of Reconstruction were fraught with political intrigue
and subterfuge. The1879 the Redeemer constitution was essentially written by the
Bourbon-Lottery forces. At one point they considered re-addressing the question of voting
rights, but fearing that more blacks would leave the state and further depress their
agricultural economy, they tabled the issue. The seat of government was moved back to
Baton Rouge where it had been prior to the war. More significant was the increase in
power awarded the governor and the decrease in power afforded the legislature. Nicholls’
term, as well as those of other state officeholders, was effectively shortened by one year.
Wiltz was elected governor, and with him came “radical law and patrician conservatism”
(Hair 99). This was a time period (1880-1890) that Hair describes as rife with a
“melancholy pattern of social neglect” (120). The money that was supposed to go to the
schools and teachers was pilfered away through misappropriation and poor accounting,
and the common person in Louisiana became the most under-educated in the nation; in
fact, many were illiterate. The “Populist reformers in the 1890’s [felt] that the Bourbon
Democrats deliberately sabotaged Louisiana’s school system . . . to keep rural people of
both races docile and ignorant” (Hair 124). The Lottery, however, was very profitable for
the Bourbons, and they used well known Creoles—one a member of the Queyrouze
salon-- to give the Lottery a sense of respectability.
Monthly drawings, which were presided over by Confederate luminaries General
P.G.T. Beauregard and General Jubal A. Early, attracted more attention than the
daily drawings and were held in theatrical settings . . . General Beauregard,
dressed in a dark suit was . . . dignified, of handsome military bearing [with . . . ]
“immaculate linen wristbands done over his hands”—a gesture of preciseness and
perhaps aloofness (Jackson 113-114).
In 1892, the state voted on whether or not to continue the lottery drawings. At
the time, the Populist movement was gaining strength, and the Bourbon faction was now
characterizing their platform as one that sought to educate the people of Louisiana, using
Lottery money, of course. This must have proved to be a challenging time for many
Creoles who were forced to make difficult choices. On the one hand, the Lottery
supported many enterprises, including mills and banks, and it supported the “French
opera House, the rendezvous of the city’s society set” (Jackson 121-122). However, this
brought them into alliances with certain political figures that they would have scorned
just a few decades before. Thus it would seem that necessity and dignity were not always
easy companions.
Towards the close of the century, with the conservative political factions in place,
the repression of blacks increased rather than abated. In 1898, the “separate but equal”
disfranchising statute was incorporated into the state constitution, which denied blacks
the rights to public accommodations and eventually the right to vote because of language
in the “grandfather clause” (Tregle 183). As a requirement to vote, one had to
demonstrate the ability to read and write or own property worth over $300.00. However,
if one had voted prior to 1867 or had a “father or grandfather who had voted, [this person
was] exempt for the above requirements” (Hair 276). In effect, this excluded the black
On the local level, New Orleans was dealing with the changes in the state laws as
well as wrestling with local issues. The eighteen-year-old Queyrouze witnessed many
challenges facing her city. New Orleans tackled the issues of a shifting social structure,
fractious local politics, and problems of sanitation and disease. However, there was
progress as well. The “completion of the jetties at the mouth of the Mississippi River by
engineer/captain James B. Eads in 1879 deepened the passes into the Gulf and opened the
river to larger, oceangoing vessels” (Jackson 4-5). That same year Southern University
was established for blacks. In December of 1884, New Orleans held the Cotton
Centennial Exposition where Queyrouze’s Symphony "Fantaise Indienne" was played by
the Mexican Army Band. Local citizens formed groups between the years 1884 and 1888,
such groups as the Committee of One Hundred, The Law and Order League, and the
Young Men’s Democratic Association who monitored the polling places to assure a fair
election. Queyrouze’s brother, Maxim, was a member of this Association.
In spite of the attempts of these organizations to deal with fraud and corruption, in
1890, New Orleans earned international notoriety when the Police chief of New Orleans,
David C. Hennessy, was murdered, and the Italian Mafia was accused. Hennessy had
been shot several times on October 15, 1890 on Basin Street, but before he died he told
investigators that the men who had run off after the shooting were Italians. On March 1,
1891, nine Italian men were put on trial for organizing and executing the murder. Several
were acquitted. Two weeks later, however, while legal proceeding were still underway, a
mob of vigilantes stormed the Parish Prison (located at the site for present day Armstrong
Park), and nine Italians were shot and two were hanged. Those who condoned such
violence felt justified because they believed that the legal system was incapable of
convicting the men due to jury tampering. Most deplored the brutal lawlessness, and in
her correspondence, Queyrouze sympathized with the Italians. This incident made
international headlines, and embarrassed and shocked, President Benjamin Harrison paid
restitution to the Italian government.
Queyrouze wrote letters about this incident, and received a response from Ione
Perry of Paris, France and David Marx of Cincinnati, Ohio, among others.
Marx writes to her on April 15th, 1891:
I was sorry to hear of the late trouble in New Orleans, for although I see the
necessity of some action being necessary to strike terror into the hearts of the
dreaded and dreadful Mafia, yet I always hate to hear of peaceful citizens having
recourse to such procedure [UU-68 2:17].
Perry writes to Leona on May 26, 1891:
You did not say in your letter what sort of men these Italians were, but I infer
from your sympathy for them that they were innocent harmless men. Their only
fault—if it could be called such, was to kill the Chief of police, known to be an
assassin together with his father and all his family, consequently having many
enemies. What surprises me immensely is that a man with such a record & so
much hated, should through his violent death (even making allowance for the
influence of the leaders of the ignorance and prejudices of the populous) aroused
30,000 men to avenge his murder on eleven poor Italians; and also that the
instigators in this . . . shocking violence to law & justice should have been men of
good social standing . . . . I cannot thinks that the U.S. government with all its
many faults, still the best the world has yet known, would allow anarchy to prevail
. . . . It was kind of you my beloved Leona to give me so full an account. I read it
with much interest fearful as it was & I could sympathize how deeply you felt the
disgrace that came upon your native city [UU-68 2:17].
In her poem, “A Magda,” translated by Norman R. Shapiro in Creole Echoes, she
responds to this incident:
Then will you see those bronze and granite shades
Quake at your words, and tears, in flame cascades,
Flow from their eyes. When you tell them the fell,
Foul carnage wrought, up will rise one and all!
But when you say it was their sons, pell-mell,
Who twisted taut the springs, down will they fall!
Queyrouze “A Magda” May 20, 1891
Tr. Norman Shapiro (Creole Echoes 145).
Shapiro notes that “the accused had been acquitted, but it was widely known that
Mafia money had ‘bought’ thejury . . . . None of the vigilantes was ever arrested or
charged” (147).
There were other problems in the city as well. In 1889, the New Orleans school
enrollment was only “25,649 out of a potential 69,131 of school age. The average daily
attendance was 15,761 and the school year lasted only six months” (Jackson 200). The
cracks in the education system were mirrored in the fissures in New Orleans
infrastructure. In 1890, the Mississippi River overflowed and flooded many areas,
resulting in cracks in the levees. The Great Depression of the 1890s affected sugar and
cotton process, and cotton hit an all time low in 1894—just ten years after the Exposition.
These important events in national, state, and local history will serve as an
infrastructure for the Queyrouze biography, and to demonstrably situate Queyrouze into
this landscape, I will incorporate some of her commentaries. In reviewing them, I have
arrived at a conflicted portrait of Queyrouze, which is a confusing medley of alliances and
sentiments. There are several areas where her affiliations and personal views are at odds.
For instance, as the director of the French school, she would have had ties with the
Fourteenth of July Society that selected her for the position, but this society was known
for its white supremacist ideology. While this connection does not necessarily prove that
Queyrouze endorsed a supremacist attitude, it is logical to assume that many, if not all,
individuals of privilege in this time period harbored racist and elitist attitudes to varying
degrees. The fact that this school for was created solely for the purpose of educating
white French Creole boys, speaks to an assumption gender privilege, ethnic classism and
In another case, she was sufficiently acquainted with Governor Nicholls to receive
a letter of presentation from him on March 17, 1895 recommending her to General M.
Ransom of Mexico City. If political associations translate into personal ideology—which
is certainly not always the case-- then Queyrouze’s connection to Nicholls might indicate
a position of moderation. This is corroborated by the fact the her essays and articles do
not support the Bourbons, nor do they uphold the “true” southern ideals of white
supremacy or cast blame on the blacks for Reconstruction. Instead, her articles support
education for blacks.
Her connection with Henry ClayWarmoth, however, is complicated. He has been
characterized as a defender of egalitarian reform yet has also been accused of repressing
radical reform. While Warmoth had been endorsed by the black radicals in 1865, he
proved to be obstructive to their aims (Baggett 142). In “Une Chimére” Caryn Cossé Bell
lists some of these:
[Warmoth] stymied civil-rights legislation, resisted desegregation of the public
schools, opposed enforcement of the constitution’s equal accommodations
provision, appointed white Democrats to political office, and accumulated a
personal fortune by exacting tribute from railroad companies (155).
In spite of this, Warmoth is also credited with putting black politicians in office
during his term as governor. Perhaps, then, like many individuals during this turbulent
era, his ideologies were as complicated as the issues he faced. Years later, when Warmoth
introduced Queyrouze to Powell Clayton, a foreign minister, this suggests a close
association or connection, but this is only conjecture.
This confusion of associations and loyalties is further evidenced by her stand on
the Lottery. Beauregard and Early oversaw these drawings, and Queyrouze’s connection
to Beauregard might suggest her support, especially as she consistently demonstrated
unflinching loyalty to those in her salon. Moreover, the profits from the gaming supported
her beloved French Opera House. However, in 1890, she was working for George C.
Preot, an attorney in New Orleans, translating pamphlets into French for the Anti-Lottery
League. Perhaps her work for Preot was less political and more pragmatic; despite
political affiliations, providing for her own financial support proved to be a more pressing
need, or perhaps her loyalty to Beauregard was actualized by her tactful silence. In this
case, we are left with as many questions as we have answers.
Her positions on political and social issues are more clearly indicated in her 1890
letters to James Redpath whose political positions were as complex as Queyrouze’s. Born
in England in 1833, his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1849 and at age nineteen he
became a correspondent for the New York Tribune. During his tenure at the Tribune, he
journeyed through the South to witness first-hand the conditions of slavery, and he
became a fervent abolitionist. Later, he befriended John Brown and wrote his biography,
portraying him as a martyr in the cause for freedom. When Queyrouze corresponded with
him he was the editor of the North American Review. Ironically, he was working on a
memoir for Jefferson Davis whom he had come to know very well. This contradictory
mixture of political allegiances is not unlike those sometimes expressed by Queyrouze as
Much can be gleaned from Queyrouze’s letters to Redpath. Apparently they were
having a debate about the character of Beauregard, Jefferson Davis, and General
Johnston, and they were connecting current events to the fall of the Roman Empire. On
July 18, 1890 she attacked Redpath’s conclusion that Davis had the “utmost contempt for
that frivolous little Frenchman Beauregard.” She criticizes Davis, saying that a person
who “scatters his opinions, words & manuscripts to the four winds, really speaks
confidently to no one” and defends Beauregard, citing his integrity. Comparing their
discussion to the senators in ancient Rome, she reminds Redpath that “To destroy is a far
easier task than to create. Hence, in social matters, the number of demolishers and the
scarcity of architects.” Her comments suggest rancor against those who would demolish a
Latin cultural architecture—an allusion to Rome as well as her own transplanted culture.
More significantly, she takes issue with Redpath’s defense of “the birthright of
free speech” by arguing that “all rights are limited, & if not they degenerate into license &
abuse” [UU-68 2:17]. For a writer who defends the rights of freedom in her published
essays, Queyrouze private observations about the limitations of free speech is revealing,
thus raising these questions: if free speech is to be limited, who has the authority to do
so? Are her comments inspired by the bust of Plato gracing her parlor mantle? Perhaps
she is alluding to the Platonic idea that “there will be noend to the troubles of states, or
of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world” (Stevenson 473). Or does
she reveal her elitism and classism? Perhaps, the answer is both.
In a letter to Redpath ten days later on July 28, 1890, she continues her debate,
comparing the rulers of the Roman Empire to the current situation in France and
Germany. She says that she has the “utmost contempt & horror for useless violence. It is a
luxury which always has to be paid at usury rates,” and she cannot “find any excuse . . .
[for] aimless fury.” She states that she “abhor[s] extremes, unless they become necessary,
& they can only be so for a short while. On the one hand, she deplores the cost of
violence, yet she does not define all violence in the same way. Her quarrel addresses only
“useless” or aimless” violence, which gives tacit approval to violence with a useful
More troubling still is her reference to “the people, or rather the plebs [who] are a
force which should be controlled, & not for a second should it be let loose.” Privileging
her class and education, she makes the judgment that the “ignorant, untutored plebian is a
dangerous element. He must be taught to discern first [however. . . ] the vulgar . . . . are
irresponsible & worthy of pity.” Once again, she assumes the role of the philosopher king
who makes judgments for those who are “beneath” her. Her harshest criticism is reserved
for “those who take advantage of the people’s ignorance, simplicity, & passions & lead
them astray to serve their own selfish aims. They are “those who should be hung, shot or
beheaded; in fact suppressed” [UU-68 2:17]. These comments correspond to many issues
of her era—ones in which she sees that uneducated people are incited to fervor without
reason, that others makes uninformed and misguided assumptions about her own culture,
and that unethical politicians use others to achieve their own self-serving goals. In every
case, she positions herself “above” others to make assessments and judgments.
In her comments to Redpath, she makes direct references to class issues, and she
doubts that “Radicalism” reform will have any effect, for “it shall always stand beyond its
power to abolish classes & castes. On one hand there will ever be manual labor, on the
other the mental intellectual work; the eternal balance of humanity. Physical strength in
one scale & spiritual power in the other, science above & ignorance below” and she
implies that her role and her class position (involved in intellectual, spiritual, and
scientific work) grants her the right to judge. These comments undermine the substance
of her newspapers articles calling for egalitarian reform achieved through education.
While Queyrouze does assume an elitist and classist stance, in her defense, I must
add that many philosophers, scholars, theorists, scholars, essayists, novelists, and poets
have presumed to speak from positions of leisure and wealth, and in response to their
impulses of noblesse oblige, used their talents to address political and social conflict. The
key to understanding Queyrouze’s political position is to consider that she is attempting
to view politics less particularly and more abstractly. While she does address, at times,
particular events, she places these events into the scheme of world history—trying to
place the pieces into the whole pattern to see what the mosaïque will ultimately reveal.
She warns Redpath that “we should not rashly judge the past with our modern ideas, then
In her closing remarks she describes her role as “the chieftain of a lost cause, lost
beyond hope” a reference to her task of culture preservation, and she tells Redpath that
she will conduct herself “like the Roman senators.” When she refers to the “lost cause” in
her letter, she makes a probable reference not only the fall of Rome, but to the demise of
her equally “proud Latin” race—and possibly to the Confederacy. In the face of this, she
declares, she will conduct herself in the tradition of Roman senators--stoic to the last.
Queyrouze’s stoicism is given form in her poem, “Atlas” written in 1901:
. . . a Giant bending at the knees.
His heavy face looked out into beautiful space.
And I expected his athletic shoulders to crack
Under the awesome burden while the tempest
Blasted him, roaring over his flashing crown
And his lightning scepter.
“Oh you of the universe
Dark Caryatid! Atlas, convict of a prison
Immense! . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cursed for eternity. I am the last one; I remain.
Listen and you will know. Jupiter in a gesture
Left upon my back this horrible burden.
No more do I wish to see through this curtain
Of my dazzling tears, so inscrutable into my very core.
I contemplate my soul or scream blasphemy . . .
[UU-71 7:54]
(Appendix 240)
Many writers during this time period attempted to affect social and political
change through public commentary, as did Queyrouze in her speech, “Patriotism and
Wagner.” Throughout, she does not address politics in particular as much as she is
addresses the abstract nature of patriotism. Although her comments were prompted by a
mob’s defacement of Wagner’s statue in France, her sentiments about patriotism are
transnational, and there appears to be many coded references to the Civil War and its
the real substance of patriotism, that lofty ideal in the name of which so many
noble deeds are performed, and an equal number of follies committed. We are not
sufficiently exacting in regard to truth, and we rest content with an orchestra of
well sounding words, echoed from age to age by tradition, which has consecrated
them, and implying an indefinite sense of sublimity. We forget that the word is
merely a shell that must be broken to disclose its kernel which is the idea.
Patriotism originates in the instinct of possession or property, of which it is an
expansion, and which is inborn in all beings for the satisfaction of the
requirements of existence, and the preservation of what is theirs. It has been
ennobled by our imaginations, converted into a virtue, and inculcated as a duty . . .
. It is a variety of self-interest, and is derived from egoism . . . Patriotism in its
most extensive sense, is no less conventional than the sentiments of parental and
filial affection, both born of the natural principle of mutuality, which is an
indispensable agent of preservation and in virtue of which protection is requested
and granted. From that principle proceed the necessary union and solidarity which
constitute first, the family and next, the country. Compliance with this necessity
is confirmed by custom, and develops into a virtue . . . . Patriotism is relative . . . .
. We who are a recent nation, the result of a fusion of heterogeneous elements,
and are therefore subject to the divergent effects of hereditariness, according to
races, we can appreciate more distinctly the relativity of patriotism [UU-70 3:47].
When she makes references to the “heterogeneous elements” of a “recent nation,”
she describes America, and when she applies “race” to patriotism, she defends her
subjective notion of patriotism. Based upon the concepts of family, property, and selfinterest,
she argues that patriotism is not a virtue; therefore, she can rationalize not only
the French Creole resistance to Americanization, but the South’s resistance to Union
The notion of Freedom is suspect as well. Freedom, she says, is in many cases an
illusion: “Republicanism, Democracy, and similar words conveying a wide sense of
freedom, flatter our instinct of independence;” However, “the ideal of liberty as in all
ideals, one half is dream and delusion, dissipated by the slightest breath of reality.” In
fact, freedom without discipline is dangerous, for if “liberty [is] entrusted to irrational and
undisciplined judgments, [it] is transformed to tyranny.” If we do not acknowledge this,
then we forge the weapon of our own demise for “Ignorance is of all foes the most
murderous; of all weapons the most destructive, and in the hands of our countrymen, its
wounds become suicidal.”
Furthermore, she warns that “the most noxious consequences are often generated
by the noblest sentiments . . . in the name of patriotism.” Suspicious of the unthinking
mob mentality that follows idealistic rhetoric without understanding its source and
meaning, she observes that “the majority follow in a herd and howl without knowing
exactly why.” The ideological underpinning of patriotism should not be based on
emotion, nor should our “notions of right and wrong [be] mainly dependent on feeling . . .
We should distrust personal impressions and experiences, and not convert them into
dogmas.” Before we declare that our actions are based on the pure ideal of patriotism, we
must consider that even the most laudable and meritorious deeds do not satisfactorily
demonstrate the purity of their origin.” Blind patriotism is not a noble state, for “Men
fight with the most fervent enthusiasm for what he understands the least. There have
been apostles and martyrs for all opinions and creeds. Error and truth alike have altars
and victims.”
She also addresses the issue of Power, likening it to a ship at sea: “Power is a
dangerous vessel to steer, even in the comparatively tranquil waters of knowledge,” and
she believes that it is “inexcusable” that “enlightened men should knowingly excite and
lead astray the dupes of ignorance.” Whom we call a patriot or a traitor lies often in
interpretation. This further rationalizes her resistance to ideologies that are not in synch
with her loyalties to French Creole culture and southern traditions. She develops this
further by saying that all is relative, even that which we deem evil:
Evil is often nothing else but the exaggeration of good; injustice of right; and the
wrong may also lie in the interpretation, things being mostly what interpretation
makes them . . . . Words and their interpretations have armed man against his
Kind and Kin, and furnished a large tribute to the executioner . . . . Souls are not
conquered by bloodshed or money like lands; and no torrents of blood, however
mighty, can ever drown patriotism. . . . Our enemies make us great; by their
attacks, they reveal to us mines of energy until then hidden in our soul, and
unsuspected even by ourselves [UU-70 3:47].
In offering this argument, she legitimizes the resistance to the flood of changes
brought about by the Civil War and Reconstruction. When she states that “souls are not
conquered,” she could be alluding to her own culture or to the South, and she finds
comfort by declaring that “our enemies make us great.”
Even though she retreats to an antagonistic position, her attempt to achieve a
semblance of abstract disinterest is laudable because it is a prerequisite to understanding
the panorama and scope of history. Striving to find a place for each piece into the larger
scheme of the mosaïque, she makes a concerted effort to describe her vision of power and
patriotism, and while she was understandably trapped within the social orthodoxy of her
time, her attempts to transcend it deserve recognition.
One cannot speak of Louisiana and politics without a specific focus on the social
conflict in the South, and because this central issue informed much of the political debate
and motivated most of the partisan machinery, a discussion of this is essential to any
research project covering this era. I approach this subject with some caution, however,
and will attempt this in the same manner of Ted Tunnel who says: “Harboring no
delusions of definitiveness, I have addressed all of these questions and suggested
answers” (7). I will use the term race as it was understood at the end of the nineteenth
century, for at that time, individuals often identified themselves by their genealogy, and
used such terms as Latin, Gallic, Anglo-Saxon, Negro, French, American, black, white,
gen de couleur, mulatto, quadroon, etc. Thus, when I use the term race it is to describe
the differences that individuals perceived in one another at that time, often dependant on
perceptions of “blood” or “color.”
In many ways, New Orleans was unique in its race relations until the advent of the
Civil War because its social divisions were based on property and prestige as well as
color. Where there had once been a three-part social structure, there was now a racial
division between black and white. This distinction had far-reaching effects on the white
Creoles, the gens de couleur, and former slaves. The white French Creoles found
themselves defining their position within this new social order.
In Black New Orleans John Blassingame describes the “truly unique features in
the Negro community” in New Orleans and believes that the reason their situation was
different from other southern cities was due to “location in the most ‘non-American’ of
American cities” (xvi). As an example, it was customary for “upper class whites” [ . . . to
hire] free Negro men to teach their daughters music; [. . . They] dined with blacks, and
also attended public functions with Negroes. Interracial social functions” were
commonplace (17). Furthermore, “the style of life of the Negro upper-middle and upper
class was comparable to that of the same classes among whites” (159). Even after the
Civil War, vestiges of this social system persisted; it was one that based on culture rather
than color: “The free mulatto was French in thought, language, and culture while the
black freedman was English-speaking and Afro-American in culture” (155). Logsdon and
Hirsch describe how this situation changed after the war when a different structure
emerged: a “two-tiered structure that drew a single unyielding line between the white and
nonwhite” (189). The division became one of biology rather than culture (190). Before
this, there had been a “curious co-existence of a three-tiered Caribbean racial structure
along side its two-tiered American counterpart in an ethnically divided city” (189). The
“contact between immigrants and blacks,” Hirsch and Logsdon continue, “was frequent
and close in New Orleans’ congested neighborhoods, and a one dimensional portrait of
unrelieved tension does not do justice to the complexity of the situation” (190). Logsdon
and Caryn Cossé Bell state that the “consummate linkage of negritude and servility, the
dominant feature of racial relations in the America’s Old South, never fully emerged in
colonial Louisiana” (214), and that the “racial order remained fluid during most of the
antebellum” period (218). At that time, the differences among the races were
“ethnocultural . . . not simply color or legal status” (193), and people in the city lived
according to their means more than their ethnic background. This is not to say that the
gens de couleur did not suffer from discrimination, but they enjoyed liberties not known
in other areas of the South. Tunnell explains:
[They] owned real and personal property (including slaves), contracted legal
marriages, testified against whites in courts of law, learned trades and professions,
and participated in music and the arts. Their achievements rested on a solid
economic base (67).
However, this ended when the people began to separate themselves along racial
lines. The “disappearance of its tightly knit, clustered, multicultural neighborhoods, also
meant the disintegration of the residential base that had created, nurtured and sustained
New Orleans’ unique culture” (Logsdon and Bell 200). Before the separation, the people
in New Orleans engaged in intimate bonds and relationships between members of
different racial groups. They shared work and living quarters and often attended the
Sunday services together; however, C. Vann Woodward qualifies this by conceding that
“contact” did not necessarily mean “harmony” (13). My goal is to demonstrate that the
issue is more convoluted than public and political oppositions would indicate. Between
the conservatives (who advocated a return to the pre-war social, economic and racial
order) and the radicals (who called for social and political equality) was the middle
ground characterized by the Atheneé Louisianais, supported by Queyrouze. For her,
holding onto cultural values and taking pride in her nationality, social customs, religion
and heritage did not necessarily translate into intentional racism. She represents what
Charles E. Wynes describes as the “forgotten voices” (5), a term coined by George
Washington Cable. While Queyrouze defies a label, for the sake of discussion, I will
situate her in the category of the mosaïque. Like any mosaic, if we look too closely, we
will come to the wrong conclusion—but if we stand far enough away, we can see it in its
entirety, including its patterns and flaws.
Some scholars argue that any idea of a benevolent Creole was a myth--that their
lifestyle was based on the complacent, unspoken assumption of racial superiority, one that
required no explanation or defense. In “Creoles and Americans” Tregle maintains that the
Union presence in New Orleans after the Civil War “pushed the white Creoles into full
acceptance of the racial outlook of their fellow white southerners” (Logsdon and Hirsch
97). He argues that it was not until blacks were given equal status under the law that
Creoles rushed to define their separate and superior identity, even going so far as to deny
that racial mixing had ever occurred in New Orleans. Some argue that this turn to
negrophobia was caused by outside pressures. Under the “white” gaze of America, the
Creole felt threatened culturally and economically, and thus took a position along racial
color lines. Logsdon and Hirsch argue that the white Creoles’ rush to declare racial
“’purity’ and unity . . . represented a flight from the abyss” (191).From a folklore
perspective this is logical, considering Regina Bendix’s claim that the gaze from
outsiders changes the object of scrutiny. There is strong evidence that this is the case and
that the disintegrating situation between whites and blacks and the move towards more
strident racial repression was enhanced by the overlay of American culture upon the
Creole one. In any event, “Something happened . . . the South capitulated to racism”
(Wynes 4). Wynes questions whether is was the “abandonment of the Negro by the
Republican party [or. . ] social Darwinian naturalism, in which the Negro and all men
were left to rise or fall as a result of their own efforts and general fitness” (4). He
considers the Jim Crow laws to be “an accurate index of the decline of the reactionary
regimes of the Redeemers and triumph of white democratic movements” and points to the
“failure of the democratic agrarian revolt known as Populism [that . . . ] had threatened
the one-party hegemony of the Democrats, and in doing so further threatened to place the
Negro in a position of holding the balance of power” (4). He explains:
. . . there was Progressivism itself. Not only were virtually all the South’s
progressive political leaders white supremacists, they also sincerely believed that
the only way to remove the bribery, vote buying, ballot box stuffing, etc, which
had plagued the South since the Civil War was to remove the Negro from the
political scene altogether” (5).
These problems not only existed in the South, they were prevalent in the North.
Many believed that the North and South were clearly divided on the issue of slavery, but
C. Vann Woodward argues that this is a misconception. The North and South were not
polarized into two opposing camps of pro-slavery and anti-slavery, he argues; the
situation was much more complicated and does not take into account the human frailties
and complexities of the individuals on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Woodward
argues that each side wanted to be “right” based upon “a laudable impulse to be identified
with noble deeds” (268). Indeed, he says that “white supremacy was a national, not a
regional credo” (269), and blacks suffered discrimination in the north, as well. That might
explain why that “by 1860,only 6 percent of the Northern Negro population lived in the
five states that provided legally for their suffrage” (270).
However, this does not mitigate the responsibility Creoles have for their own
actions involving treatment of black people. While Tregle maintains that the Union
presence in New Orleans after the Civil War “pushed the white Creoles into full
acceptance of the racial outlook of their fellow white southerners” (Logsdon and Hirsch
97), there is evidence that racist views were already entrenched. As early as 1831 Alexis
de Tocqueville “found slavery [to be] as ruthless in the remnants of French Louisiana as
in the Anglo-American South” (Hirsch and Logsdon 9). Lafcadio Hearn thought that the
Creoles who treated their slaves badly were just a product of their heritage—that they had
a “natural Latin cruelty” (Tregle 150). Jean-Charles Houzeau of the New Orleans
Tribune was especially scathing in his observations about the Creoles. He considered the
“white Creoles pretentious, dishonest, dissolute, racist, and reactionary.” In a letter dated
July 22, 1866, he writes:
[The] European quarter of New Orleans is a disgrace for a civilized city . . .
where they speak French and Spanish . . . . The American city has an immense
contempt for these old . . . Latin customs . . . with all the libertinage that these
customs require when practiced in a distant foreign country. What a contrast with
the severity of the Anglo-Saxons, who are without a doubt cold, but who control
themselves . . . this Latin Society is not . . . honorable . . . . How can such a race .
. . have the pretension to colonize and dominate? [ . . . They are] the most cruel
and rabid slaveholders—people who are never truthful nor practical. Great luxury,
sumptuous clothing, debt up the their ears, all sorts of parties at night,
drunkenness, swindling without shame (33).
The Creoles attempted to counteract this with the construction of their own myth
regarding slavery. In fact, the New Orleans Daily Crescent in 1866 went so far as to state
that “domestic servitude [was] very wrongfully denominated ‘African Slavery’ [and. . .]
thus deprived the ‘sable race, so much falsely pitied . . . [of] their lost happy condition,
under the protection of their indulgent masters and mistresses’” (Tregle 169). Rhetoric
such as this indicates the degree to which the Creoles were invested in abnegating any
responsibility for the inhumane institution that had supported the southern economy.
Not only did they fail to acknowledge culpability, they often used blacks as pawns
in political struggles for power. In The Future of the Past, Woodward points out that
most historical accounts are “the record of what the white man believed, thought,
legislated, did and did not do about the Negro. The Negroes is a passive element . . . he is
the object rather than the subject . . . . he had no past (35, 37). This suggests an
underlying assumption of racial superiority that affected even those who were advocates
of racial equality.
Plantation owners in the South had a reputation for ill treatment of slaves, and the
French Creoles were no exception. One of the threats often used on recalcitrant slaves
was that they would be sent down river to plantations where slaves were treated more
harshly. John Rodrigue explains that sugar plantations had a “hellish reputation among
slaves of the antebellum South” (195), but this was due more to the rigorous mechanics of
sugar production than to practices. Joe Gray Taylor states that “while the French planters
in Louisiana did not work their slaves so hard as did the Anglo-Saxons, they did not care
for them so well” (Taylor 226), while other scholars argue that the French Creoles
reputation for cruelty was exaggerated.
Their reputation did not consist solely upon plantation life, for there were
documented incidences in New Orleans, as well. Taylor cites one of the most notorious
cases, the one regarding Madame Lalaurie of New Orleans who starved and tortured her
slaves. When her crimes were discovered, an angry mob attacked her home and chased
her out of town. The crowds were mostly French, and they were angry, most of all,
because “she had discredited her French blood in the eyes of the Americans” (226), and
as such, they felt that she had disgraced their culture. William Ivy Hair cites the cause of
theses cases of abuse upon “the commingling of English-speaking and Creole-Cajun
cultures [that] had resulted in a milieu of political instability and unusual insensitivity to
human rights” (186). Taylor, on the other hand, believes that individual cases of cruelty
do not represent the entire picture and argues that the problem resided in the institution
itself that “made brutality necessary” even among those “who represented highest
principles” (227).
During Reconstruction and afterwards, freedmen often faced greater challenges
in Louisiana that in other areas of the South. Taylor notes that “the whites in Louisiana
sought, at all costs, to prevent any tendency to bring the two races to the same level”
(227). Hair separates the “upper class conservatives in the post-Reconstruction South”
from those of the “ruling class in Louisiana” (Hair 186) and says that unlike the rest of
the South who very paternalistically tried to take the “inferior” freedmen under their
protective wing, the Louisiana elite were merely rabidly white supremacists who were
fearful of the freedmen’s assertion of rights and political control. Hair cites the year 1881
as the “turning point towards extreme cruelty” (187); this was the time when there were
more tortures, lynchings, and instances of inhuman cruelty--some were burned alive. The
Chicago Tribune estimated that “between 1882 and 1903 . . .lynchings accounted for 285
deaths” (Hair 187-188), but these figures do not necessarily include all local reports. A
contemporary reader would find the newspaper accounts of lynching in the 1890s
extremely unsettling. These papers described lynchings as neck tie parties, and one
Shreveport newspaper, the Evening Judge, actually used the term “beautiful”in its
description of a lynching. Equally offensive was the “Shreveport Plan” that proposed
blacks be given only menial and hard labor jobs because they were a “sub-human
species” (Hair 191). Hostility towards blacks reached horrific levels, and those who were
often the most violent were wealthy white planters who forced black landowners either to
sell their land at a low price or be tortured or killed. Louisiana became notorious for this
violence, and those guilty of these acts felt that they were above the law because they
were united in groups with similar sentiments--many of these individual held positions of
In spite of these accounts, there were those who raised their voices against these
atrocities. One of these was Cable, a leading proponent of racial reform. Because he was
central in mounting the counter-narrative to the Creole myth, he cannot be separated from
the discussion of the Creoles and social conflict. Cable became involved in a social
movement that Woodward describes as having its origin in the upper class. “In the early
years of the nineteenth century, up to the time repression set in, antislavery sentiment was
found in the upper class,” then, they recruited the middle class (285). Woodward points to
a little known fact that “it was Southerners who launched the antislavery press in
America” (286). He calls Cable’s Silent South published in 1885, “one of the most radical
indictments of southern racial policy written by a Southerner in the eighties” (289).
Laurence J. Friedman adds that Cable’s description of the maiming and torture of Bras-
Coupe in the Grandissimes serves as a counter-narrative to the widely circulated myth of
the content slave. In doing so, Cable departed from the Cavalier literary school of writers
who “exalted the improvident but generous-hearted and cultivated Cavalier gentleman
planter” (103).
Cable brought into question the perceptions of race. In a letter to Charles Waddell
Chestnutt on June 12, 1889, Cable asked the question, “’what is a white man, what is a
white woman?’” This inquiry implies that Cable was arguing the notion of race itself and
wrestling with the idea that all “race is transitory” (107). In addition, Cable investigated
the myriad of harmful effects of slavery. In his essay, “The Freedman’s Case in Equity”
published in Century Magazine, he declared that there was a “moral responsibility on the
whole nation never to lose sight of the results of African-American slavery until they
cease to work mischief and injustice . . . . The nation was to blame; and so long as evils
spring from it, their correction must be a nation’s duty” (Wynes 13). When slavery was
“petrified [it] became the cornerstone of the whole social structure, and when men sought
its overthrow as a national evil, it first brought war upon the land” (14). Just as
Queyrouze expressed in her article in The Crusader, Cable felt that a future debt was
being incurred and that silence would not mitigate this liability. He warned that “to
commit it to the silence and concealment of a covered furrow” would mean that it would
“spring up and expand once again into questions of public equity . . . questions of
national interest” (14). He believed that those with an “unyielding attitude, whose
strength is in the absence of intellectual and moral debate” (16) were not evil people; in
fact, they were often “God-fearing people,” but just as one can see the faults of previous
generations, “posterity will discover ours” (17). “Thousands of pious masters and
mistresses flatly broke the shameful laws that stood between their slaves and the Bible”
(18). Many who claimed “title to an American freedoms and aspirations” would “then in
daily practice heap upon [blacks] in every public place the most odious distinctions,” the
result of which destroyed his “ambition, trample[d] upon . . . self-respect” (23). He argues
that such indignities adversely affect all, for “the first premise of American principles is
that whatever elevates the lower stratum of the people lifts all the rest and whatever holds
it down holds all down” (25). The “whole community is sinned against in every act or
attitude of oppression, however gross or refined” (33). He warns that “slavery was a
moral mistake” (36) and that the world was “waiting to see what we will write upon the
white page of today’s and tomorrows’ history” (31).
In spite of this rhetoric, Cable was not completely separate from the racial
orthodoxy of his time, and Friedman investigates Cable’s underlying prejudice. Friedman
believes that Cable was an exception to the orthodoxy of white supremacy, but argues
that even those who were sympathetic to the plight of blacks would not tolerate black
assertiveness and expression of “social dignity” (99). Friedman asserts that it was nearly
impossible “for a white Southerner to openly and meaningfully depart from racial
orthodoxy” (100). While Cable did not believe in white supremacy per se, he nevertheless
felt that “most” whites were superior to “most” blacks, and that blacks could not
completely overcome their savage nature. Cable’s purpose in supporting the cause for
equality was also to save whites because he believed that a “repressionist policy had a
‘warping moral effect’ upon the oppressor” and that it compromised one’s Christian
principles (110).
Cable’s private journals also reveal some of his hidden biases. James Robert
Payne investigated Cable’s personal dairies at the Howard-Tilton Library at Tulane and
found that in Cable’s revised passages and deleted lines one can discover a writer in
conflict. For instance, when Cable met George Washington Williams, a mulatto who
wrote The History of the Negro Race in America (1883), Cable wrote in his diary that he
wanted Williams to join his literary circle but noted “‘I see at last a man whose only
Africanism is his tawny skin’” (Diary I, 3-4) (105). Likewise, Friedman describes how
Cable was patronizing to Carter G. Woodson, Booker T. Washington, and Charles
Chestnutt. In one instance, Cable expressed his admiration for Chestnutt, but
simultaneously revealed his patronizing and superior attitude when he considered asking
Chestnutt-- a brilliant writer in his own right-- to “serve as [Cable’s] personal secretary”
(114). On the other hand, many southern whites—the Creoles among them-- accused
Cable of being a “Negro lover” as did “Charles Gayarré in the New Orleans Times
Democrat on January 22, 1885 (115). This was followed by "an assault by nine Southern
newspaper editors upon Cable’s ‘miscegenationist tendencies’” (115). These and many
other attacks forced Cable, at last, to leave for Northampton, Massachusetts.
In any other context, Queyrouze and Cable would have not considered themselves
to be kindred spirits, but in varying degrees, each experienced censure for their support of
racial equality. When Queyrouze (under the nom de plume Salamandra or Adamas) wrote
articles for the New Orleans Crusader, a publication directed towards a predominantly
black audience, she suffered some backlash. On February 16, 1889, in an article entitled
“The Race Problem Logically Discussed” Queyrouze began her discussion by saying,
“never has any social or political problem given rise to more violent polemics and created
more causes for dissension and bitter animosity than the race question . . . .[The] hostility
[is] one that feeds on every pretext,” and she warned that the “inequity of the fathers will
be visited upon the children.” The same law of heredity that applied to Nature applied to
nations, for a nation is “but a magnified image of the family.” She charged that the
“present troubles between the white and black races” were a result of the “grievous sin
committed by our American predecessors: the importation of the Negro for bondage.”
She compares the situation to a ledger:
[America is] unconsciously contracting an overwhelming debt toward mankind
and posterity. The interests on the debt have accrued rapidly and constantly; and
the time has almost come for the present to settle the accounts of the past. What is
life, what is history, but an account current in which debit and credit must
balance? And woe to him whose accounts do not balance!
But the white man of this period still deceives himself and his colored
fellow-citizen, as his forefathers have done . . . .The sum of hypocrisy spent by
him in contriving subterfuges, and coloring his genuine motives of enmity is
incalculable. Any opportunity whatever is available as long as it may contribute
the slightest chance of supporting his assumed claims to autocracy . . . .[They]
wish less to become initiated to the truth than to maintain their once
authoritatively expressed opinions, for vanity and exaggerated pride have a far
stronger hold on man than the yearning towards justice . . . . A few think and lead
and the many follow. There are numerous empty-headed beings who adopt . . .
manufacture, and borrow . . . The very ones who stoutly deny the colored man the
rights that should be unreservedly his as a citizen . . . are those who have used him
to their own best advantage . . . . But after extracting all the profit . . . have they
not cast him off like a blunted tool? [UU-71 7:52].
In the same article she directs her argument to the black race, saying that "the colored
man must no longer be a tool. He must become the hand that wields the tool and the brain
that guides the hand." Not long after this article was published, Queyrouze wrote to a
friend, saying that she had been accused of having “mixed blood,” a charge that was
commonly used to silence proponents of racial equality; ironically, this was the same
tactic that the Creoles had used against Cable.
While no one can deny in the foregoing Queyrouze’s passion and fervor for equal
rights, she does exhibit some of the inevitable sensibilities of her era. Categorizing all
black individuals into one index, she says in the same article that “the black race is
naturally kind, large hearted, devoted, and not at all distrustful; therefore, it [emphasis
added] is apt to be duped the more easily.” Furthermore, she quickly asserts her own
racial purity by saying that “the writer of these lines, whose ancestors were born in
Louisiana for many generations, belongs to the purest type of the noble Latin and Gallic
races combined, and has consequently no interest in being partial to the black race.”
More troubling still is her description of some of the different people that
gathered in Congo Square on Sunday afternoons. She categorizes the different “tribes”
that she sees according to their value as a commodity in “Silhouette Créoles”:
There one could see the athletic Mozambique who has large shoulders and who
was distinguished from the others by the curious tattoos on his flat face and the
constellation of black cuts in his very flesh. There was the statuesque Cafres who
was very tall and whose features were accentuated by his bronze complexion;
Mandinque slaves were nervous . . .[and] had fine and regular black faces, and an
independent spirit that made them adept at commerce, a characteristic that made
them often the opposite of a good slave . . . . [They were often called] the Yankees
of Negroes. The Congo, bulky, with a small build, was in demand by the
purchasers of slaves because of his docility and vigor, and his wide and frank
laugh in his square face . . . marked by a joy . . . The masters preferred this slave,
calling him the “natural” one . . . [he had] the instinctive devotion of the dog
[UU-70 6:47].
As further evidence of these conflicting sentiments, Queyrouze had a penchant for
wearing a bracelet that symbolized the oppression she addressed in her article. In
Lafcadio Hearn’s American Days,Edward Larocque Tinker describes this bracelet, one
immortalized in a poem by an anonymous writer. It was a “gold bangle of curious design .
. . . A miniature slave whip which her grandfather had given to her grandmother with the
words, ‘this shall be your badge of authority’” (Tinker 264). Her preference for this
symbolic bracelet counterbalances the sentiments she expressed in her Crusader articles,
which indicates her conflicted ideologies. This is further complicated by patronizing tone
when she expresses her affectionate reverence for blacks:
[The] loyal, unflinching,and tender abnegation of those of that race whose arms
were the first cradle . . . and body of whom they shielded from every bruise in life
as long a they could. Perhaps it is not given to all to duly appreciate the simple
grandeur of certain deeds [UU-71 7:52].
This bifurcation of sentiments is indicative of the political duality of many
people in the South, wherein supporters of social equality, inevitably, were products of
their own times. It would have been impossible for them to separate themselves from the
superstructure of political forces and partisan acrimony that often muffled the voices that
spoke for social change. Some historians indicate that this moderate and sometimes
conflicting sensibility arose from lingering racial intimacy combined with the underlying
assumption of white elitism.
Our understanding of race relations in the South has been largely informed by the
work of C. Vann Woodward, particularly his books, Origin of the New South, The
Strange Career of Jim Crow, and Future of the Past. Friedman summarizes Woodward’s
argument, explaining that “segregation had not always been the way of the postbellum
South. Between the demise of Reconstruction and the collapse of Southern Populism in
the middle 1890s, race relations had remained fluid and relatively unstructured” (vi).
Friedman says that scholars since the publication of [Woodward’s] books have widely
accepted the “chronological development of segregation” (vi); however, Friedman points
to growing skepticism towards Woodward’s thesis which “reflected the hope and
optimism of the mid-1950’s for a ‘new say’ in Southern race relations” (vii). Friedman
focuses, instead, with “cynicism” on the era between the Civil War and WWI.Friedman
narrows his argument, saying that since Woodward’s Origin of the New South covered
“’Black Reconstruction,’ the ‘biracial Populist crusade, the Atlanta Compromise, and the
‘lily white’ progressivism,” he will not address these; instead, he will focus on why white
southerners clamored for the psychological presence of docile black servitude. In the
Future of the Past Woodward defends the Strange Career of Jim Crow saying that
regarding the issue of “racial segregation and its origins . . . [he gave] priority over
circumstance and plac[ed] the chronology before sociology and demography of the
subject” (296). Richard C. Wade and Ira Berlin argue that segregation not only divided
white from black, but divided freedmen from slaves. Howard N. Rabinowitz adds that
segregation, unfortunately, was very successful in oppression (306). Segregation was
most necessary in densely populated areas; thus, most instances of Jim Crow law
enforcement were found within cities. There were some exceptions, and Woodward
maintains that there was a “delayed segregation, temporary fluidity, and diversity in race
relations,” such as the one found in New Orleans (298). He contends that in urban
developments, there were many people who wanted things they once were, but there were
many who “wished to change things but despaired of ever being able to do so” (299). One
cannot ignore the chronology, he maintains, because “race relations had history . . . [it]
had not ‘always been that way’” (300), and he argues that the evidence of change
logically supposes a chronology. He agrees with Rabinowits, that segregation was in
evidence earlier in 1800s than he previously supposed, but he maintains vehemently that
it increased as the century came to an end and that the changes in the South were based on
political and not economic foundations.
Black political leaders in New Orleans also took a role in affecting change.
Logsdon and Hirsch point out that Black “assertiveness and resistancy . . . sets the New
Orleans experience apart from those other American towns” (191). They credit the black
Creole radicalism, which was “assertive and independent, with broader horizons and selfconfidence”
as having an influence on resistance to Jim Crow laws, perhaps more so than
elsewhere in the South (195). Even before Reconstruction, there were key black leaders
who played a role in social reform. For example, Tunnell describes local ministers who
“emerged as important political figures” (such as William A. Dove and Robert McCary),
and Tunnell demonstrates the importance of the Louisiana National Equal Rights League
and the National Convention of Colored Citizens of the United States, which “revealed
the full extent to which the war politicized the social and religious institutions of free
Negro society” (74-75). Tunnell also lists important figures who were central in shaping
Louisiana political thought. He defines these individuals as “the black elite of New
Orleans” who “exerted a major influence in the community” (75). One such person was
Paul Trévigne, who was the editor of The Union from 1862 through 1864, and editor for
the New Orleans Tribune from 1864-1869 (75). Dr. Louis Roudanez and his brother Jean
Baptiste Roudanez established the Tribune, and from 1864 “until the newspaper’s
demise in 1869, they took part in every major racial controversy in the state” (75). Other
important leaders were Oscar J. Dunn, James H. Ingraham and P. B. S. Pinchback. Dunn
assisted freemen in finding employment after the war; Ingraham served the Union cause
with gallantry, and Pinchback was instrumental in organizing a company of Native
Guards. Each in turn would rise to political power. Trévigne, the Roudanez brothers,
Dunn, Ingraham and Pinchback were “ambitious and articulate men of color [who]
rejected white tutelage and demanded an equal role in the [Louisiana Republican] party”
(111). They believed that “universal suffrage was a cardinal principle of the Republican
party” (131). Dunn served as lieutenant governor, but when he died, Warmoth took
measures to assure that Pinchback took Dunn’s place. Because Pinchback was “the most
powerful black leader in the state” (167), and because he held the “controlling balance of
power in the senate between rival factions” (168), it is likely that Pinchback was
Warmoth’s only logical choice. When Warmoth was impeached, Pinchback served as
governor for several weeks, during which time Warmoth attempted to secure Pinchback’s
help, but Pinchback declined, saying he would do his “duty to [his] state, party, and race”
(171). Pinchback believed that because whites outnumbered blacks, both in population
and power, the best course of action would be to work for reform within the system rather
than attempt a revolution outside of it, a position which was criticized by Afro-Creole
Quincy Ewing is another example of those who worked towards social reform.
Born near Thibodaux La in 1877, he became a reverend of the Episcopal Church and used
his voice to speak for his oppressed brethren. He declared that slavery was a “foreign
irritant to the body social” (Logsdon and Hirsch 122). He believed that “all the machinery
of justice is in the hands of the white man” (124) and that “Negroes supply everywhere in
this country the lowest social and industrial plane . . . the jails, the penitentiary, the
gallows” (124). Furthermore, he pointed out that the “South’s friction between the races
is entirely absent so long as the Negro justifies the white mans’ opinion of him as an
inferior; and is grateful for privileges and lays no claims to rights”(129).
In spite of these attempts at radical reform, the close of the nineteenth century
witnessed a rising tide against blacks in the forms of hostility, injustice, oppression, and
disenfranchisement. Many historians maintain that blacks were used as scapegoats in
order to heal the strife between the North and the South. Thus, the black population
became the recipient of lingering hostilities and was blamed for the economic problems
in the South. As a result, their hard-won social and political capital was compromised.
For example, the Farmers Union, many of whom were Louisiana Democratic legislators,
“voted for a bill which made racial segregation compulsory on all railroad coaches” (Hair
196). In 1887, no student had yet graduated from the recently established Southern
University and “only 10 students [were] taking college level courses in 1898 (Hair 126).
In the Trinity Herald on June 21, 1889, one commentator declared that “‘God never
intended the Negro to be educated. Like the horse, he was destined to work for what he
eats’” (Hair 124-126). Very soon thereafter, the Separate but Equal statute of 1890 called
for the division of races in public transportation and accommodations. By 1898, blacks
could no longer vote because of the language and requirements stipulated in the
grandfather clause of the 1898 constitution. The Louisiana Legislature in 1908 defeated
the anti-miscegenation bill, which was designed to prohibit cohabitation between whites
and blacks. This legislation left women unprotected, “whose existence men have
demanded for the gratification of unlawful passions.” At the same time it was “unwilling
to restrict white man’s liberty” (Ewing 133). At every turn, blacks were demoralized as
they saw their dreams become nightmares and their hopes turn into despair.
One eloquent voice stands out, among many, as an articulation of the black
experience, and that is W. E. B. Du Bois. Rayford W. Logan describes him as an “ardent
agitator for political rights [who . . .] denounced segregation and called for integration
into American society in accordance with . . . the ideals of democracy” (85). Du Bois
“expressed more effectively than any of his contemporaries the protest tendency in Negro
thought, and the desire for citizenship rights and integration into American society”
(Logan 85), and he believed in the power of education and stressed “the building of an
economic foundation, the freedmen’s primary concern” (71). Queyrouze speaks to this
same issue, when she addresses a “colored man” in her Crusader article, saying, “[He]
must no longer be a tool. He must become the hand that wields the tool and the brain that
guides the hand . . . . The almighty mind . . . is also the sole guardian of supremacy and
equity” [UU-71 7:52].
Du Bois confronts not only the issue of education, but criticizes how blacks are
depicted when the history of America is written. He believes that the “neglect of, or
prejudice against” blacks in “American historiography” is an “aspect of a prevailing
elitism in dominant history-writing in general” (Long 254). His thesis has even broader
implications when we study the oppressed, marginalized, and forgotten voices of the
myriad of ethnic cultures that comprise this nation.
In the 1890s, Queyrouze began to assert herself more assiduously regarding the
issue of racism, and under the pseudonym, Salamandra, she addressed politicians and the
clergy in The Crusader [UU-71 7:53]. She advocated black suffrage saying that “there
had been of late no inconsiderable expense in the way of pens, paper, ink, rhetoric,
oratorical display, nonsense and hypocrisy in the most exalted ranks of Southern society,
from the clergyman to the legist, from the would-be philanthropist and humanitarian to
the dictatorial journalist” who are arguing about the “Negro problem,” and she accused all
of them of trying to “derive every possible advantage from the discussion.” She criticized
Catholic leaders who believed that only Christianity would make blacks “honest, moral
God-fearing men.” She cited the violence in South Carolina in 18901 as evidence that
white Christians had no basis for assuming to teach anyone about how to be “civilized,
refined and cultured,” and said that it is fortunate that “Charity” “antedates Christianity.”
She charged that if white Christians recognized the “equality of races before the creator,”
why should they “deem it unworthy . . .to grant the Negro the same privilege on earth?”
She reminded them that “His Infernal Highness” is a “very dark-visaged gentlemen.”
1 Possibly a reference to the S.C. governor Pitchfork Ben Tillman who called for violence against blacks
Although she advocated for blacks, she nevertheless revealed nativistic superiority
when she declared that blacks should have more right to vote than “those foreigners who
come to us in hosts from countries that have no interest in common with ours.” In a
classicist and elitist vein, she characterized these immigrants as “meddlesome adventurers
and ambitious intriguers with an unknown past that mix turbulently into our politics,
watching for their prey like ravenous wolves [ . . . They were] the scum of the plebs.” She
argued that these “imported evils” are sanctioned, while the black people who “for
several generations born here” and “bound to this country with every fibre [sic] of his
moral self” were being disfranchised. She accused politicians of using the black vote for
their own aims, saying that “unscrupulous, and insatiable white politicians who, then as
ever, used the confident negro, still new in the wily ways of deceit, as a tool and a
screen.” She referred to an article in the Belford and attacked the writers who were quoted
as saying that slavery was an “unqualified blessing” for blacks, and she exclaimed that
their words were a “sacrilegious utterance!” She argued that the greatest crime was this:
To have christianized and civilized him, to have freed him, and made him a
citizen; that is to say, to have taught him the equality of men of all hues before the
Christian God . . . to have opened infinite vistas to his spirit and thrown him into
the rapid current of progress to drift and be finally broken on the rock of Prejudice
. . . is the veritable crime.
She then referenced the classical principles that were characteristic of much of her
writing—those of philosophy--saying that this kind of prejudicial governance was not
“worthy of Socrates and Plato.” This subtext of assumed superiority was further
evidenced in her statement that the “white man the child of civilization, who has inherited
the capital and interests of centuries of culture, and the adept of progress, should adhere
with such tenacity to his less enlightened forefather’s prejudices and errors.” In spite of
her elitism, she embraced equality by saying it would devastate even the strongest
individual to acknowledge this:
neither culture, nobleness of heart, elevation of mind, purity of aspirations, will be
able even to make him or his posterity the social equal o the vilest white criminal
and moral leper that he is not so much allowed to ride in the same car with this
fraudulent white bankrupt and ill-smelling ruffian who not even his countryman
Clearly differentiating between her European origins and America, she continued
by saying that the “least tolerant among the white race on this side of the Ocean accept
and even favor the presence of the Negro as they would that of a docile domestic animal,
provided he be born and bred in the dogma of submission.” Alluding to recent violence
and brutality against blacks, she argued that a black man did not even have “the right of
defending his life and his family against the whites who attack him in superior numbers,
and without any reason . . . . If he dares to obey his instinct of self-preservation, there are
always a tree and a rope at hand.” This strong statement challenged white supremacists
who imagined that their actions were based upon righteous morality.
The only answer to the “Negro problem,” she argued, is “amalgamation” because
“nature and time are wiser and stronger than man’s prejudices, repugnances, and narrow
egotistical plans. Her closing statement alluded to her growth as a proponent of social
reform, but as a Creole, she was aware of the price that Cable paid for speaking out
against social injustice, and she acknowledged that she had “nothing to gain, may yet
have something to lose.” In spite of this, she granted the benefit of having “grown to be a
conscientious disciple of Bias.” However, still basking in the privilege of authority, she
closed by declaring that through [her] contempt for human motives . . . and indifference
mixed with pity for humanity, which [she] now watche[d] with the naturalists’ cold,
disinterested curiosity” she had been able to pass judgment [UU-71 7:53]. Her reference
to naturalism—one that the “plebs” would not understand—was an elitist gesture to
Émile Zola who was credited with codifying the roman expérimental. Searching for
empirical evidence, naturalist writers observed human activity and the environment as a
laboratory in order to determine the scientific principles at work in its operation. Her
allusion to these principles anticipated the naturalist movement in America that began at
the turn of the century. The essential value in the study of her work, however, is not
necessarily to prove her racist, elitist, and classist tendencies, but to reveal the ways in
which she tried to challenge the “dogma of submission” and “Bias”of late nineteenth
century America and to speak for the oppressed and disfranchised.
The deep racial conflict at the close of the nineteenth century underscores our
need to reassess how we perceive ourselves as a nation and how we cast and re-cast our
own history. To situate any individual or ethnic group along clearly delineated political
lines is an oversimplification that does not allow for the complete picture of the
mosaïque. Every person and every group is a mosaïque; each is a paradox, as is the case
of Cable and Queyrouze who were two writers who tried to challenge the norms of a
historical period characterized by racism. While Cable was more successful in escaping
the confines of racial orthodoxy, perhaps because if his enculturation as a New England
Protestant, Queyrouze—who was a French Creole daughter of a Confederate officer
living in the South during Reconstruction—made noteworthy attempts to transcend those
social boundaries. That is not to say that Queyrouze did not have racist tendencies, for her
assumption of ethnic superiority and her presumption to lecture the entire “black race” on
education was elitist and classist. However, she perceived the writer’s task was to make
commentary on social issues, and she attempted to fill that role. This may indicate that
she was either aspiring towards philosophical ideals or succumbing to elitism, but in
either case, the inherent value lies in her dissenting response to established norms. Her
dilemma may have arisen from the conflicting impulses to fulfill her self-assigned role as
a spokesperson for French cultural preservation at the same time she was calling for racial
equality—an insupportable and insoluble position that overtly advocated for the
eradication of class oppression and covertly for the continuance of class distinctions.
Even so, the significance rests in her attempt rather than her success. Moreover, her
rhetoric may have been a reaction against the prevailing Anglo-Saxon chauvinism at the
turn of the century. At that time, many Americans believed that because of the
“intelligence, morality, self-restraint, and the genius for self-government that ran in
English ‘blood’ of the American people,” they alone were “capable of self-government”
(Painter 151-2); thus, her challenges to freedom, power, and patriotism expressed in her
speeches and articles are more clearly understood in its historical context.
By looking closely at the political and social conflicts of this period, we can reach
a better understanding of the dynamics of nineteenth-century society and acknowledge
that broad assumptions about an individual, a group, or a race cross the boundary from
rational thought into irrational presuppositions. Only through examination and
evaluations can any society recognize the flaws and fissures that can crumble even the
strongest social construct. Greenblatt and Gallagher address this issue, calling for new
historicists to “mine what are sometimes called counter-histories that make apparent the
slippages, cracks, fault lines, and surprising absences in [our] monumental structures”
(17). Armed with this new awareness, we can attempt to achieve a better understanding
of the complexity of our historical past and to challenge the orthodoxy of our own era.
Beauty pertains to all its multiform manifestations,
because it is an element which pervades the whole
universe and emanates from it. Man cannot exile it.
Its home is under all skies and it is the supreme and
most perfect expression of freedom, soaring high
beyond the reach of laws and tyranny . . . The artist
owes something to every object in creation. The
debt is mutual, and we all owe him thankfulness, for
he gives life, form and expression to our ideas. . . .
the scientist, the artist, and the philosopher
appropriate beauty and truth, which are
synonymous, wherever they find them, and giving
them back transformed to the universe, render them
glorified . . . --“Patriotism and Wagner” Queyrouze
While Leona Queyrouze offered commentary on the current political and social
issues of the late nineteenth century, she was departing from mainstream American
literary trends. Indeed, her life and work reveal an opposite impulse; instead of
incorporating American aesthetics, she was choosing to define herself in terms of cultural
isolation. Her work focused primarily on her local community, and her poetry with its
French Romantic style and classical references indicates literary divergence. She was
adhering to the aesthetics of the French romantic period while the American women
writers were moving towards realism. To demonstrate this, I will contrast the major
themes and trends of the work of some prominent American women writers in the late
nineteenth century to Queyrouze’s work and then will compare Queyrouze to French
Romantic writers. Ultimately, I will show in this wide-frame transnational lens how her
oeuvre exhibits a growing sense of isolation that coincides with the disappearance of an
identifiably cohesive Creole culture.
American women writers were gaining a wide readership due in part to the growth
of newspapers and syndicated columns in the late nineteenth century and because of the
proliferation of elite publications such as Scribners, Century, Atlantic and Harpers.
During this time there was a trend in literature towards dealing with more concrete and
everyday experiences. Some writers placed their “subjects in specific locales, often with
humor . . . which became known as the ‘local color’” movement (DonovanSarah Orne
Jewett 2). This in turn, served the direction towards realism, a literary path that
Queyrouze did not follow in spite of the advice Hearn had given her in 1887. Donovan
discusses how Romanticism and Realism functioned:
Realism is the term applied to a literary movement that developed in the latter half
of the nineteenth century in reaction against or as an outgrowth of Romanticism . .
. . Romantic literature tended to vaunt the value of the personal, subjective,
emotional reaction and the virtues of places and times remote from he nineteenth
century industrial city (129).
Realism served the new focus of woman-centered writing, and women were
becoming a cultural force that gave lie to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s petulant description of
them as a “damned mob of scribbling women,” and by the mid-1800s women dominated
the literary marketplace. Bauer and Gould state that the influence of their work was farreaching
and that it “changed both the shape of the American literary canon and the
disciples of American literary history” (i). Their work was “cultural work,” which
functioned as an “advocacy of social change” (8). Their focus was upon challenging
social norms and questioning personal and cultural identities. June Howard identifies this
period in literature “from the 1890s well into the twentieth century” as a “vibrant
dialogue over changes in women’s position and women’s aspirations” (158).
Furthermore, she adds that “the defining feature of the New Woman was that she had
choices” (158). Donovan explains that these women writers were instrumental in
changing the “dimensions of a coherent, feminine literary tradition” (New England Local
Color Literature 3), and they accomplished this through a communal sense of shared
goals. They identified themselves in the context of an “alliance with other women, and
through an assessment of her [their] own realities, [and] perspectives” (3). Among these
writers there was a “moral vision” that was “very much rooted in their awareness and
concern about woman’s situation in the nineteenth century” (7).
The distinction between Queyrouze and mainstream writers can be found in their
choices of market, audience, and genre. While American women writers were sharing a
sense of a community and addressing the struggle of women towards self empowerment
in everyday life, Queyrouze, instead, was fighting to preserve the romantic idea of her
culture. My comparison will focus on four American women and the themes and issues in
their work: Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) was describing regional identity through her
vivid characterizations in The Country of Pointed Firs; Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (1852-
1930) was investigating the role of women in society; Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1861-
1935) was surveying the landscape of a mind denied its artistic freedom in “The Yellow
Wallpaper” and tracing the connections between economics, gender, and social roles in
Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation between Men and Women as a
Factor in Social Evolution (1898) and in Herland. In The Awakening, Kate Chopin was
chronicling a woman’s search for artistic and sexual expression and her failure to achieve
this within her socially repressive society. Leah Blatt Glasser explains that their work
“represented the ambiguities of women’s experiences in the late nineteenth century [and]
explored psychological complexity” (218). Many of their stories depicted women who
demonstrated the “conflicts between socially unacceptable fulfillment and acceptable self
denial” (229), and Glasser adds that this was a “concept that dominated women’s lives at
the turn of the century,” one that challenged the notion that the only “meaningful work for
women was “devoted motherhood” (219).
While this list of American women writers in somewhat limited, and the list does
not include contemporary male writers, such as Mark Twain, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and
William Dean Howells, these writers sufficiently articulate the differences between
mainstream American literature and Queyrouze’s work as a French Creole writer. My
intention is not to situate Queyrouze among all writers of the time period, but to
demonstrate the ways in which she departed from prominent mainstream writers.
During the mid-to-late nineteenth century women often used writing as a means of
financial support, and marketability was a factor in their literary choices. For example, in
a letter to a friend, Freeman admitted that that she was “‘forced to consider selling
qualities’” (Glasser 219). Kilcup and Edwards note that Jewett was a “writer deeply
conscious of contemporary literary trends [which] underscores her manipulation of
market influences” (17). To that end, many of these women wrote local color sketches
because they were highly marketable. These stories “depicted authentic regional detail,
including authentic dialect, authentic local characters, real geographical settings,
authentic local customs and dress” (Donovan New England Local Color 7). During her
career, Jewett wrote “more than 170 works of fiction” (Donovan 2) comprised of short
fiction, novels, children’s books and poetry. Mary R. Reichardt notes that “between 1882
and 1928, Freeman published approximately 250 short stories in a wide variety of
magazines and newspapers” (ix). This proliferation was caused not only by literary
impulses, but by economic need. Freeman wrote to one of her professors that she had to
make a living writing and that poetry simply would not provide an adequate income.
For a time, Gilman supported herself by making greeting cards and teaching until
her professional life flourished. She became an outspoken proponent of women’s rights,
and her treatise, Women and Economics concentrated on women’s place in society and
sought recognition for the value of women’s labor. Gilman believed that people could
forge their own destiny and create their own social evolution. This is articulated in her
utopian novel Herland (1915). Well known for her political essays and social
commentary, Gilman asserted that “things could be changed for the better and
surprisingly quickly, by dint of individual effort,” a belief system that defined her as an
optimist (Rudd and Gough x). She foresaw “great changes in people in general, and
women in particular, [which] altered their ways of life and thought” (x).
During the height of her career, she was respected as a voice for the role of
women in society, and according to Lisa Ganobcsik-Williams, Gilman was “a social
theorist [ . . . who] placed the issue of women’s economic oppression at the center of her
arguments for social reform” (16). She was fortunate to have a “network of friends that
provided her with primary emotional connections or with what today we might call a
‘support group’” (Donovan 6). She was deeply aware of “connection, commitment [and]
community” (Kilcup & Edwards 8). Her regular correspondence with other women
writers included Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary E. Wilkins
Freeman, Rose Terry Cooke, and Willa Cather, among many others (16), and she was
credited with having influenced Kate Chopin and Willa Cather. Her work often dealt with
the “tension between individualism and the participation of the self in a community
identity” (Donovan New England 103), and she focused on female friendships and
community through her investigation of narrative structure.
The characters in American women’s stories often dealt with the same social
issues that preoccupied the lives of the authors, and many of the characters were joined by
other women during the process of struggle and recognition—as were the writers
themselves. In addition, the plots often served as an infrastructure for the articulation and
exposition of key issues unique to the female experience. Jewett addressed “the
artificially limited possibilities of emotional and intellectual development afforded
women” (Donovan New England 99-100). For example, in the Country of the Pointed
Firs, the narrator says that “we die before our own eyes; so we see some chapters of our
lives come to their natural end” (210), but the novel is also hopeful because the women
accompany one another through these chapters in their lives. “The women help one
another” (Donovan 117), an aspect that is absent in Queyrouze’s work. In “The
Foreigner” Jewett scores her narrative with the theme of the strong female friendships,
which serves as an alternative model to the patriarchal structure of her mainstream
America. Freeman’s stories often “deal with the mother-daughter bond or with similarly
intense relationships between women” (Donovan New England 121).
Among these writers there appears to be a shared sense of community in a
diachronic and synchronic dialogue, and within their work one can perceive an
intertextual dialectic. Unlike Queyrouze, these women were a part of a “widely
circulating cultural discourse” (Bauer and Gould 5) that was contributing to “the
emerging national community” (12) as defined by Habermas as the “large imagined
public community” (Nelson 39).Jewett was leery of “extreme individualism” and
believed in the “virtues of association” (Donovan 73). Beginning in 1886 and continuing
through 1895, her stories focused “on individuals moving out of their shells of isolation
towards participation in a larger community” (73). In 1896, she published The Country of
the Pointed Firs, which revolved around “the presence of two women at a series of events
and the growth of their relationship with one another” (99); it was a story of community
and the effects that people have upon one another. Queyrouze’s work, however, does not
follow this pattern. The experiences she relates are solitary and self-reflective. This is
further evidence of her isolation from the mainstream of literary tradition. Even though
she lived far from the hubs of literary activities in New York and Boston, she spent
extended periods of time in New York working for Harper’s Bazar.This would have
afforded her ample exposure to the current literary trends and to the influences of
contemporary society. Therefore, her separation was not predicated on lack of
opportunity, which can lead to one possible conclusion-- her isolation was one of choice.
While the forgoing demonstrates the differences between Queyrouze and these
writers, there are several connections arising from the internal conflicts they experienced
while trying to simultaneously maintain and challenge their social constructs. Freeman’s
duality is found in her “conflicts between defiance and submission, self-fulfillment and
self-sacrifice” (Glasser xvi). “In some of her work, the voice is defiant, unwilling to
submit. In other works, we hear passive acceptance and internalization of oppressive
standards . . . ending with inevitable ambiguity” (xviii), but her focus was on women. In
her 1908 novel, The Shoulders of Atlas, she describes a woman who is paralyzed by her
vacillation between submission to cultural pressures and rebellion against them. An
interesting comparison piece to this is Queyrouze’s “Atlas” (1901) that describes the
burden of carrying the weight of her culture. The classical references of the stoic symbol
of Atlas is accompanied by references to his female counterpart, the stone Caryatid, who
holds over her head the heavy burden of the temple. Also included are references to Ixion
and Sisyphus who represent ceaseless toil and eternal burdens: For his crimes of murder
and adultery, Ixion was condemned by Zeus to be spend eternity bound to a fiery wheel,
and Sisyphus was punished by Zeus for his deception and trickery to eternally roll a stone
uphill only to have it fall as he neared the top. These symbols support the central theme of
stoicism in “Atlas”:
On my descending path, suddenly I saw an enormous shadow
And, against the clear sky was a deformed profile
Of a Giant bending at the knees.
His heavy face looked out into beautiful space.
And I expected his athletic shoulders to crack
Under the awesome burden while the tempest
Blasted him, roaring over his flashing crown
And his lightning scepter.
“Oh you of the universe
Dark Caryatid! Atlas, convict of a prison
Immense! You live to roll these mountains
Into the waves of forgetfulness that Sisyphus carried
Under Ixion’s wheel, haggard and despairing,
At last you rest; then once again you rise shaking,
Your godless Olympus reviving
Your deadened muscles.”
The monster cannot move
Yet seems to turn to his pupil and stops
In the misty eternity, and in a voice that echoes
like the thunder to say: I watch
In the night that fills your eyes, and I know all.
Yes, the Olympus is deserted, but Prometheus is standing;
Cursed for eternity. I am the last one; I remain.
Listen and you will know. Jupiter in a gesture
Left upon my back this horrible burden.
No more do I wish to see through this curtain
Of my dazzling tears, so inscrutable into my very core.
I contemplate my soul or scream blasphemy . . .
[UU-71 7:54]
(Appendix 240)
The Shoulders of Atlas and “Atlas” indicate that Freeman and Queyrouze could
not escape the inscribed boundaries of their culture. Amy Kaplan states that Freeman
“‘stayed within domestic regional boundaries while subverting them as centers of social
protest’ . . . but she never asks her characters to step outside of the system” (215). This
was also true for Queyrouze because she centered her battle on the pages of periodicals
that reached only a select audience. While Freeman’s characters remainedinside her
domestic space, Queyrouze remained within the self-constructed Creole system of
cultural isolation. Because Queyrouze was writing in French to a diminishing audience,
her literary obscurity was a self-fulfilled destiny; however, many mainstream women
writers who enjoyed widespread fame during their lifetimes fell into anonymity in the
twentieth century until they were resurrected during the feminist movement of the
seventies, as was the case for Gilman.
An intersection of ideologies between Gilman and Queyrouze involves their
patronizing attitudes towards other classes and cultures. However, from a new historicist
perspective, this “can be seen as part of the social climate of the times and it is possible to
describe her views as representing the best intentions expressed in terms which are only
now regarded as patronizing and white-centered” (xiii). Ganobcsik-Williams articulates
the value in investigating these conflicting impulses within the writing of social
reformists. To view history in binary simplicity or to leave this area of “race, class, and
ethnicity” unexamined ”blocks a fuller understanding of [their] place within intellectual
history in general—and within late nineteenth—and early twentieth century social reform
discourse in particular” (16). However, this does not “excuse [their] naiveté and
ignorance concerning the hardships encountered by people of color in the United States
and the repercussions of condescending attitudes” (17). For instance, in “A Suggestion
on the Negro Problem” (1908) Gilman states that “Americans were experiencing different
stages of evolution, with whites having reached a higher stage than blacks” (19), a
comment that is “extremely callous and naïve” and one that reveals her “ignorance in
dealing with racial issues” (20). Assuming her own racial superiority, she notes in
Herland that “it was important to know one’s ‘exact line of descent,’ and that her own
bloodlines were reassuringly traceable to America’s white Puritan founders” (23). This is
remarkably similar to Queyrouze’s discussion of the treatment of blacks in her Crusader
article, written under the pseudonym, Salamandra. In her 1889, is an article entitled “The
Race Problem Logically Discussed,” Queyrouze, warns that the “inequity of the fathers
will be visited upon the children.” The same law of heredity that applies to Nature applies
to nations because a nation is “but a magnified image of the family.” She reasons that the
“present troubles between the white and black races” is a result of the “grievous sin
committed by our American predecessors: the importation of the Negro,” but then she
quickly adds that her own ancestry is pure, saying that “the writer of these lines, whose
ancestors were born in Louisiana for many generations, belongs to the purest type of the
noble Latin and Gallic races combined, and has consequently no interest in being partial
to the black race” [UU-71 7:52].
While Gilman and Queyrouze used poetry as a means of artistic expression, the
difference rests in their choice of style and topic. Gilman “sought to use poetry as a
political force and to this end made use of styles which had an established popular
appeal” (Rudd, Gough xviii). Catherine J. Golden writes that Gilman “began her public
career as a poet and wrote poetry throughout her life as a means of social criticism” and
that “her nearly five hundred poems expose problematic aspects of traditional
domesticity” some gathered in her volume of poetry entitled In This Our World (1896)
(243). Golden characterizes Gilman’s poetry as a body of work that does not follow any
prescribed literary school but says that it does echo the style of Whitman, and Gilman
refers to her public poetry as a “‘tool box. It was written to drive nails with’ because she
“saw no point in writing without a social purpose” (244-5). Her poems “subvert
patriarchal ideologies, challenge female subjugation, and argue for equal rights [ . . . and]
calls for women’s empowerment” (245). In a poem entitled “To the Young Wife” Gilman
Are you content, you pretty three-years’ wife
Are you content and satisfied to live
On what your loving husband loves to give,
And give to him your life? (246).
Queyrouze’s discussion about this issue is limited. “Lolotte” is an isolated example:
So why then, at the flower of her age
does she enter into marriage,
when she had all the time to choose?
But we all attend the party
and we all turn heads,
and take advantage of serious fools
and we all join in the treachery
to commit our suicide
so all that's left is farewell.
[UU-71 7:56]
(Appendix 259)
This poem indicates that Queyrouze imagines marriage to be an end to autonomy
and indeed, to be a form of death, but she does not cast the blame on the men whom she
deems as “serious fools;” rather, she considers women culpable—they have become their
own worst enemies. However, this type of social commentary about women is scant in
Queyrouze’s oeuvre while it comprises the bulk of Gilman’s poetry.
Gilman’s private poetry, however, reveals another side of her nature, and in this
aspect she is most akin to Queyrouze. Both women exhibit “complex dichotomies
between [their] public and private lives” (Knight 283). The subject matter of their poetry
often deals with the love and with loss. Denise D. Knight focuses on Gilman’s
unpublished private verse that reveals Gilman’s “deepest hurts, her highest ambitions, her
darkest fears” (269). While Gilman is optimistic in the public realm, her private verse is a
mixture of hope and loss. She writes in her diary in 1883:
Alone am I, chillhearted [sic] still, and dreary;
Alone art thou, sadhearted [sic] worn, and weary;
Alone indeed are we.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alone are thou, I know not of thy sorrow.
Alone am I; and all life’s tomorrow
Looks desolate and grey. (277).
While Gilman’s sense of sorrow and loss is intermittent and often punctuated by
hope and joy, Queyrouze’s work retains the sense of sadness throughout, thus articulating
the major difference between the writers, for while Gilman is essentially an optimist,
Queyrouze is a pessimist.
Mainstream American women writers exhibited a shared sense of community and
purpose, addressing women’s issues in genres that were marketable and widely read.
Their synchronic goal was to effect changes in the fabric of American society. From
within the cultural system, they were attempting to make changes that would afford
women more autonomy and power. As such, their mission could be described as one
wherein they were trying to make their society function more successfully and fairly. The
essential difference between these writers and Queyrouze is that she was writing outside
the system. Her aspirations were driven by different impulses—she was trying to cast
blame on the American cultural system rather than trying to change it. Granted, American
women writers were challenging the system, but their work could not necessarily be
characterized as hostile, while Queyrouze’s relationship to the dominant culture was
antagonistic. She perceived her role to be warrior, attempting to rescue her culture from
oblivion. Symbolized by the busts of Diana and Venus gracing her parlor, she injects her
poetry with the themes of warlike protectionism and elegiac love. While she admits that
“it was never my original intention to fight” and that she never wanted “this dark
struggle,” nevertheless, she declares her intentions to use her words as a sword:
“Ad Pennam”
Gold and fine pearls are reflected in the sky
Like fine jewels, but I want to make it into a sword
As we both struggle for the same dream,
Without faltering in the clash of a strange duel.
It was never my original intent to fight over the honey
Of the swarm of Hymette. Or burning leaves.
My large heart is still open for you even as you drink from it without pity
Never realizing that the venom you drank was bile.
But when I lost faith, I lost courage,
The hand I placed in yours was for our alliance
And I did not reproach you, but alas, was it not to reconcile?
Oh, I never wanted this dark struggle
Or wished for the power to defeat you! Oh no. Rather, for us to sway
In the shrouding river, where we could fall into silence [UU-71 7:56].
(Appendix 264)
Increasing the intensity of her rhetoric, Queyrouze admonishes those she believes
were traitors to her cause and in angry tones she takes issue with those who gave into
pressure and succumbed to the enemy in “Parce Nocere:”
You are a passing traitor bathed in infamy
And bowed with shame, and you extend a hand?
Have you washed your feet that were hurt along the way?
Have you cleansed the outrage from your dirty face?
To save yourself from the foul enemy,
Affronted by their hisses, strong and superhuman,
Did you acknowledge your brother and share the light
And spread your coat over him while he slept?
Misfortune on you! . . . [UU-71 7:56] (Appendix 265)
In “Allegorie: Peusée d’un Créole” (1891), she uses an analogy to describe her
sentiments about her culture being overrun by America, which she depicts as a parasite.
Her anger surfaces when she refers to this parasite as a “living insult:”
In the old trunk is a withered branch that is destroyed.
There are no more flowers, foliage, or fruits.
Around its barren surface a voracious vine
Surrounds it, climbing and overrunning it. Empty
Is the source of life. Even worse, the face of
This ghostly tree can feel a living insult:
Thereupon it hatches and gleams a strange flower
With the breath of a parasite that feeds itself on meager light [UU-71 7:55].
(Appendix 238)
While the previous poem makes oblique references to her enemy, she is less
circumspect in her poem “Imprecatio” (1891). Her enemy is clearly named, and she uses
the images of the “river” to demonstrate how her culture was overwhelmed, and the
“tomb” and the “abyss” to indicate how she defines the fate of her culture. She
characterizes their experiences as one of exile, and she mourns the loss of her language
that was the mode and method she used to preserve her culture and speaks to her
insistence on writing mostly in French:
. . . the fading flower of our Creole race
Once a proud race. The other nation
Those mere infants with their blonde looks and words
Crush under their heels the generations
Of the French and the Latin, the grand Spanish,
And all those who knew the same passion.
To love, to seek vengeance, to hate, to forgive . . .
. . . Our ancestors’ language
Is now denigrated and only found on headstones.
Cut off and exiled, we are ushered to the
The large rolling river where its heavy waves take us under
Taking all, carrying all, into the tomb of the abyss [UU-71 7:55].
(Appendix 255)
These excerpts give voice to Queyrouze’s cause, which was not to secure
women’s rights, but to secure the future for her culture. In “Caryatis,” she describes her
self-assigned role, which is to stoically carry the burden of cultural preservation, and she
appears to achieve some comfort from her poetry in order to sustain her efforts.
Over your head, you hold the massive granite architecture.
Through the breadth of time,
You have never bent,
And your far reaching look grows and
Sees the delirious passage of humanity,
And several times that lighting has engraved your eyes
And scolded the temple, trembling,
But your remained standing while I am ready to fall
Under the weight . . . .
Seeing you, I stand up braver . . . [UU-71 7:56].
(Appendix 244)
In a brief poem, simply entitled, “Sonnet,”she articulates her pain and likens her
attempt to save her culture and her ultimate failure to the Stations of the Cross:
If ever you learned to despair
All that you had cherished, and rose up with your face smeared
And your knees bleeding, at the last station
Of the cross on Golgotha, and then drink without ever emptying
The deep chalice that makes you tremble close to breaking
And to doubt that you and the gods are the same;
And like Julien, without any comprehension
Cast your blood to the heavens without being able to appease;
If ever your dreams became grindstones and all seemed
Formidable, and Life was for you an empty soul
And Like Samson, you wandered in the desert
Without dawn and without stars in delirious darkness
Well then, gladiator, I am forced to smile
Ah! Do not blaspheme. You have not suffered!
L’Abeille 1896 [UU-71 8:59]
(Appendix 273)
This poem indicates that she knew that she was fighting a losing battle, and while
there are some parallels between Queyrouze’s work and her contemporaries, their literary
paths diverge. Separated be culture, religion and regions, Queyrouze was following a
distinctly different literary path. Jewett, Freeman and Gilman were publishing in the
prominent periodicals whereas Queyrouze was submitting her work to journals that were
reaching an increasingly smaller audience. Queyrouze’s themes did not call for the
autonomy of women; rather, she was fighting for her culture. There is, however, one
significant connection to American writers, one that can be found in the work of Kate
Chopin (1851-1904), and she represents an interesting mixture of American and Creole
sensibilities and serves as a bridge between the two worlds.
Chopin was born in into a comfortable middle-class Irish family in St. Louis, but
she was exposed to the French culture through her relationship with her grandmother.
Schuyler notes that she enjoyed an active social life in St. Louis before meeting Oscar
Chopin, a “wealthy cotton factor of New Orleans” who had a distant connections with the
Charlevilles” and had “hosts of ‘cousins’ in the Pelican state” (Petry 62). After a lengthy
sojourn in Europe, Kate and her husband moved to New Orleans. Over the next ten years,
she bore six children. Joy Jackson notes that Chopin lived in New Orleans for ten years
where her husband worked as a cotton merchant. When his business went under, they
moved to Cloutierville, and he opened a general store in 1880, but he died in 1882. Kate
remained for two more years before returning to St. Louis where she began to write short
stories, character sketches and novels about Louisiana characters. Her turn towards
writing was brought about by necessity. Kenneth Eble explains that after Chopin’s mother
died in 1885 Chopin began writing in order to support her family. Kate’s work was well
received and she reached some financial success, but that changed when her novel, The
Awakening, was published. Eble relates how much controversy her novel created upon its
publication in 1899. It was removed from library shelves, and she was refused acceptance
into the Fine Arts Club in St. Louis. Up until that time, her work had been widely
accepted and had gained momentum alongside other local color writers such as Grace
King and George Washington Cable.
The 1899 reviews of The Awakening were passionate and centered on the
character of Edna Pontellier. One author declared that Edna’s death should serve as a
cautionary example of what happens to women when they follow their whims. Another
denounced Edna and expressed satisfaction that she took her life. Others disagreed and
expressed compassion for Edna, while still others tried to delve into the reasons that Edna
failed to find artistic and personal actualization. Some believed that she acted without
courage because she did not understand, as Mademoiselle Reisz did, that true art demands
great courage.
The debate also focused on Chopin’s ability to understandthe Creole culture.
William Schuyler related that her father, Thomas O’Flaherty, was a “native of Galloway,
Ireland, and for many years was a prominent merchant in St. Louis. Her mother was the
daughter of a Huguenot family” (Petry 61). Schuyler attempts to trace Chopin’s affiliation
with the Creole French to the “French blood in Mrs. Chopin’s ancestry” (61). As
evidence, he notes that Chopin grew up attended by black servants and that she was
exposed to their dialect as well as the French patois spoken by grandmother. When she
began writing, Schuyler argues, her tastes in reading leaned “to the French school.” She
read with pleasure Moliére, Alphonse Daudet, and especially De Maupassant and Zola”
(63). Eble notes that Chopin read “Flaubert, Tolstoy, Turgenev, D’Annunzio, Bourget,
Goncourt, and Zola” (Petry 81). Joseph J. Reilly believes that Chopin was emulating
Maupassant who espoused the view that “character rather than situation” is the key to
understanding passion (Petry 71), and Chopin followed this model in her novel The
Awakening. Moreover, her direct style, descriptions, and conclusions—sans the cynicism-
- could be ascribed to Maupassant. Eble praises The Awakening, saying that it is
“advanced in theme and technique over the novels of its day and that it anticipates in
many respects the modern novel” and argues that it is “not characteristic of American
writing” (Petry 76). He compares Chopin’s novel to Madame Bovary claiming that
“Chopin herself was probably more than any other American writer of hertime under
French influence” (77). Eble defends this claim by stating that her “background was
French-Irish; she married a Creole; she read and spoke French and knew contemporary
French literature” (77). Her exposure to French prose influenced her writing style, but I
believe that her enculturation in Midwest American values was an overriding guide to the
moral underpinning of her work.
Chopin was an American writer, in spite of her associations, and thus could never
be entirely free of the Anglo-American influence. Her exposure to the French Creole
culture did not equate to being one with that culture because close associations could not
replace social indoctrination. Any ethnographer will attest to the fact that an individual
who investigates a culture –even one’s own---is at once removed. This disjunction can be
found in the character of Edna Pontellier who Larzar Ziff believes “was an American
woman, raised in the Protestant mistrust of the senses . . . . [but] her nature awakened in
the open surroundings of Creole Louisiana” (304). Thus, Chopin’s sensibilities were not
unlike the character she imagined. Edna was an outsider, “though she had married a
Creole, [she] was not thoroughly at home in the society of Creoles” (Chopin 18). Like the
character she imagined, Chopin could not have possibly foreseen upon her arrival in New
Orleans as Oscar Chopin’s wife that “respectable women took wine with their dinner and
brandy after it, smoked cigarettes, played Chopin’s sonatas, and listened to men tell
risqué stories. It was, in short, far more French than American” (Ziff 297). Chopin was
an outsider to this culture and clearly was aware of the difference. Emily Toth describes
Chopin’s experience:
Although she had French roots, and was even related to several Cloutierville
families on her mother’s side, the new Madame Chopin was a thorough outsider
in the eyes of Oscar’s family. New Orleans was still occupied by uniformed Union
soldiers, and Kate Chopin had come from a state that had not seceded . . . to
Oscar’s relatives, Kate’s Midwestern origins, her frank and forthright ways, and
her insistence on doing strange things –such as taking long walks by herself—
made her seem more Yankee than Southern. They regarded her with great
suspicion and disapproval (66-67).
Adding to this suspicion was the Chopins’ choice to live on the “other” side of
Canal Street; the “newlyweds deliberately chose a house outside the Quarter, across the
Canal Street dividing line, ‘the American side’” (65). Even when they were outside of
the city at the Creole resort at Grand Isle, Kate was treated as “a foreigner, a Northerner,
and an outsider” (78).
Chopin inscribes Edna Pontellier with her own sensibilities: Edna failed to
negotiate her place in the Creole social structure, and was unable to resolve the disparate
aspects of herself as she searched for role models to follow. Sandra Gilbert and Susan
Gubar describe this tortuous path of self-definition and the difficulty of finding suitable
role models. In the introduction to The Awakening and Selected Stories, Gilbert states that
the novel reveals the “wordless wail of every woman whose passion for self fulfillment
has been forbidden or forgotten” (8). One of Edna’s role models (one which some critics
have dubbed the “madwoman in the attic”) is Mademoiselle Reisz whose “clarity of mind
offers a striking contrast to the essentially abstract nature of Edna’s quest” (Thornton 88).
Even though Edna has the sensitivity of the artist, she does not have the required sense of
self and inner discipline to succeed, and Reisz admonishes her by saying that “to succeed,
the artist must posses the courageous soul . . . that dares and defies” (Chopin 106).
Lawrence states that Reisz in the “only example of a free, independent woman” in the
novel (89) even if her character is flawed by her willingness to be aggressive and
insensitive, often quarrelsome and brusque. In spite of this, she embodies certain qualities
that are similar to Leona Queyrouze. An accomplished pianist living in the French
Quarter, she is independent, artistic, outspoken, and unmarried. However, Queyrouze also
has many of the qualities that Chopin reserves for Edna who is passionate and is plagued
by feelings of longing and loss. While Queyrouze was subject to sentimentality and
melancholy, she was assertive, independent and outspoken. In many ways, Queyrouze’s
life is an amalgam of the characters portrayed in The Awakening, thus indicating that a
true picture of what it meant to be a Creole in New Orleans at the close of the nineteenth
century can be found more clearly in life than it can in fiction.
The mixture of these American sensibilities and Creole influence imbue The
Awakening with a tension that resembles the uneasy relations between the Creoles and
Americans towards the close of the century. Edna is a paradox, for she is American in
much of her sensibilities yet “dressed” as a Creole. Her inner sensibilities are American:
she feels puritanical restraint on her sensuality, both as an artist and as a woman, and she
lives in the American section of New Orleans on the other side of Canal Street. Yet, she
adheres to the customs and manners of the Creoles. Perhaps her blueprint was Chopin
herself, who was understandably American given her upbringing, but who had learned the
manner of the Creoles. Like her character, Chopin was trying to fit into a model that was
foreign to her. The difference is that Chopin, who had an affair with a married plantation
owner, did not suffer the same fate she ascribes to her character.
Edna ends her life in the sea where she had began her awakening, and this raises
the question why the location off the mainland is where Edna finds both birth and death.
Does it mean that on the mainland, a place that was quickly becoming Americanized, she
could not survive? Clearly, it was not solely Robert Lebrun who had awakened Edna, for
her lovers became interchangeable. In the closing chapter of the book, she says “Today it
is Arobin; to-morrow it will be some one else. It makes no difference to me” (188). This
might indicate that it was her entry into a place-- not her association with lovers-- that
caused her awakening. Perhaps, it was the “voice of the sea [that] speaks to the soul”
(Chopin 25), and that Edna—like Queyrouze-- was reaching for something that was just
out of reach. In the end, Edna swam towards that ephemeral dream even though she knew
she was swimming towards her demise.
Many scholars believe that Edna serves as the voice of a woman who is being
drowned by her oppressive culture, but I would add that she also serves as a symbol for
the Creole society. Edna is the voice of women; Queyrouze is the voice of Creoles.
Queyrouze is aware of her own demise—as an individual and as a culture— and she
documents this descending arch in her poetry and her essays. Try as she might to hold on
to her dream, it was vanishing, and she reached for it even as she knew that it was
sinking. Edna said that when she awoke from a nap and looked out over the island that it
seemed as if “a new race of beings must have sprung up, leaving only you and me as past
relics” (Chopin 63). Likewise, Queyrouze says in “Silhouettes Créoles”there has been a
change because of the “the absorption of the Creole race into the Anglo Saxon element.”
She continues, saying that the “irresistible flood of assimilation takes over rapidly without
resistance; the tide rises to submerge us, the current drowns us” [UU-70 6:47]. Thus, one
must ask: Who is it that drowns at Grand Isle? Is it Edna or is the Creole culture? If Edna
is an American, her death symbolizes her failure to thrive within a patriarchal social
structure that suppressed women’s artistic freedom. If she is a Creole, her death is
emblematic of the drowning of a culture.
Queyrouze’s oeuvre indicates that she was simultaneously fightingto preserve her
culture at the same time she was mourning its demise. The sense of elegy also migrates to
her expressions of love, and the result is a body of work that is, all at once, rebellious,
mournful, plaintive, and stoic. The causes for the demise of the French Creole culture are
numerous, but the central cause is that they were out of rhythm with the rest of the
country. For her part, Queyrouze was a woman out of place and out of time. Her poetry
shows her preoccupation with love, nature and death, which were hallmarks of French
Romanticism, yet her structured style and classical references reveal that she was
borrowing from of the Enlightenment period as well. Thus, her poetry did not belong to
the period in which it was written, but rather to the literary period that had ended long
before she was born.
The French Romantic period was an outgrowth and reaction against of the
Enlightenment, and Robert T. Denommé outlines the events leading to this period and
those following it. The Enlightenment “indirectly paved the way for French
Romanticism” because of its focus on “simplicity and natural laws” (5). The philosophes
encouraged one to view society without its “existing customs and conventions” (5).
Denommé cites Rousseau’s Le Contrat Social (The Social Contract) that “articulates a
vision of such a society [and. . .] the lush exoticism permeating the novels of Jean-
Jacques Roussau and Bernardin de Saint-Pierre [as] explicit criticism of the conditions
contaminating organized society in the eighteenth century” (5-6). These and other writers
believed that “wisdom and happiness are goals best realized in primitive surroundings”
(6). The exoticism encountered in their novels “surrounds and enshrines the individual as
he turns his back upon a deficient society which he regards as intolerable and unworthy of
reform” (6). This “acts as a liberating force” (7). The Enlightenment thinkers believed
that an “adequate definition of man could be achieved through controlled reason and
logic;” however, the Romantics believed that “reason alone was incapable of arriving at a
comprehensive understanding of man in the universe” (7).
Romanticism had been firmly established in England and Germany for many
years before it took root in France. Denommé cites the reasons for its late arrival:
The spirit of Classicism and of the pseudo neo-Classicism that dominated French
literature for more than two centuries was destined to logically win the ready
approval of the imperial regime of Napoleon and the restored Bourbon dynasty
which lasted until 1830 (11).
The politics and the literature of any nation are inextricably connected, and this
was true for France in the early 1800s. Because the classical style served Napoleon’s
political aims, “strict censorship was instituted during [his] administration that favored
the publication of odes, tragedies, and novels written according to classical prescriptions”
(11). Romanticism did not flourish until these political strictures were loosened.
With the collapse of the empire, the political landscape changed, and so did its
literature. Perceiving their role to be the voices of reform, poets such as Lamartine and
Hugo with “exalted fervor and messianic zeal,” pursued their “humanitarian concerns . . .
and their dreams of social utopias”(32). Lamartine argued that “poetry had a service to
render society,” and Hugo believed that a poet should function as the voice of social
responsibility. They regarded their “position of the poet as leader and guide,” and this
ideology held through the 1840s during the regime of Louis-Philippe when the “social,
political, religious, and poetical elements merged together” (32). When French
Romanticism finally took hold, it was a very “effective combination of the use of reason
and emotion” (12), and Lamartine, Hugo and Vigny tried to “rework the tenets and
traditions of Christianity into a new framework to make it correspond to the need of the
nineteenth century” (140). They sought to “append the more personal mystiques of
emotion, sentiment and intuition to reason in order to arrive at a more comprehensive
view of the universe” (41), and they were inspired by Germaine Necker de Stael, who was
“the first significant theorist of French Romanticism” with the publication of her book On
Germany in 1810 (12). Hugo saw de Stael’s work as a manifesto and believed that
“ancient literature is for us a modern transplanted literature; however, romantic or
chivalrous literature is indigenous to us, since it is our own religion and institutions that
have inspired it” (15-16). Thus, it is imbued with “spirituality and Christianity” (16).
Madame de Stael believed that the “objective [of literature is] to move the soul and
ennoble it” (17).
Leona Queyrouze was often called the “little Madame de Stael” by those in her
salon, and this is an important distinction because Queyrouze’s work embodies many of
de Stael principles, which classified “all of western literature as either northern of
southern” (13). “Northern” was Britain and Germany—foggy and imaginative—which
was permeated with religiosity. “Southern” was Greece, Rome, Italy and France and
Spain, which were influenced by pagans; southern was simultaneously sensual and
logical. This may account for the sensuous imagery and references to pagan gods found in
Queyrouze’s work.
However, long before Queyrouze was born, the Romantic period in France ended.
The “campaign by the leading French Romanticists for a social utopia ended cruelly and
abruptly in 1851 with the assumption of Napoleon III as emperor” (40). Thus, when
Queyrouze began to write her poetry in the 1880s, she was adhering to the style and
sentiments that she had long been out favor, both in America and abroad.
Not only did Queyrouze follow romantic traditions, she incorporated classical
references in her poetry. In fact, she dedicated some of her work to Jean Baptiste Racine
(1639-1699) who wrote several dramatic masterpieces (considered the great tragedies of
the French theater) as well as poetry, all of which relied on themes from Roman and
Greek classics. Racine’s style was neoclassic and his classical poetry employed rhymed
alexandrine verse. Queyrouze’s classical references were following this tradition.
Primarily, however, her work reflects the romantic style. Some of her poetry is
dedicated to Alfred de Musset, one of France’s leading romantic poets and dramatists. In
her poem “a l’Opera,”Queyrouze begins with an epigraph by Alfred de Musset, and then
proceeds to emulate his style, using the music of opera as her muse. Frits Noske explains
that many of Musset’s poems were composed under the “influence of music” (74), and
Queyrouze takes Violetta’s voice to inspire her verse and to express her heart-felt pain:
Violetta’s song disturbed the space between us,
her hymn learned too late burned into our hearts,
Embracing us both with powerful sweetness
entering our sleep, awakening the pain . . .
L’Abeille 1886 [UU-71 7:56].
(Appendix 262)
In her poem, “Resurge,” she addresses the power of music directly and says that it
has the power to release her from the confines of ignorance and to raise her to higher
levels of thought:
I crouched against a wall. Then, in the shadows, the sounds
From a crimson apparition came, suspended in air
Nebulous and trembling, spreading its
Wings of New Thought. And my reveries were channeled
Into the mystery, harkening to the delirious verse,
Until I left my misty prison, following the music
Of the low voice, leaning towards my release . . .
L’ Abeille 1908 [UU-70 6:45].
(Appendix 271)
Musset believed that “Romanticism is rooted in the belief that love, with its
attendant joys and sufferings, constitutes the greatest single source of man’s inspiration
since it reveals to him the significance of human existence “ (131), but he felt that this
kind of intensity could not last. There is a pervasive sense in his poetry that “his energy
and time is limited an that he wished to convey the intensity of his love experience in
poetry before his time ran out” (132), and there is this same sense of urgency in
Queyrouze’s work as well; for example, in “Vision,” she says:
So much life still—and love
And the fullness of kisses sweet,
Like prayers upon the altar of death,
Life lies triumphant
Trembling like a devouring flame.
But I feel the searing pain enter my soul
Like a funeral bird, and I fear the flame . . .
C.R.A.L. 40 [UU-70 6:45]. (Appendix 276)
Musset defined poetry as ‘spontaneous conversation with the heart” (Denommé
136), and Queyrouze often used her poetry to express her love, loss, and longings. Note
the similarities between Musset and Queyrouze in this excerpt. Musset writes:
Sachez-le, c’est le Coeur qui parle et qui soupier,
Lorsque la main écrit, --c’est le Coeur qui se fond;
C’est le Coeur qui s’étend, se découvre et respire,
Comme un gai pélerin sur le sommet d’un mont.
Know that it is the heart that speaks and sighs, when it is the hand that
writes, it is the heart that dissolves itself; it is the heart that stretches itself,
that exposes itself and breathes, like a happy pilgrim who has reached the
mountain top (Denommé 138).
Queyrouze declares in “Impromptu”:
If I were Romeo I would dare to climb
These fragile vines to reach you in rapture
And I would climb to the heavens for my love
[UU-70 6:45]. (Appendix 258)
In “Phyrne” she addresses her love:
If you had not so many urgings born of Doubt
Love, we could have been so much more, sweet and true
So that when the winds of strife would rend us,
We would have spread our wings of love
And sailed across the troubled skies [UU-70 6:45].
(Appendix 266).
In “Somniavi,” she uses the analogy of a vine reaching towards the sky to symbolize the
aspirations of the heart:
On a rugged rock, there were tangled fragile vines
Trying in vain to climb to the sky
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Until finally they leap with abandon
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
With their pale flowers spiraling with pure desire
Until the rays of heaven descend in radiant splendor
Taking them to the sky, where they bloom into stars
L’Abeille 1908 [UU-70 6:45].
(Appendix 272)
Musset writes in “la Lettre á M. Lamartine”:
Qu’un instant, comme toi, devant ce ciel immense,
J’ai serré dans mes bras la vie et l’espérance,
Et qu’ainsi que le tien, mon rêve s’est enfui?
That for an instant, like you, under this immense sky,
I held life and hope in my arms and that like yours,
my dream escaped from me? (Denommé 140).
Note the similarities in style and theme in Leona’s 1911 poem “Agonie” when she says:
Once my soul held a cherished vision
and like a tree , it grew in strength and love
and its very summit held the skies aloft
. . . was it a dream—a dream all? [UU-71 7:55]
(Appendix 237)
These similarities in tone, style, and theme indicate that Queyrouze drew upon
Mussset and the French Romantic tradition for her poetry. She also relied on Victor Hugo
for inspiration. Indeed, the similarities were so apparent that when her poetry was read
before the Academy of Sciences in Bordeaux, the president wrote her grandmother
praising Queyrouze, saying that she was a poet in the tradition of Hugo and Lamartine.
There are several examples that demonstrate Hugo’s influence on her work.
Queyrouze’s poem “á ma Mère” embodies the hallmarks of French Romantic
literary tradition, inspired by Musset and Hugo. She sees the stars in the heavens as
hopeful signs, but the stars, like the French Romantic period, are extinguished:
Why flee, o radius of love,
Without return?
Stay and shine to the heavens where springs
All our hope.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A capricious sprite
In the heavens
Suddenly saw the star and plucked it
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Leaving the tender lovers
In torment . . . . . [UU-71 8:59]
Queyrouze acknowledged Hugo in this poem by incorporating his words in an
epigraph: “Vois,--c’est un météore! Il éclate et s’éteint” (See--it is a meteor! It explodes
and dies away). Note the similar imagery in her sonnet for “Magda Turpin”:
. . . You eyes are closed like those fading stars
Under a brilliant sun, but the meteor
Makes your face resplendent and raises you above the pain
[UU-71 7:55]. (Appendix 274)
There are distinct similarities between Hugo’s poem “Ce que dit la Bouche
d’ombre” (What the Mouth of Darkness Says) and Queyrouze’s poem “Ce qu’ont dit les
Montagnes” (What the Mountain Said). Both of these demonstrate a “mystical belief in a
world that participates in the being of God in universal harmony” (Denommé 38).
This philosophy is articulated in Hugo’s verses:
Imaginais-tu donc l’univers aurtement?
Non, tout est une voix et tout est un parfum;
Tout dit dans l’infini quelque chose á quilqu’un;
Une pensée emplit le tumulte superbe.
Did you imagine the universe any differently? No. There is but one voice and one
perfume. In God everything says something to someone. There is but a single
idea, and it permeates the superb hubbub of creation (Denommé 40).
This same philosophy functions in Queyrouze’s work, and is most clearly
expressed in her poem, “ce qu’ont dit les Montagnes.”One can see that there is a single
idea and one voice that exists in all creation. She combines all religions—that of the
pagan gods and the God of Israel and all creation is combined in one “vibrant harmonious
Night weighed heavy upon the sacred summits
Where the distant centuries in returning mists,
Like giant specters veiled in shrouds of mystery,
Listened to the echoes of the earth
Through a door that sometimes opened fleetingly.
All at once in the dreadful calm
There was heard the formidable vibrant harmonious cry
Of the first song of the world and the mortal cries of agony
Of Creation falling once again into the void.
In many voices towards a gaping space,
They all cried out: Bend your face, o zenith, to me.
I am the Himalaya. Once I knew
An unknown hand that carved us from chaos,
And this hand carried the purest of jewels,
The star of day, the flaming spirit of Being,
And when I saw this immense fearsome master
Tears etched my face at its incredible beauty
That was modeled after eternity,
Rising above the immortal souls,
This, his work and his love, so plaintive, so beautiful,
So forgiving. I have seen these things
While upon my flanks I have felt
Rising humanity flooding the immense plains
Where, they tire of the invisible chain
And turn to build great granite towers of Babel,
Where science robbed them of the dream of knowledge
Because their God is veiled in the infinite limits
Of the unlimited.
Oh sun of Israel,
Sinai, shakes his mane of lighting,
His voice resounding through the air
Like vibrant echoes of sacred trumpets,
Its brightness striking the wayward tribes.
“Surely, there is nothing more than this, Sinai,
for on my forehead rests the foot of Adonis
as I keep repeating the eternal words,
the pregnant knowledge of what is to come,
while my shoulders carry the sapphire sky
With weight so heavy that weariness returns.”
There is a flame embracing the heights of Parnassus
Where triumphant Helios reigns
With his dominance over the world, where the sudden wind
That comes from the infinite resounds the lyre,
Awakening into a divine ecstasy
The mountains of the gods. Hail fiery Apollo!
Towards you the whirlwind swarms,
Towards the ideals, the ecstasies and the dreams.
The diadem rocks beneath the sword,
Too tired to strike, it breaks, for every god, in turn,
Will sleep in exile but for you, who with fiery breath
Replenishes the universe, returning the souls to their specters.
You are immortal, almighty Helios!
Master of my summits, father of Asclepius.”
Upon my mountain’s sleeping flanks
Come your fleeting flames of dawn.
Then imperial Palatine speaks:
And in his rough accents, he speaks of the bright
Clash of the shields and the battle cries.
“I slept unaware, and when I awoke
I was crushed under the sacred plow of Romulus
And the elected gods called for the blood of Remus
Which fertilized my breast-- and the harvest was Rome!
Where therefore is my god, the mountain, or the man,
Where the words of glory?”
Now comes another voice: I speak
with humility and dreadful remembrance
Of nameless tortures and dark mortal agonies.
I am Golgotha, Brother of twins.
On that day I felt, captive and trembling,
A living God against my flesh inclining
Thrust with a flaming sword,
And in profound mute witness I saw a flaming cross
Erected among the roaring people.
O mountains! The gods demanded your blood,
All for the sublime dream
Of tears for forgiveness, the abyss
Reached for the stars, the suns
Surrounded His head with a radiant halo;
His soft forehead was torn under an infamous crown,
And I, black Golgotha, the field of this sinister crime,
Who knew the footfalls of a God
Remain still under the blue heavens of an eternal sun
[UU-71 7:55] (Appendix 245)
Within these lines, she combines sacred mythological and religious symbols in her
references to the hills of Golgotha where Christ was crucified, as well as the mountains of
Parnassus, Mount Sinai, and the Himalayas. She alludes to the Old Testament when she
includes references to the tower of Babel, and she mixes these Christian images with
pagan ones, such as the sun god Helios, Apollo, Asceplius, Palatine, Romulus and
Remus. She references an unforgivable crime that incurs a debt that can never be repaid,
and in doing so alludes to her own mission to rail against the perceived crime to her
culture. Likening her role to the dumb and helpless hill, Golgotha, she situates herself as
the dumb witness to events and employs romantic imagery where nature is in sympathy
with her cause speaks for the narrator.
Her poetry also exhibits a divergence from American writers, not only in theme
and tone, but in aesthetics as well. She mourns the loss of her dear friend in her elegiac
poem, “In Graecium” (1893) written in honor of Placide Canonge. Her lines are replete
with loss and longing and punctuated with classical imagery and allusions. Note how this
poem seems to belong to the Neo-Classical and Romantic periods rather than late
nineteenth century America. She uses romantic metaphors and once again personifies
nature in harmony with her spirits (in ancient Greek mythology, the cicada represented
immortality and/or rebirth). She includes classical references to Helen, Hymette
(Hymettus), Socrates, Pericles, Apsasia, and Alcibides (Alcibiades) in a mixture of pagan
and Christian symbols:
The hand let go and dropped the fragile vessel
Once so full of mead, and the echoing vase
Is broken, spilling its fragrant liqueur.
Like Helen’s violets, that fills our hearts
covering the mountains of Hymette,
Like the honey the bee carries
with its golden lance, full and restless
With its perfume, I will write my sacred poem to you,
And from my memories I will pluck
My verse, soft and sad, in this diaphanous hour . . .
When the flanks of the mountains come to the plains
In their coat of shadows, so far away,
Sheltered, shuddered in a harmonious unity,
Where Socrates laughed at the red elixir,
Where Pericles listened to Aspasia
With general Alcibides at his side. Come, now,
To the boundless banquet, and on your ivory chariot
Come to the place of spirits. This is the time of your glory,
Of desire and love. Your compatriots will come,
And these silent guests will circle your pale forehead
with branches of ivory and violets
And will crown your head with white bandlettes.
---In the distant hills the day climbs to its end, fleeting
Light floating on mountain lakes
Casting an amber reflection on your violet sepulcher,
Preparing your spirit. In the shadows, the cicadas begin the golden monochord
Of their vague rhythm while you sleep,
And when their chant is silenced, the moment
Becomes but smoke and the shiver of fevers,
Yet the day lingers against the constellations
While the flights of birds etch the sky
in the rising north winds.
Suddenly a strange cold comes over me
Blowing against the flame and against the phalanx
Where the flare of tombs ignites the granite
Which towards you inclines, and I resist and curse
For I saw the thunderbolt strike the trees
Illuminating how cold, how heavy, is this white coat of marble.
Three times the Angelus repeated the word, and my song begins its ending with a
sob [UU-71 7:54]. (Appendix 252)
After much suffering on earth, Canonge is welcomed home like a returning hero
to join the gods, and by placing him in this context, Queyrouze raises the level of French
culture and ideals embodied in the quintessential aristocratic and noble Canonge to
Parnassian heights. Thus, the French Creoles who waged and lost the battle of securing
hegemony in America would find, upon their deaths, their rewards in both pagan and
Christian terms. Canonge would join the great democratic leader of Athens, Pericles who
lives in eternity with his consort Aspasia and his war general Alcibiades. Queyrouze
likens her verse to the honey produced in the mountains of Hymettus near Athens, and
when she notes that Pericles “listened to Aspasia” she may be inferring that she is like
Aspasia who had been well educated by tutors employed by her father and who had
earned both admiration (notably by Socrates) and castigation in her adopted Athens. Her
poem, therefore, adheres to the principles set forth by de Stael who characterized southern
European literature as having pagan influences, but this poem also crosses those
boundaries by including the religiosity of the north, for Canonge would also earn his
Catholic everlasting reward as the tolling of the Angelus bells indicates, a prayer that asks
that “it be done according to thy word,” and “that we may be made worthy of the
promises of Christ.”
In spite of the hopeful message of this poem, Queyrouze often succumbs to
melancholy. “Amor” is a good example of Queyrouze’s isolation, sadness, and loss,
when she almost audibly sighs, “ Verser autant de pleurs, verser autant de sang . . . Puis
mourir sous tes pas en révant que tu m’aimes ( “to bleed so many tears, to tear so much
blood . . . then to die under the steps of my friends.” On many occasions, she
superimposes the loss of her culture onto the passing of friends. One such example is “A
mon amie, Magda Turpin” (1891). Continuing her battle imagery, she also makes
references to the “enemy” culture and in the romantic tradition, likens her departed
friend’s eyes to stars and her life to a meteor. This is one of the few indications of
Queyrouze’s close friendships to women:
Yesterday I cried for you, today I sing for you.
Have you felt my tears upon your sleeping face?
Have you heard my voice? Your heart must have shuddered
When your mother spoke to you softly and imploringly.
Do you breathe again? Your friends
Speak of your valiant soul. The teeth of the enemy can do no more
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..
You eyes are closed like those fading stars
Under a brilliant sun, but the meteor
Makes your face resplendent and raises you above the pain [UU-71 7:55].
(Appendix 274)
In “A Hyacinthe Loiseau,” she mourns the loss of a dear friend and quotes the
French Romantic poet, Alfred de Musset who speaks of suffering over the tomb. She
again personifies nature and describes how the flowers and birds who witness her pain
speak to her. True to romantic traditions, she finds truth and wisdom in Nature:
. . . And the flowers in the path who saw my distress,
Said: Where are you going with such grief pressing upon you,
Is it he who you go to see this morning?-- The sparrow,
bantering as he perched on his branch, shouted at me:
What pain do you have? Is it for some man?
We do not sulk here for we have eaten the apples
Of our garden . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Who do you look for? asked the pale Chrysanthemum,
--the flower of the death. I look for a tomb. And the flower
Answered me: His pain is now quiet
But now it begins for you . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alas! You cry at the death of others
But they sleep without hatred or remorse
Do you not know that it is necessary to suffer so that a dark joy
Can rise in your heart? . . . .
Your friend is made well again by his leaving
When he answered the call of the dark archangel
. . . . our flesh deceives us,
For only death is true . . . [UU-70 6:45]
In “Impromptu” (March 20, 1898) she speaksto the living, but her tone is still
elegiac as she responds to a passerby who had once been a close and dear friend. Her
reference to Mars is in keeping with her predilection to maintain classical images, and
this underscores her persistent war imagery. She also includes her pervasive death
imagery in by her inclusion of the term “funeral dirge:”
I see you coming, and I fear, there will be some embarrassment,
And an uncomfortable surprise. I see under your arm,
Pressed against your side,
the dreaded walking cane.
Perhaps I will tell you we shall remain friends.
But I know Mars has an old rival. And my heart will gasp
For one instant before it rights itself.
This will require Virtue in me,
For this is only my wounded pride; thus I will
Dispatch remembrances of the Past,
Of one brief embrace, one without reproach.
But the blessed Past, like a returning ghost,
Tries to speak to the present about love and faith.
But I will vow to respect the laws of Virtue
And to nourish my soul as well as its vessel.
So that the lasting heat of the Past shall expire.
Because I now know your path
I can rest without fear or dread
And in a forlorn funereal dirge
Forsake your lie for my law [UU-70 6:45] (Appendix 256)
Years later, the theme of sadness still marks her work as demonstrated in “Agonie”
written in 1911:
. . . So when were the dreams of souls broken?
What insidious worm began to gnaw at its core?
Which parasite drank up the sap of its heart
and silenced the music of the heavens? [UU-71 7:55]. (Appendix 237)
The “worm” and the “parasite” that “drank up the sap of its heart” is a thinly
veiled reference to the Anglo-American culture that she perceived as the enemy. Unlike
mainstream American women writers who were trying to effect change within the
patriarchal social system, Queyrouze was situating herself in opposition to that culture.
Moreover, she ignored the marketable and widely circulated genres of the novel and short
story and continued to publish French poetry, which not widely accepted as a
commercially viable or influentially significant endeavor. By writing in a genre and
language that could no longer reach the public, she was withdrawing from the flow of
American life and assuring her own obscurity. As Lafcadio Hearn had advised her, the
new direction of literature was towards realism, which was a literary doctrine calling for
reality and truth in ordinary life, but she ignored him. George Washington Cable, Brett
Harte, Kate Chopin, Mark Twain, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
and Sarah Orne Jewett were advancing past the local color movement towards this new
frontier, one that traveled into the interior psychological landscape of their characters.
Instead, Queyrouze turned backwards and dedicated her poetry to Hugo, Lamartine, de
Musset, and those French Romantics whose rise and decline and already been chronicled
long before she was born.
This comparison between American and French literary tradition raises a question
as to the inclusion of Queyrouze in the category of an American writer. This query
assumes that there are established criteria for the elements comprising a national
literature, and this dissertation does not presume to attempt to define an American writer.
Instead, as Tunnell says, I will harbor no “delusions of definitiveness;” rather, I will pose
questions and merely suggest answers (7). If one believes that an American writer lives in
America, then Queyrouze fills the requirement, but that criterion would eliminate many
ex-patriots whom we claim in our canon. If one includes a language requirement, that
would exclude all non-Anglophone writers, but our national literature claims many
languages. Moreover, the definition does not rest upon style or subject matter. With such
nebulous criteria, the answer is elusive. There have been many works that have addressed
the composite of the American writer, and rather than provide an exhaustive analysis,
instead, I will borrow from Sarah Orne Jewett, who says in “At Home from Church:” “I
somehow feel as if shut out/ From some mysterious temple” (678). I suggest only that in
order to enter the great cathedral of American literature, writers must first be permitted
through the gates and then allowed to join the congregation and join the discourse.
Without that opportunity, their voices will never be heard nor will they have influence.
Within this great hall, writers share a sense of common purpose and engage in a
dialectical discourse—their work has a synchronic and diachronic quality wherein the
writers speak to each other and give nod to those who have influenced them. Thus, they
are members of a congregation, and when they rise to the pulpit to speak, often the choir
will take up their refrain. This is not the case for Queyrouze, for while she expressed her
opinions publicly, hers was another church altogether, one that was romantic, French, and
Catholic, instead of realistic, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. She was not consciously
attempting to seek membership in the great hall of American literature; her pilgrimage
was towards a disparate self definition. If one were to ask Gilman, Freeman, Jewett,
Chopin, and Cable if they were American writers, no doubt the answer would be yes.
Thus, the act of becoming an American writer is often determined as much by personal
choice as it is selection, but Queyrouze chose an alternative. Her efforts were devoted to
trying to write her culture into history by the force of her pen. Her love and her passion
lay elsewhere, and she expressed this with poignancy in her poem, “A La France”:
Oh France, I wish, like a jealous lover
To find new words in an unknown language
In accents as profound and soft as clouds
To speak of love. . . .
I would like the time to come to welcome night
in my sleep I could feel upon my flesh
The embrace and kisses of a spouse.
Before my soul climbs to the light
With ears trembling, and tearful eyes
That wake to the frail light of morning, blue
as violets, and feel the blood in my veins
Like sparkling grapes pressed into wine
To fill to overflowing our loving cup [UU-71 7:54]. (Appendix 251)
This poem clearly expresses her love for her imagined motherland, but while
Queyrouze may not lay claim to the title of American writer, we must permit her to enter
the gates of the cathedral we call American literature and allow her to rise to the pulpit to
speak, at last, of the experiences of those who lost the battle for autonomy in the great
flood of American expansion. Queyrouze provides for us, in the words of Gottfried von
Herder, a sample of “poetry’s gallery of diverse way of thinking, diverse aspirations, and
diverse desires” (143). Through her, we can “come to know periods and nations more
intimately that we can through . . . studying political and military history” (143).
Furthermore, Herder argues that we can learn much about a culture from its poetry: “We
can learn about its way of thinking, its desires and wants, the ways it rejoiced, and the
ways it was guided by its principles or its inclinations” (143). Greenblatt and Gallagher
reinforce this by describing the value applying a new historicist template to literary study.
The benefit is that scholars are allowed to follow “the social energies that circulate very
broadly through culture” and to see “the entire range of diverse expression by which a
culture manifests itself” (13). By moving “beyond the confines of the canonical garden”
(14), we are be able to see the “vastness of the textual archive, and with that vastness an
aesthetic appreciation of the individual instance” (16), and thereby we are able to
acknowledge that the “house of imagination has many mansions” (12) and that there are
many missing pieces in the mosaïque of American literature. American writers often have
spoken to the ideal of potential and relied on the possibilities expressed by Emerson,
Dickinson, Whitman and Thoreau, or have believed that like Ishmael, they would survive
adventure and adversity to tell their tales, or like Huck, they could escape the confines of
society to “light out for the territories.” In the nineteenth-century, many Americans
believed in possibility and promise, and theirs was a dream of expansion and tomorrow,
but for others, like Queyrouze, theirs was a tale of loss and a dream of the past.
Leona Queyrouze’s work articulates the stages of grief-- those of denial,
acceptance, and sorrow--which indicates her awareness that she was a part of a dying
culture. Even as she held onto it, she also knew that its days were numbered, just as the
days of her life were numbered. In her poetry she eulogized her dead friends who had
once been a part of her salon. Images of death permeate her poetry, suggesting that she
knew she was seeing the last of the French Creoles’ carefully constructed and nurtured
world. With the passing of each one of her friends and family, her mother and father,
General Beauregard, Paul Morphy, Placide Canonge, Charles Gayarré; her husband,
Pierre Barel, she was left increasingly alone until by the end of her life, she was holding
onto to futile romantic dream. Evidence of this can be found in her unpublished and
highly sentimental short story written in 1933 entitled “The Flowers of Nirvana: The
Love of Two Souls.”
In this brief story written in large script on small pieces of paper (that probably
once were pinned to the walls in her room as she described in one of her interviews)
Queyrouze tells the story of a young man who is compelled, for reasons he does not
understand, to go to New Orleans. There at a boarding house, he meets an elderly but still
radiant woman. Through their long talks over the next several weeks, they learn that their
souls are connected and that their spiritual love transcends time and place. This was the
answer he sought, and when he leaves her he does so with a mixture of sadness and
contentment. Queyrouze wrote this piece while nearly blind, and this gradual loss of her
sight coincided with dimming of a time and a place that was now only a cherished
memory, her dream of the past.
George Washington Cable describes the death of the Creole culture in The
Creoles of Louisiana, saying that social “change carried [the Creole] nearer and nearer
towards the current of American ideas and absorption into their flood, which bore too
much the semblance of annihilation. Hold back as he might, the transformation was
appallingly swift” (254). In a prophetic farewell novel to New Orleans, Lafcadio Hearn
likewise addresses the death of the French Creole culture. This novel, Chita, describes the
disappearance in 1856 of an island called L’Isle Deniéreoff the coast of Louisiana. Much
like Grand Isle, it had been a favorite destination for many French Creoles in the midnineteenth
century, and they often congregated there to bathe in the sea and to attend
social gatherings. Such was the case one August night when partygoers, unaware that a
storm was approaching, attended a ball at l’Isle Derniére. A ship captain, who had been
unable to warn them, docked just in time to witness the storm as it completely submerged
the island, drowning all but a few and sweeping all of their belongings away to be
scattered by the currents. Strangely enough, Hearn’s account proved to be prophetic, for
what he describes is analogous to the disappearance of the French Creole culture in New
Orleans that began its decline towards the middle of the nineteenth century.
Joy Jackson notes that “from the 1880s on, the Creoles were a declining ethnic
group and no longer a vital factor in politics . . . in its twilight years” (14). By the time
that Cable described the Creoles culture and the Vieux Carré, Jackson says, their “way of
life was only a museum piece which would pass out of general existence within thirty
years” (14). Queyrouze was a woman who was out of place and time---she no longer
lived in a world where her culture could thrive and her literary endeavors were no longer
relevant to the direction that America was taking—a vibrant county that was moving
towards industrialization and commerce, leaving the agricultural riches of cotton and
plantations behind and the evil of slavery with them.
The economic reasons for the French Creole decline began long before the Civil
war and Reconstruction. Jackson states that “actually the troubles against which New
Orleans commerce struggled in the 1880s and 1890s had their roots in antebellum times.
Her supremacy as the trade mart of the Mississippi Valley had been challenged early in
the century by the building of canals and in the 1850s by railroads” (208). She continues,
saying that “no other major port showed such a radical change in trade patterns” as did
New Orleans from 1894-1898 (212- 213).
Cable offers other reasons and muses that “it is hard to understand, looking back
from the present, how so extravagant a mistake could have been made by wise minds”
(241). He estimates that they were blinded by their current wealth and did not realize that
with the opening of the Erie Canal, the westward expansion, the railroads, and the
advancing steam technology that their livelihood was threatened. Not only that, the basis
of their wealth, slavery, was more than a social evil, it created for the Creole “easy
fortune-getting” and spread ”intellectual indolence” (242). Their mindset had a kind of
“invincible provincialism” (245) that prevented them from realizing that the “improved
transportation, denser settlements, [and] labor-saving machinery” of the rest of the nation
was leaving them behind (249). Cable accuses the Creole of “too much false pride against
mercantile pursuits [ . . . and of a] social exclusiveness” that ultimately led to a downfall
(251). He summarizes their situation:
In [many] American cities, American thought prevailed, and the incoming
foreigner accepted it. In New Orleans American thought was foreign, unwelcome,
disparaged by the unaspiring satirical Creole, and often apologized for by the
American, who found himself a minority in a combination of social forces oftener
in sympathy with European ideas that with the moral energies and the enthusiastic
and venturesome enterprise of the New World (252).
The Creoles consistently and self-consciously separated themselves from the
American culture. Cable indicates that the “rich Creole, both of plantation and town, still
drew his inspiration from the French tradition,--not from books,--and sought both culture
and pastime in Paris” (260). In addition, the Creoles depended too much on land and
slaves for riches. In the rest of the nation there stood a “triumph of machinery over
slavery that could not be retrieved, save possibly through a social revolution so great and
apparently so ruinous that the mention of it kindled a white heat of public exasperation”
(254). Even so, among their members were those who brought them fame and infamy,
and Cable recites a list of illustrious Creoles: one was the “Minister of War in France . . .
another sat in the Spanish Courts; another became a Spanish Lieutenant-General . . . Jean
Jaques Audubon . . . Louis Gottschalk . .. . General Beauregard” (315). Not surprisingly,
this is a mosaïque of people who, when viewed from afar, develops into a panorama of
intriguing complexity, but one thing they shared was an understanding that they were
members of a dying culture.
Tregle’s “Early New Orleans Society: A Reappraisal” shows that the Creoles had no
defense against the incoming Americans with “their impressive education, capital,
resources, and business acumen [which] enabled these newcomers to take control rather
quickly . . . . The Creole businessmen were no match for the Yankee entrepreneurs”
(Logsdon and Hirsch 91-92), and they were “absorbed and made to submit to the fate of a
conquered race . . . with a rapidity and thoroughness . . . much greater than that with
which the Romans transformed the people who submitted to their arms” (Tregle 161). “It
[was] a race passing into the valley of shade and oblivion” (162), sometimes by business,
often by marriage. The Creoles culture failed to thrive because it was “set in its tradition,
enveloped in its memories, [living] almost entirely in the past, a stranger to the progress
and spirit of the times” (168). All that is left are the architectural relics, residual public
festivals, and marketable iconic trinkets.
When one visits New Orleans today, one can still see the remnants of that lost culture
in the French Quarter which holds a particular “foreign” atmosphere. The identifiable
French Creoles have disappeared, but their legacy is found in the narrow, crowded streets
lined with wrought iron balconied structures hiding interior courtyards, and one can still
walk past the home where the Queyrouzes once lived. There is an air about the Quarter
that still remains defiantly un-American, and one cannot help but pause to reflect on the
people and the place that once belonged to a foreign territory.
These were the streets that Leona Queyrouze walked, and the Vieux Carré was the
Frenchtown she cherished. In spite of the social and political upheaval, her ultimate goal
was to safeguard her way of life, regardless whether she was progressive or traditional.
With the support and contribution of her salon, she quixotically dedicated her efforts to
the preservation of her culture and attempted to use the force of her pen to keep her
customs, traditions, and love of French literature alive. Even as she failed, her attempt
was valiant and worth recognition. Those who criticize the Creoles for their social
injustice must also acknowledge that each culture is more than the sum of its parts, for as
Fredric Jameson argues, a cultural period does not express a “unified inner truth” (27).
Queyrouze is an illustrious shard in the mosaïque of her culture, and within her, as in any
enlightened individual, there is a mosaic of sensibilities, aspirations, hopes and dreams.
To study Queyrouze, we are engaged in a “project of salvation” (20) as expressed by
Jameson, and thus we are able to access history in ways that are unavailable to us “except
in textual form” (35).
The goal of this project was to make Queyrouze available to a modern audience so
that she may be studied from various critical perspectives and to assist in providing a
more complete understanding of the Creole culture. Through an ever-widening critical
lens, I have attempted to place Queyrouze in the context of Creole identity, her
environment, salon culture, politics, ethnicity, and literary movements, in order to provide
a portrait of the Creole society’s parochial retreat that precluded its viability. There is a
recognition of this cultural loss in Queyrouze’s poem, “le Tisserand”:
Sur le vaste horizon la treme était tendue;
Pourlant je ne vis point la main du tisserand
Et j’entnudis gronder unecho de torrent
Au fond du noir allence; es je vis, éperdue
On the vast horizon, the hand of the weaver extends
I do not see the hand of the weaver,
But I hear the groans and the echoes of the torrent
And I fear the black wing, where I see that all is lost [UU-71 7:56].
She expresses similar sentiments in “Vision” written in 1885 and read before the
Academy of Sciences in Bordeaux, France:
I will not hear the cries of nations
like an expanding torrent, invading the lands
ravaging the harvest, with hope dying in pain,
brutally crushed back into stony furrows.
So swiftly time hurries, its winds destroying
the ripened fields of enterprise, ideals and hopes,
running in its course all joy and suffering
of bewildered people, crushed like chaff in the whirlwind
of eternity 1885 C.R.A.L. 40 [UU-71 6:45]. (Appendix 276)
This expresses her ineffable grief over the inevitable death of her constructed
culture, “crushed like chaff in the whirlwind.” Francis Parkman writes that “theFrench
dominion is a memory of the past; and when we evoke its departed shades; they rise
upon us from their graves in strange, romantic guise” (Woodward The Future of the Past
Leona Queyrouze serves as an individual example of the collective demise of the
Creole who failed to see the signs of change and to adjust to the New World. Her fate as
well as the fate of the French Creoles raises the question that many ethnic groups face
today of how to retain cultural markers while becoming part of the dominant society. In
many ways, this leaves us with a paradox, for it appears impossible to attain both
disparate identity and acculturation simultaneously. One dynamic calls for ethnic
discretion and the other assimilation, two opposing forces on the same magnet with the
power to attract on one hand, and repel on the other. Perhaps the only answer I can offer
to this dilemma is to respond with responsible scholarship in the spirit of new historicism
by my commitment to add a silent and forgotten voice to the ongoing human
conversation. To retrieve a lost cultural moment will enhance our understanding of the
process of Americanization on a doomed social construct, a small island of French Creole
culture, swept away by the sea of America, and that it can heighten our awareness of the
responsibilities that come from acknowledging our own history.
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This section contains a representative sampling of Queyrouze’s work, and does
not contain, by any means, her entire oeuvre, but among these poems, one can find a
voice of rebellion and elegy, one that speaks from a lost cultural moment. These
translations comprise my work of salvation, one that attempts to re-capture a voice that
belongs in our canonical garden.
As to translation work, I will rely on the advice of those who have gone before
me. Lafcadio Hearn makes his observations about this endeavor:
It is by no means sufficient to reproduce the general meaning of a sentence:--it is
equally necessary to obtain a just equivalent for each word, on regard to force,
colour, and form,--and to preserve, so far as possible, the original construction of
the phrase, the peculiarity of the rhetoric . . . . A most laborious, cautious . . . work
. . . A work requiring intense applications, wearisome research
(McWilliams 179).
Almost sixty years later, Norman Shapiro writes about his translations of poetry in
the anthology Creole Echoes, saying
though always working with a text created by another, every translator, by
choosing from a vast number of possibilities, leaves a personal mark on the work
undertaken . . . . As ever, I have been guided in my translations—my recreations—
by the fundamental desire to carry across into English both the
message of these poems and their manner (xxi-xxiii).
My intentions have been the same, and to that end, I have offered the most exact
meaning of her lines of poetry as possible, but in doing so, had to eschew her rhyming
patterns. In any attempt to duplicate the musicality and meter of each line, I would have
had to sacrifice, in many places, the elegance of her sentiments—and that I could not do.
Contents in Alphabetical Order
Agonie 237
Allegorie 238
Arrigo Boito 239
Atlas 240
Caryatis 244
Ce qu’ont dit les Montagnes 245
Le Désir 249
Fatôme d’Occident 250
A La France 251
In Graeciam 252
Imprecatio 255
Impromptu I 256
Impromptu II 258
Lolotte 259
Nocturne 261
A l’Opera 262
Ad Pennam 264
Parce Nocere 265
Phyrne 266
L’Regret 267
Response 270
Resurge 271
Somniavi 272
Sonnet 273
Sonnet a Magda Turpin 274
Suite Dépêche 275
Vision 276
Mon âme avait jadis une chère patrie
Où le chêne puissant de l’amitié croissait.
Pour soutenir le ciel sa cime se dressait
Et ses rameaux chantelent à l’ étoille fleurie.
A son ombre s’ouvrait, fille de l’Ionie,
La tendre violette; et sans peur mûrissait
La moisson de l’espoir q’un rayon caressait
Etait-ce donc un rêve en mon âme meurtrie?
Quel insecte a rongé le bel arbre vainqueur?
Quel parasite a bu la sève de son coeur?
On n’entend plus les chants dans la haute ramée;
Une pesante nuit tombe de l’au delà;
L’étoille s’est eteinte et la fleur s’est fermée.
C’etait un rêve, helasun reve tout cela!
24 Aout 1911 Constant Beauvais
Once my soul held a cherished vision
and like a tree, it grew in strength and love.
Its very summit held the skies aloft
with branches blooming among the stars.
The night sky opened for the daughter of Ionie;
the tender violets bloomed without fear,
the harvest of hope blessed by light.
So when were the dreams of souls broken?
What insidious worm began to gnaw at its core?
Which parasite drank up the sap of its heart
and silenced the music of the heavens?
Leaving my soul in the darkness of tombs
with its stars extinguished and blossoms closed.
It was a dream, alas! A dream all!
--September 24, 1911
Pensée d’un Créole
Du vieux tronc désséché les rameaux sont détruits.
Ils n’avaient plus ni fleurs, si frondaison, ni fruits.
Autour du flanc stérile une liane avide
Euroule ses anneaux, et par cent lèvres. vide
La source de sa vie. Et déjà sur son front,
L’arbre spectre a senti, comme un vivant affront.
Eclore et resplendir une fleur étrangère
Qui se balance aux vents parasite et légère.
-Constant Beauvais
Nouvelle-Orleans mai 1891
Allegory: The Passing of the Creole
In the old trunk is a withered branch that is destroyed.
There are no more flowers, foliage, or fruits.
Around its barren surface a voracious vine
Surrounds it, climbing and overrunning it. Empty
Is the source of life. Even worse, the face of
This ghostly tree can feel a living insult:
There upon it hatches and gleams a strange flower
With the breath of a parasite that feeds itself on meager light.
L’Abeille June 21, 1891
“Par Arrigo Boita”
Hommage et remerciement à l’illuire auteur de
Arrigo Boito
Tous les anneaux d’or fin qu’à tes blanca doigts d’écume
Les dogos ont passé, je voudrais les ravir,
O folie Adriatique, aux écrins de saphir
De ton trésor étrange, ét j’en ferals ma plume.
Invincible et magique. A l’encensoir qu’allume
Dans l’oranger en fleurs le sylphe du désir,
Je viendrais la tremper; à l’alle du plaisir
Je prendrais sa poussière, à la vapeur qui fume
Sur le flanc des côteaux, le soufflé fulgurant
Des fannes de Falerne; au volcan dévorant
La flamme dont rêvait sur son roc Prométhée.
Puis de tous ces rayons, Maitre je te ferais
Un sonnet plus fragrant que le miel d’Aristée;
Et ma plume et mon coeur ensuite briserais
--Constant Beauvais 1894
“For Arrigo Boito”
All the rings of fine gold circle your white fingers like dross
I will pass all others and would like to delight
In you in Adriatic madness and take the sapphire jewel case
Of your strange treasures and unfurl my pen.
Invincible and magical. The censer of light
In the color of orange blossoms, the sylph of desire,
I would come and be tempted to seek pleasure
I would like to take his magical dust and his misty vapor
On the flanks of the hills, the stabbing light breaks
Of Falerne’s fans, and the volcano devours
The flame where Prometheus’ rock lies
Then of all these rays, maestro, I would make
A sonnet more fragrant than the honey of Aristee
And my pen and my heart would break.
L’Abeille December 23, 1894
Sur ma route tomba, soudain, une ombre énorme,
Et, dans le clair azur, se proflia, difforme,
Et courbant en vaincu les genoux, un géant.
Son front lourd se penchait sur l’espacebéaut,
Et j’entendis craquer l’épaule de l’athlète
Sous son faix sidéral tandis que la tempête
Lui jetait en grondant sa couronne d’éclairs
Et son sceptre de foudre.
“O toi de l’univers
Sombre cariatide! Atlas, forcat du bagne
Immensité! Tu vis rouler de sa montagne
Jusqu’aux flots de l’oubli Sisyphe délivré.
Sur sa roue Ixion, hagard, désespéré
Enfin s’est endormi; léve-toi donc, secoue
Ton Olympe sans dieux désormais et dénoue
Tes muscles engourdis.”
Le monstre, san bouger,
Releva sa prunelle où semblait se figer
L’éternité brumeuse et, de sa voix pareille
A l’écho du tonnerre, il répondit: Je veille
Dans la nuit qui remplit ton oeil, et je sais tout.
Oui, l’Olympe est désert, Prométhée est debout;
Des damnés éterneis, moi le dernier, je reste.
Ecoute et tu sauras. Quand Jupiter, d’un geste,
Eut ployé mes durs reins l’horrible fardeau,
Je ne voulous rien voir à travers le rideau
De mes pleurs fulgurants; et, fermé dans moi-même,
Je contemplais mon âme oú hurlait le blasphème.
Mais un jour je sentis, sur ma paupière en feu,
Comme un frolement d’aile et, sur l’unfini bleu,
J’entr’ouvris mes yeux las et je vis. Ô merveille!
Passer en bourdonnant et semblable à l’abeille
Qui va chercher son miel, une planète d’or
Et puis encore une autre, et, prenant leur essor
Autour de mon front noir, les innombrables mondes
Ont tendu les rayons de leurs harpes profondes.
Sur mon cou moins meurtri l’Olympe s’allégea;
Une étoile nouvelle avait chassé déjà,
De son fouet lumineux, les fleurs dieux de la Grèce,
Et je les entendis, surpris dans leur ivresse,
Laisser tomber la coupe et s’enfuir du banquet
Pour descendre au Néant le chemin qu’indiquait
Un doigt mystérieux, fait di’ombre et de lumière.
Une voix quie me lit chanceler en arrière
Me dit: Va maintenant; ton temps est consommé.
Rejoins-les. Ne crains point que le monde abîmé
Dans le gouffre sans fond se fracasse en atomes;
Car j’ai, pur étayer mes superbes royaumes,
Le bois impériesable et sanglant de ma Croix.
Et moi, je répondis à la divine Voix:
O Seigneur, laisse-moi, sous le poids de ta gloire,
Me courber à jamais, autant que le mémoire
Des soleils durera. Tandis qu’Ahasvérus
Monte vers ton pardon à travers Arcturus,
Aldébaran farouche et ta poussière d’astre,
Moi, je veux être, ô Dieu, l’immobile pilastre
Qui soutient ta splendeur, et sentir sur mon flanc
S’appesantir, ton pied où perle encor ton sang.
Constant Beauvais 25 Dec. 1901
On my descending path, suddenly I saw an enormous shadow
And, against the clear sky was a deformed profile
Of a Giant bending at the knees.
His heavy face looked out into beautiful space.
And I expected his athletic shoulders to crack
Under the awesome burden while the tempest
Blasted him, roaring over his flashing crown
And his lightning scepter.
“Oh you of the universe
Dark Caryatid!1 Atlas, convict of a prison
Immense! You live to roll these mountains
Into the waves of forgetfulness that Sisyphus carried
Under Ixion’s2 wheel, haggard and despairing,
At last you rest; then once again you rise shaking,
Your godless Olympus reviving
Your deadened muscles.”
The monster cannot move
Yet seems to turn to his pupil and stops
1 priestess of Karyai in ancient Greece, or an architectural pillar in the shape of a draped
2 He was the Etruscan god who is often depicted on a crucified wheel. He was a
Thessalian king who killed his relative. Zeus gave him refuge, but when Ixion tried to
seduce Hera, he was condemned to turn on a wheel for eternity.
In the misty eternity, and in a voice that echoes
like the thunder to say: I watch
In the night that fills your eyes, and I know all.
Yes, the Olympus is deserted, but Prometheus is standing;
Cursed for eternity. I am the last one; I remain.
Listen and you will know. Jupiter in a gesture
Left upon my back this horrible burden.
No more do I wish to see through this curtain
Of my dazzling tears, so inscrutable into my very core.
I contemplate my soul or scream blasphemy.
Until one day I felt upon my eyelids on fire
A touch like a wing from the infinite blue.
I opened my eyes at last-- and I lived. Oh Wonder!
Passing by was a humming like a bee
That was looking for its honey, a planet of gold,
And then again another, and they leapt
about my black forehead, and countless worlds
cast rays like profound harps.
On my less bruised neck Olympus lighted
A new star that hunted again
With its luminous whip the proud gods of Greece,
As they heard, they was surprised in their rapture
And recoiled from the sting to flee the banquet
To descend into the Void that was indicated
By a mysterious finger
One way shadow and the other light.
A voice that knew how I wavered
said to me: Go now; your time is over.
Rejoin them. Do not fear this worldly abyss
In this gulf without end, all crashes into atoms
For I have only the pure and steadfast in my supreme kingdom,
Imperishable wood and the blood of my Cross
And so I responded to the divine voice:
O Lord, leave me under the weight of your glory
I will never bend, as long as the memory
of these suns endures. While Ahasvérus1
1 Known as the “Wandering Jew.” Much legend surrounds this figure. Most likely,
Queyrouze was referring to Pilate’s servant who struck Christ as he was carrying his
cross—who would not allow Christ to rest. In return, Christ told him to await his Second
Coming—thus condemning Ahasverus to live for centuries. Even after Ahasverus
repented, his curse was not lifted.
climbs towards your pardon across Arcturus,1
wild Aldébaran,2 and your star dust.
And I, God, I want to become an unmoving pillar
that supports your splendor, and feel upon my flank
The weight of your foot or a drop of your blood.
L’Abeille December 25, 1901 (Christmas Day)
1 Also know as Alpha Bootis. This is a very bright orange star—the 4th brightest in the
sky. It is one of the three stars that divides the sky in thirds. It is in the constellation of the
Herdsman (Bootes) and is called the “Bear Watcher.” (Arktos=bear Gr.). It follows Ursa
Major(Greater Bear) around the north pole.
2 Also known as Alpha Tauri, the giant red star and the brightest star of Taurus—it is the
bull’s eye. It is the “follower” because it follows the Seven Sisters (Pleiades).
(Aldebaran=Torch Gr.) According to the Persians, it is one of the four Royal Stars.
Note: According to Who’s Who in Classical Mythology. Ed. Michael Grant and John
Hazel, New York Oxford UP, 1993:
Atlas (the one who endures or carries) was supposedly charged with guarding the gates to
heaven and golden apples, but is often described as holding up the sky.
Animam non cruciare, non
perducere ad contempticuem.
Sur ton front de granit las massive architrave
Pèse a travers les temps, sans jamais te courber.
Et ton large regard voit croitre et seccomber
Les peuples en délire l’humanité hâve.
Et bien des fois la foudre effleura ton oeil grave
Et, grondant sur toi, fit l’edifice trembler.
Mais tu restes debout—Et moi prêt à tomber
Sous le poids du dégoût, je me dresse plus brave,
Et ne veux point fléchir—Entassez la douleur
Sur la douleur encore, sculptes bien le malheur,
Ensuite posez-le sur mon âme en détresse;
Soit, mais pas un soupir ne vous révé era
L’agonie où s’éteint ma suprême tendresse,
Ma dernière pitié pour tout ce qui-sera.
3 mars 1898 Constant Beauvais
Over your head, you hold the massive granite architecture
Through the breadth of time
Never have you bent
And your far reaching look grows and
Sees the delirious passage of humanity
And several times that lighting has engraved your eyes
And scolded the temple, trembling
But your remained standing while I am ready to fall
Under the weight of such---
Seeing you, I stand up braver
And not all desires that weigh upon me in pain
In my pain, sculptor of misfortune
Next to put my soul in distress
Be, but not a sign, not our dream of mortal agony or extinguished itself in supreme
For my pitiable back and all that will be.
L’Abeille March 3, 1898
“Ce qu’ont dit les Montagnes”
La nuit des temps pesait sur les sommets sacrés
Où les siècles lointains, dans la brume rentrés,
Spectres géants voilés d’un linceul de mystère,
Rêvent en écoutant les échos de la terre
Que leur porte parfois la tempête en fuyant.
Tout-à-coup éclata, dans le calme effrayant,
Un formidable appel où vibraient l’harmonie
Des premiers chants du monde et le cri d’agonie
D’une création retombée au néant.
Et la multiple voix, vers l’espace béant,
Clama: Courbe ton front, ô zénith, pour m’entendre.
Je suis l’Himalaya. Jadis j’ai vu s’éntendre
La main de l’Innommé qui sculpta le chaos.
Et cette main tenait le plus pur des joyaux:
Astre serti d’argile; esprit flamme de l’être.
Puis aussitôt je vis le redoubtable Maître
D’une larme effacer l’ébauche de beauté
Qu’il avait modelée en son éternité.
Mais au-dessus des flots planait l’âme immortelle
De son oeuvre d’amour, si plaintive et si belle
Encor, qu’il pardonna.—J’ai vu ces choses-lá.
Sur mon flanc j’ai senti, venant de l’au-delá,
Jaillir l’humanité jusqu’à l’immense plaine,
Où, lasse de traîner son invisible chaine,
Elle voulut bâtir ses Babels de granit,
De science et de rêve et bondir en bandit
Jusqu’à son Dieu voilé, gigantesque limite
De l’illimité même.
Au sol israélite,
Sinaï, secouant sa crinière d’éclairs,
Fit retentir sa voix qui sonna dans les airs
Comme un vibrant écho des trompettes sacrées
Dont l’éclat fit trembler les tribus égarées.
“Nul plus que moi n’est grand, car je suire Sinaï.
Sur mon front reposa le pied d’Adonaï
Tandis qu’il répétait sa parole éternelle
Au prophète intrépide ; et j’al vu l’étincelle
Du Verbe féconder les sillons a venir.
Mon épaule a porté les tables de saphir,
Et le poids fut si lourd qu’elle en est encor lasse.”
Une flamme embrasa les hauteurs du Parnasse,
Et l’on vit dans sa pourpre Hélios triomphant
Qui dominait le monde et tout-à-coup le vent
Qui vient de l’infini fit résonner salyre,
Pendant que s’éveillait, en un divin délire
La montage du dieu.---Salut, fier Apollon!
C’est vers toi qu’à jamais s’élance en tourbillon
L’essaim de l’idéal, de l’extase et du rêve.
Le diadème roule à l’abîme le glaive,
Las de frapper, se brise; à son tour chaque dieu
Va dormir dans l’exil. Mais ton souffle de feu,
Repeuplant l’univers, rend aux specters leur âme
Et redonne la vie à tous, même á l’infâme.
Toi seul es immortel, o superbe Hélios!
Maître de mes sommets, père d’Asclépios.”
La montagne se tut et sur son flanc sonore
Palpita, fugitif, un flamboiement d’aurore.
Alors, impérieux, le Palatin parla;
Et dans son rude accent on distinguait l’éclat
Du choc des boucliers et la voix des batailles.
“Je dormais inconnu, quand soudain mes entrailles
Frémirant sous le soc sacré que Romulus,
L’élu des dieux, guidait; et le sang de Rémus
Vint féconder mon sein et ma moisson fut Rome!
Quel est donc après moi le dieu, le mont ou l’homme
Qui pablera de glorie?”
Un souffle dif: c’est moi
Qui parlerai; moi l’humble et qui connus l’effroi
Des supplices sans nom, des sombres agonies.
Je suis le Golgotha, frère des gémonies.
Mais un jour j’ai senti, captif et trébuchant,
Un Dieu vêtu de chair qui montait mon penchant.
Puis alors s’enfonca comme un glaive de flamme
Au plus profond de moi; c’était la croix infâme
Qui se dressait parmi le peuple rugissant.
O montagnes! vos dieux ont demandé du sang;
Et Lui, donnait le sien pour son rêve sublime.
Pour recevoir ses pleurs et son pardon, l’abîme
A tendu son calice étoilé; les soleils
Sont venus entourer de leurs nimbes vermeils
Le doux front déchiré sous sa couronne infime.
Et le noir Golgotha, sinistre champ du crime,
Devint le marchepied de la Divinité
Et reste au senile d’azur de son éternité.
“What the Mountains Said”
Night weighed heavy upon the sacred summits
Where the distant centuries in returning mists,
Like giant specters veiled in shrouds of mystery,
Listened to the echoes of the earth
Through a door that sometimes opened fleetingly.
All at once in the dreadful calm
There was heard the formidable vibrant harmonious cry
Of the first song of the world and the mortal cries of agony
Of Creation falling once again into the void.
In many voices towards a gaping space,
They all cried out: Bend your face, o zenith, to me.
I am the Himalaya. Once I knew
An unknown hand that carved us from chaos,
And this hand carried the purest of jewels,
The star of day, the flaming spirit of Being,
And when I saw this immense fearsome master
Tears etched my face at its incredible beauty
That was modeled after eternity,
Rising above the immortal souls,
This, his work and his love, so plaintive, so beautiful,
So forgiving. I have seen these things
While upon my flanks I have felt
Rising humanity flooding the immense plains
Where, they tire of the invisible chain
And turn to build great granite towers of Babel,
Where science robbed them of the dream of knowledge
Because their God is veiled in the infinite limits
Of the unlimited.
Oh sun of Israel,
Sinai, shakes his mane of lighting,
His voice resounding through the air
Like vibrant echoes of sacred trumpets,
Its brightness striking the wayward tribes.
“Surely, there is nothing more than this, Siniai,
for on my forehead rests the foot of Adonis
as I keep repeating the eternal words,
the pregnant Verb of what is to come,
while my shoulders carry the sapphire sky
With weight so heavy that weariness returns.”
There is a flame embracing the heights of Parnassus
Where triumphant Helios reigns
With his dominance over the world, where the sudden wind
That comes from the infinite resounds the lyre,
Awakening into a divine ecstasy
The mountains of the gods. Hail fiery Apollo!
Towards you the whirlwind swarms,
Towards the ideals, the ecstasies and the dreams.
The diadem rocks beneath the sword,
Too tired to strike, it breaks, for every god, in turn,
Will sleep in exile but for you, who with fiery breath
Replenishes the universe, returning the souls to their specters.
You are immortal, almighty Helios!
Master of my summits, father of Asclepius.”
Upon my mountain’s sleeping flanks
Come your fleeting flames of dawn.
Then imperial Palatine speaks:
And in his rough accents, he speaks of the bright
Clash of the shields and the battle cries.
“I slept unaware, and when I awoke
I was crushed under the sacred plow of Romulus
And the elected gods called for the blood of Remus
Which fertilized my breast-- and the harvest was Rome!
Where therefore is my god, the mountain, or the man,
Where the words of glory?”
Now comes another voice: I speak
with humility and dreadful remembrance
Of nameless tortures and dark mortal agonies.
I am Golgotha, Brother of twins.
On that day I felt, captive and trembling,
A living God against my flesh inclining
Thrust with a flaming sword,
And in profound mute witness I saw a flaming cross
Erected among the roaring people.
O mountains! The gods demanded your blood,
All for the sublime dream
Of tears for forgiveness, the abyss
Reached for the stars, the suns
Surrounded His head with a radiant halo;
His soft forehead was torn under an infamous crown,
And I, black Golgotha, the field of this sinister crime,
Who knew the footfalls of a God
Remain still under the blue heavens of an eternal sun.
“Le Désir”
Gran duol me prese al cor. Dante.—Inferno
Perché cantando il duol si
disacerba. Petrarca.
Un baiser que jamais la lèvre saisit.
Une étoile attirant le papillon caprice,
Jusqu’à ce que son vol se lasse et s’alourdisse;
Un appel insensé l’écho nous redit;
Une ombre qui fait signe et dans l’ombre s’enfuit,
Fantôme que l’on nomme Idéal, Béatrice;
Espérance enlacée au regret; précipice
Où flottent Paolo, Francesca dans leur nuit;
O Désir, monstre ailé, phaléne sidérale!
O démon quie nous tends une toile infernale
Où l’insecte, la fleur, l’homme vient expirer:
Que de genoux meurtris, que de mains étendues!
Que l’homme est malheureux, vivant pour t’adorer,
Et quels soleils naîtront de nos larmes perdues.
Constant Beauvais--Journal de l’Athénée
“The Desire”
The kiss that never reaches the lips.
The whimsy of a butterfly attracted to a star,
Even as it grows heavy and weary;
The senseless cry that echoes and then repeats.
The shadow marks but in a shadow flees,
A phantom with the name, Ideal, Beatrice;
Hope mixed with regret, a precipice
Where Paolo floats and Francesca remains in darkness.
Oh Desire, winged monster, a moth towards the stars,
Oh demon, that extends across the vast canopy
Where all insects, flowers and mankind expire.
Kneeling in pain with hands outstretched!
It is mankind’s misfortune to live and to love
where rising suns give birth to our lost tears.
“Fantôme d’Occident a Lafcadio Hearn au Japon”
Le chrysanthème d'or au ciel a'epanouit
La Nuit a sur son flanc, denoué sans contrainte
Sa zone de mystère; et, d’une étrange étreinte,
Le croissant grêle tient, sous sa griffe qui luit,
Le spectre de la Lune, et s’apprête sans bruit
A jouer à la paume avec sa face éteinte.
--Un fantôme lointain, vague ainsi qu’une plainte,
Tout-à-coup a passé, vois, il s’évanouit.
Il vient de ce pays où la Nuit blonde et pure
Jamais entièrement ne défait sa ceinture;
Où dans l’azur fleurit, comme un b’anc magnolia,
La lune éclose auprès des tremblantes étoiles
Aux prunelles en pleurs; où l’ombre d’Ophélia
Dans le fleuve profond semble trainer ses voiles.
Constant Beauvais Louisiana 1894
“Phantom of the Occident: Lafcadio Hearn”
The golden Chrysanthemum now blooms
Without restraint under the vast night skies
In a place of mystery, and in a strange embrace
The growing slender threads catch the light.
The ghost of the moon appears in the quiet
Pretending to hide its face with its palms.
--A distant phantom, with a vague complaint,
All at once it disappears, fainting away.
It comes from this country where the pure and blond Night
Can never entirely escape the bonds that tie,
Of azure blooms and white magnolias.
The moon gives birth to trembling stars,
Each one a tearful pupil, where like the shadow of Ophelia
In a deep river, they cast their veils.
L’Abeille December 23, 1894
“O France”
O France, je voudrais, comme un amant jaloux
Trouver des mots nouveaux, une langue inconue,
Des accents dont jamais n’a retenti la nue,
Pour dire mon amour, si profonde et si deux.
Ainsi que mes äieux le front sur tes genoux,
Je voudrais, une fois le ongue nuit venue,
M’endormir, en sentant autour de ma chair
Ton étreinte pareille au baiser de l’epoux;
Tandis que monterait mon âme à le luminère
Avec l’epi tremblant sous l’humide paupière
Du bluet matinal, dans le fréle encensoir
Des violettes, et, que du sang de mes veines,
Le raison rutilant rougirait le ressoir
Et ferait déborder las vastes coupes pleines.
“Oh France”
Oh France, I wish, like a jealous lover
To find new words in an unknown language
In accents as profound and soft as clouds
To speak of love.
I pray upon my knees with my eyes closed
For the time to come to welcome night
So in my sleep I could feel upon my flesh
The embrace and kisses of a spouse.
Before my soul climbs to the light
With ears trembling, and tearful eyes
That wake to the frail light of morning, blue
as violets, and feel the blood in my veins
Like sparkling grapes pressed into wine
To fill to overflowing our loving cup.
L’Abeille 1892
"In Graeciam"
Hommage douloureaux rendu á Monsieur L. Placide Canonge l’ami tant regretté, mort
le 22 Janvier 1893.
Ta main a donc laissé glisser le frêle amphore,
Pleine encor d’hydromel; et le vase sonore
S’est brisé, répandant sa fragrante liqueur.
La violette Hellène y croîtra. Dans son coeur
Je puiseria le miel qu’empotait à l’Hymette
L’abille à lance d’or, se pressant, inquiète.
Puis j’en parfumerai mon poème sacré,
Et sur ton souvenir je les effeuillerai,
Mes vers triste et doux—A l’heure diaphane,
Lorsque le flanc des monts bleuit, viens au platane
Qui de son manteau d’ombre, en un passé lointain,
Abrita, frémissant l’harmonieux festin
Où Socrate raillait la rouge symposie,
Tandis que Péricles écoutait Aspasie.
Auprès d’Alcibiade était ta place. Viens,
Fils du pays des Dieux, et, si tu te souviens,
Au banquet garde bien, sur ta couche d’ivoire,
La place de mon spectre. Ainsi qu’aux temps de gloire.
De délire et d’amour, en cohorte ils viendront,
Les convives sans voix ceindre ton pâle front
Des verts rameaux du lierre avec des violettes,
Et te couronneront de blanche bandelettes.
--Sur les derniers sommets, le jour monte et s’enfuit,
Laissant flotter un pan de Chlamyde de qui luit:
Orgiaque reflet et pourpe sépulcrale!
Le deipnon-fantôme est dressé. La Cigale
Dans l’ombre fait vibrer son monocorde d’or
Et rhythme vaguement tandis qu’elle s’endort,
Les chants silencieux qui montent de vos lèvres,
Ainsi qu’une fumée. Et le frisson des fièvres
Fait palpiter là-bas les constellations
A travers les rameaux, comme un vol d’alcyons,
Par l’aquilon surpris.
Soudain un froid étrange
A fait frémir mon flanc. Là, parmi la phalange
Des tombeaux affames, étreignannt le granit
Quie vers toi s’inclinait, je rêvais, moi, maudit;
Moi qui toujours ai vu la foudre frapper l’arbre.
--Comme il est froid et lourd, ton blanc manteau de marbe!
Par trios fois l’Angelus à répété le Mot
Et mon chant commencé s’achève en un sanglot.
“In Graeciam”
The hand let go and dropped the fragile vessel
Once so full of mead, and the echoing vase
Is broken, spilling its fragrant liqueur.
Like Helen’s violets, that fills our hearts
covering the mountains of Hymette,
Like the honey the bee carries
with its golden lance, full and restless
With its perfume, I will write my sacred poem to you,
And from my memories I will pluck
My verse, soft and sad, in this diaphanous hour
When the flanks of the mountains come to the plains
In their coat of shadows, so far away,
Sheltered, shuddered in a harmonious unity,
Where Socrates laughed at the red elixir,
Where Pedicles listened to Aspasia
With general Alcibides at his side. Come, now,
To the boundless banquet, and on your ivory chariot
Come to the place of spirits. This is the time of your glory,
Of desire and love. Your compatriots will come,
And these silent guests will circle your pale forehead with branches of ivory and violets
And will crown your head with white bandlettes.
---In the distant hills the day climbs to its end, fleeting
Light floating on mountain lakes
Casting an amber reflection on your violet sepulcher,
Preparing your spirit. In the shadows, the cicadas begin the golden monochord
Of their vague rhythm while you sleep,
And when their chant is silenced, the moment
Becomes but smoke and the shiver of fevers,
Yet the day lingers against the constellations
While the flights of birds etch the sky
in the rising north winds.
Suddenly a strange cold comes over me
Blowing against the flame and against the phalanx
Where the flare of tombs ignites the granite
Which towards you inclines, and I resist and curse
For I saw the thunderbolt strike the trees
Illuminating how cold, how heavy, is this white coat of marble.
Three times the Angelus repeated the word, and my song begins its ending with a sob.
L’Abeille January 22, 1893
Tu nous a tous maudits. Mariquita la fe’le
Par-delà le tombeau ta malêdiction
A flétri dans sa fleur notre race créole
Jadis race de preux. D’une autre nation,
Les enfants aux, frents blonds ont, selon ta parole
Broyé sous leur talon la génération
Du Franc et du Latin, la grandesse espagnole,
Et tous ceux qui savaient, d’égale passion.
Aimer, venger, hair , et pardonner . . peut-être
Et que nous reste t-il? La langue de l’ancetre
Par le fl’s dédaignée, aux chevets de granit.
Des ajeoux s’exilait . . . Complice de tu huiue
La grande fleuve aux lourds flots roulant hors de aon lit
Se repait de tombeaux du a l’abime il entraine
--Constant Beauvais
Your curses are mine. Mariquita is like a wisp
Far beyond the tomb of your curses
For the fading flower of our Creole race
Once a proud race. The other nation
Those mere infants with their blonde looks and words
Crush under their heels the generations
Of the French and the Latin, the grand Spanish,
And all those who knew the same passion.
To love, to seek vengeance, to hate, to forgive . . . perhaps
And the rest? Our ancestors’ language
Is now denigrated and only found on headstones.
Cut off and exiled, we are ushered to the
The large rolling river where its heavy waves take us under
Taking all, carrying all, into the tomb of the abyss.
L’Abeille May 3, 1891
“Impromptu” March 20, 1898
Je t’aurai, je le crains, cause quelque embarras
Par una surprise émue, en voyant sous son bras
Et presseí à tou flane courre un corps de sulfane
Helas, non plus deja la malehaneuse canne
Lui pourlant eût voulu rester fulete, ami.
Mars sa rivale antique. Et mon coeur a gému
Un instant—Mais aprìs, j ai loue ‘ta constance
Et une surs demandé par quelle-- vertance
Cette intruse arrogante avait, una for; pensé
Exiler cet aime talisman du Passé
De tou austere étreinte—Il est seul, san reproche
Ce Passé brenheureup, sur sou spectre ricoshe
Chaque trait du Present, fleui Gardeur et de for
--Or donc j’ar résolu respectant alte loi.
De nourrir eu tore âme, ainsi que la vestele
L’éteruelle chaleur qui du Passe’s exhale.
Surla cause l’ autan qui reconnait tou pas,
Repose toi sans crainte et ne redoule pas
Que l’autre, délaissie eu sou coiu obsequr souge
A transformer pour loi sa ler ise en mensourge
“Impromptu” 1898
I see you coming, and I fear, there will be some embarrassment,
And an uncomfortable surprise. I see under your arm,
Pressed against your side,
the dreaded walking cane.
Perhaps I will tell you we shall remain friends.
But I know Mars has an old rival. And my heart will gasp
For one instant before it rights itself.
This will require Virtue in me,
For this is only my wounded pride; thus I will
Dispatch remembrances of the Past,
Of one brief embrace, one without reproach.
But the blessed Past, like a returning ghost,
Tries to speak to the present about love and faith.
But I will vow to respect the laws of Virtue
And to nourish my soul as well as its vessel.
So that the lasting heat of the Past shall expire.
Because I now know your path
I can rest without fear or dread
And in a forlorn funereal dirge
Forsake your lie for my law.
--Manuscript March 20, 1898
De mon balcon au vôtre, un long fil irisé
Est tendu ce matin; le vent n'a pas brisé
Ce pont aérien, cette soyeuse échelle.
Si j'etais Roméo, j'oserais bien gravir
Ces fragiles degrés pour aller vous ravir;
Et j'escaladerais les cieux pour vons ma belle.
L'amour est se léger qu'il grimpernit, ma foi,
Sans rompre ce fil fin, mon enfant, jusqu'à toi
A moins qu'il u'expirât en chemin, de vertige.
Il redescend parfois lorsqu'il devrait monter;
Notre siècle est prudent faut-il s'en irriter?
Tant pis pour qui s'eu fâche et pour qui trop exige.
Autrefois on mourait pour l'amour; à présent
On vit n'importe comme. Il serait malséant
De demander aux gens une pareille preuve.
Mais votre Roméo s'avane. Dien merci,
Ce n'est qu'une araignée encote et le souci
Des amons, je le erois n'a rien qui vous émeuve.
Heureuse petite Lolotte,
Aves sa tête linotte,
Avic son cour de papillon!
Devant son mirror elle danse,
Et regarde avec complaisance
L éclat doré de son chignon.
Dand le rue elle s’imagine
Qu’à chaque pas elle fascine
Tous les beaux garcons qu’elle voit.
Au bal elle fait la coquette.
Et repond d’une voix distraite
Aux compliments qu’elle reçoit.
Heuresuse petitie Charlotts,
Elle s’aime, elle se dorlote;
Le sort la fit pur le plasir.
Pourquoi donc, à la fleur de l’âge,
S’enterrer dans la marriage?
Elle a bien le temps de choisir.
Prenons part à toutes les fêtes;
Faisons tourner toutes les têtes.
Tant pis spur les fous serieux,
Qui nous traiterone de perfide,
Et commettront un suicide.
En laissant de triste adieux.
Happy little Lolotte
with her head in the air
and the heart of a butterfly!
In the mirror she dances
and looks with satisfaction
at the gilded splendor of her hair.
In the street she imagines
that her every step captivates
all the handsome boys she sees.
At the dances she acts the ingenue
and responds without acknowledgment
to the compliments she receives.
Little happy Lolotte,
So loved, so pampered;
she charms purely for the pleasure of it all.
So why then, at the flower of her age
does she enter into marriage,
when she had all the time to choose?
But we all attend the party
and we all turn heads,
and take advantage of serious fools
and we all join in the treachery
to commit our suicide
so all that's left is farewell.
C.R.A.L. 1886
“Nocturne” (some words were not legible in the manuscript)
Viens à la vielle table ou le vulgaire ennui
Mancais n a fait poser aur nous sa main de glace
Oui, d’-- un réseau d’or, la lampenenius enlace,
---la --- qio souvent sur nous, sereine, a lui
Vien reuvrir avec moi ce’llivre; s’est celui
--- emble nous avons fermé. Voici la place
Nous v retreverous, ne croia to pas, la trace
D’une larme et l’écho de notre rire entil!
-------------- encor vibrer, harmonie
Tuine, d’en même luth, les cordes radieuses
Ne, ames se tendent sous le soufflé divin.
Et --- amins, en tourant les feullets du poème,
S—obercheroont encore et sejeindront enfin.
Ami, comme autrefeis, dans la donceur suprême.
We come together at this old table in our ennui
Before the hands of ice pass over us.
Yes, a tangled golden glow of light envelops us
And serenity comes to us in this place.
Come, review this book with me. It is the one
That will ease our confusion. Here is the place.
We choose not to believe that our lives are passing, but the trace
Of our tears and the echo of our laughter tells us so.
No, our stirring should be in harmony
Attuned on a lute with radiant chords
As our spirits become an offering to the Divine Breath.
Just as my hand turns these sheets of poetry
So, to, shall we be joined in the end,
I, you, as it has always been, in infinite sweetness.
--manuscript December 1, 1901
“a l’Opera”
Respecteusement dedie a M.L. Placide Canonge
Ce ne sont pas des chants, ce ne sont que des larmes.
-- de Musset
Nos fauteuils se touchaient; en doux acents vai queu
Violette chantait, troublée et pàlissante,
Cet hymne appris trop tard, et qui brûlant no coeurs.
Les étreignait tours deux dans sa douceur puissante
Dans notre âme endormie éveillant les douleurs,
L'harmonie appelait de sa voix caressante
Les larmes que l'exces des injustes malheurs
tarit, les refusant à la peine croissante.
Qui n's pleuré, souffert? Et, qui l'ose avouer,
Un jour vient ou l'on croit que rien ne peut vibrer
Au fond de l'être humain, et que tout fait silence.
mais l'art sous son archet, en nous fit tressaillir.
ette corde d'or fin d'où la plainte s'elance,
Et nous fait vivre encore en nous faisant souffrir.
L’Abeille 1886
At the Opera dedicated to Placide Canonge
---It is not some songs, it is only some tears.
Alfred de Musset
Our chairs were touching as the soft accents of
Violetta’s song disturbed the space between us,
Her hymn learned too late burned into our hearts,
Embracing us both with powerful sweetness
Entering our sleep, awakening the pain.
The harmonious summons of the caressing voice
Called for tears at injustice and misfortune
Even as we tried to refuse the increasing pain.
For whom do we weep? And for what do we dare to claim?
At one time we believed that nothing could affect us
To the bottom of our being, that all was silence.
But the art of the archer is to make us quiver.
Pulling like a golden chain to places where silence moans
And we find the strength to live again only to suffer.
L’Abeille 1886
“Ad Pennam”
D’or et de nacre fine aux reflete d-arc-en-ciel,
Tu n’étais qu’un joyau, j’en voulus faire un glaive;
Et nous avons tous deux combattu pour le rêve,
San chanceler au choc de l’étrange duel.
Je ne t’oignis jamais, I guerrière du miel
Des essaimis de l’Hymette. A la brûlante sève
De mon couer large ouvert tu t’abreuvais sans trêve,
Et ne’connus jamais le venin ni le fiel
Mais, en perdant la foi, j’ai perdu la vaillance.
La main qui t’avait mise, en gage d’alliance,
Dans ma main sans reproche, hêlas, a donc farbli?
Oh! je ne voudrais pas, dans la sombre balance
Du vainqueur te jeter! Oh non. Plutôt un pli
Du fleuve pour suaire, où tomber en silence!
Constant Beauvais
Novelle-Orléans, 1896.
“Ad Pennam”
Gold and fine pearls are reflected in the sky
Like fine jewels, but I wanted to make it into a sword
As we both struggled for the same dream,
Without faltering in the clash of a strange duel.
I was never my original intent to fight over the honey
Of the swarm of Hymette. A burning leaves
My large heart still open for you even as you drank from it without pity
Never realizing that the venom you drank was bile.
But when I lost faith, I lost courage,
The hand I placed in yours was for our alliance
And I did not reproach you, but alas, was it not to reconcile?
Oh, I never wanted this dark struggle
Or wished for the power to defeat you! Oh no. Rather, for us to sway
In the shrouding river, where we could fall into silence.
“Parce Nocere”
Au paria qui passé, abreuvé d’infamie,
Et ployé sous la honte, as-tu tendu la main?
As-tu baigné ses pieds meurtris par le chemin?
As-tu lavé l’outrage eu sa face blêmie?
Pour le sauver, as tu de la foule ennemie
Affronté la huée; et fort et surhumain,
L’as-tu nommé ton frère et partagé le liu
De ton mince manteau sur sa tête endormie?
Alors malheur à toi! Bientôt tu connaitras
La trahison qui broie et le coeur et le bras
-Puissant, l’aigle planait, cherchant parmi les flammes
Ton pie vierge, ô Justice assise au trépied d’or,
Quand du ravin fangeux où gitent les infâmes
Jaillit le plomb brûlant qui brisa son essor.
“Parce Nocere”
You are a passing traitor bathed in infamy
And bowed with shame, and you extend a hand?
Have you washed your feet that were hurt along the way?
Have you cleansed the outrage from your dirty face?
To save yourself from the foul enemy,
Affronted by their hisses, strong and superhuman,
Did you acknowledge your brother and share the light
And spread your coat over him while he slept?
Misfortune on you! Soon your cohorts
The treason that is in their hearts and the arms.
--Powerful, the eagle glides, searching among the ashes
For the virgin’s feet; O Justice, sitting upon his feet of gold
When the muddy ravine where the lair of infamy
Gushes and shoots up to break its flight.
--1894 the Crusader and L’Abeille
Reminiscence de l'esprit grec.
Rapriamus, amici,
Occasion am de die. Horace.
Si vous n'aviez pas tant demandé tant doute,
Ami, nous nous serions aimés, doux et fidèles;
Quand souffle l'ouragan, l'amour ouvre ses ailes
Et la voile s'enfui loin d'un ciel redouté.
Si les fleurs t'ont donné leur parfum, leur beauté,
Pourquoi leur commander avec des airs rebelles
De ne sourire pas a d'autres, pauvres belles,
De garder pour un seul tant de suavité.
Pourquoi vouloir tonjours que demain t'appartienne?
Cueille donc cette joie alors qu'elle est la t enne;
Hier est un cercueil et demain un berceau.
Mais aujourd'hui le fruit est mûr, il faut y mordre;
Peut être un scarabée en a pris un morceau,
Comme après toi le ver aussi viendra s'y tordre
If you had not so many urgings born of Doubt,
Love, we could have become so much more, sweet and true,
So that when the winds of strife would rend us,
We would have spread our wings of love
And sailed across the troubled skies.
For flowers surrender their beauty and perfume
Without your commands, and at their own bidding,
Smiling into blossoms, with their own sweet breath
If you do not pluck them too soon.
Why then do you hasten to make tomorrow yours?
To pluck the joy before it is born?
For yesterday is a coffin and tomorrow a cradle.
So taste of the fruit only in its season,
For each bite can become a prison,
And like the scarab who eats into flesh
You will turn in the walls of your own making. -L’Abeille
“Le Regret”
Deux fronts se sont penchés ensemble sur un livre,
Jeunes, graves tous deux; la lampe de vieux cuivre
Ouvre son large oeil d’or dans la profonde nuit,
Comme sur sa victime étincelle et reluit
La prunelle du fauve à travers les ténèbres.
Ils lisent un recit aux doux accents funèbres
Où palpite l’amour et chante la douleur;
Vers simples et navrants qu’inspira le malheur.
Dans lesquels à jamais pleure une voix de l’âme
Et que cet homme ému relit à cette femme.
Ces deux êtres sont-ils des amis, des amants?
Le sang qui de leurs coeurs presse les battements,
Ce sang est-il le même, et la même patrie
Vit-elle donc leurs yeux s’entróuvrir à la vie?
Non, rien ne les unit que la main du hasard;
L’avenir est entre eux, et bientôt leur regard
Ne rencontrera plus qu’une ombre insaisissable
Quie s’enfuira du coeur, tel qu’un flot sur le sable.
Le bonheur n’est-il pas comme l’algue de mer
Que la vague inquiète et, sur son sein amer
Entraînte et roule au loin, l’arrachant à sa plage.
Ils étaient arrivés à la dernière page,
Mais la voix qui lisait faiblit et s’altéra;
La regard, relevé tout-à-coup, s’éclaira,
Inondant de rayons des têtes pâlissantes.
Ainsi dans un ciel pur des clartés jaillissantes
Déchirant l’horizon, blanchissent les chemins.
Ils songent que jamais ne se joindront leurs mains.
Que luers lèvres toujours doivent rester muettes,
Austères gardiens des révoltes secrètes.
Ils sentent dans leur sein le désespoir gronder;
L’aveu monte rapide et prêt à déborder.
Telle, en la coupe pleine, une liquier brûlante
Avant de s’épancher, reste un instant tremblante.
Mais l’aveu n’est tombé des lèvres ni des yeux;
La paupière est baissée, et l’oeil silencieux
Ne révèle plus rien; et les lèvres fermées
Ont laissé retomber les paroles aimées.
Dans l’ombre de la chamber, un reflet envolé
S’égare sur le mur, éclairant, isolé.
Le buste menacant de Scévola farouche,
Auguel sourit de loin la chaste et fière bouche
De Diane, rêvant sous son masque bronzé
Que dans un angle obscur le sculpteur a posé.
“The Regret”
Together, they lean towards a book.
Young are these two. The old copper lamp
With it open eyes, pierces the profound darkness
Making them sparkle and shine,
Two pupils under its tawny breath.
They read together in two soft accents
Of thriving love and songs of sorrow,
Of simple things that inspire misfortune,
And the crying voice of the soul.
As he reads again to the woman beside him
One wonders, are they friends or lovers?
The blood of their hearts beat, pressing.
Their blood is the same, their homeland the same
But do they live in each other’s eyes?
No, they are subject to the hand of Chance.
The future lies between them and their eyes
Will never meet, nor cross the impenetrable shadow.
Their hearts shall flee like waves on the sand,
Their happiness will bend like ocean seaweed
Unsettled by the waves; his bitter breast
Will Retreat, rolling far from the dunes.
They turn to another page,
But as he reads, his voice falters; there is a change
In him as the flood fades.
And with pure clarity the sky opens
tearing open the horizon, showing the way
Because they now know that their hands will never touch
And their lips will remain silent
For they will guard their inner secrets
And scold their hearts despairing
Even as the need to confess rises to overflowing.
Such is the searing wound, like a hot liqueur,
Before it rights itself, trembling for an instant
Before falling without a voice
Revealing nothing, and with silent eyes
They lower their eyes again to the familiar words.
In the shadow of the chamber, now there is one
Figure cast upon the wall, alone.
Nearby, the bust of the wild and menacing Scevola
Smiles at the chaste and fiery mouth
of Diana, reveling under his bronze mask
An obscure angle, put there by the sculptors’ hand.
“Response a L. H.” Medea superset---Sénèque
Medee, avez-vous dit; et vous aviez raison
De la nommer ainsi, cette femme à l’oeil somber,
Au Coeur farouche et fier, plein de revolte et d’ombre,
Et qui dans toute main d’ami, liet: Trahison!
Poète, fais tone mile, Elle fait son poison
Des maledictions, des prièrs sans nombre
Quie retombent des cieux, de chaque espoir qui somber.
Et des ris ebranlant les murs de la prison.
Va boire la rosee au calice quie tremble;
Prends pour toi les rayons que l’aurore rassemble;
Mais laisse lui la nuit et sa froide claret.
A l’endroit où tomba le bienfait croit la haine.
C’est là qu’est sa moisson quand dort l’humanite,
Et que vole sans bruit le nocturne phalène.
L’Abeille March 27, 1887
“Response to L. H.” (note: L. H. is Lafcadio Hearn)
Medea, you have spoken the words of truth
and have taken your name, thus, woman of somber eyes
with a heart shy yet proud, filled with rebellion and shadow
And you hold the hand of a friend named: Treason!
Poets, make your honey, for she will make it poison
With curses and prayers without end
Calling from the heavens when hope grows dim,
And her screams will shake the walls of prison.
She drinks deep the dew of the rose’s trembling chalice;
Taking the rays of morning for her own
even as she sees in the night with cold clarity
the places of tombs that give rise to hate
where she will reap her harvest while humanity sleeps
and quietly claim her own like a moth in the night.
March 27, 1887
Dans sa prison de brume où nul reflet ne luit,
Mon Rêve léthargique, informe sous la cendre
Des souvenirs froidis, a cru soudain entendre
Palpiter, effarés, les essaims de la nuit
Engourdis sur son flanc. Et, dans l’ombre qui bruit,
Un pan d’aurore pourpre est venu se suspendre
Aux lambris nébuleux où tremble et va s’éntendre
L’aile d’or de l’Idée. Et mon Rêve, conduit
Par le mystique appel des strophes en délire,
A quitté sa prison de brume et, vers là lyre
Que nui ne voit d’en-bas, son essor l’à porté,
Tandis qu’autour de lui phalanges astrals
Tendent sur l’infini, vibrant de volupté
L’harmonieux réseau des cordes sidérleas.
In the misty prison, with only reflected light
In lethargic reverie, under the dying rembers
Of cold memories, I saw a sudden flare.
Trembling, frightened by the swarms of night.
I crouched against a wall, then, in the shadows, the sounds
From a crimson apparition came, suspended in air,
Nebulous, and trembling, spreading its
Wings of New Thought. And my reveries were channeled
Into the mystery, harkening to the delerious verse,
Until I left my misty prison, following the music
Of that low voice, leaning towards my release
While around me there were astral lights
Stretching towards the infinite, vibrating with exquisite delight
In harmonious rays that stretched towards the stars.
Sur la roche rugueuse un liseron fragile
Se Traine et cherche en vain un appui vers l’azur;
Mais sur le sommet nu pas un tronc, pas un mur.
Seul, le vent vient tromper son étreint intuile.
Plus bas c’est le vallon. Là croit le chene, asile
Du gui mystique ; là le lierre austere et dur
Soutient, du vieux donjon, le front qui penche, obscur ;
Et la vigne bondit, échevelée, agile,
A l’assaut des coteaux; et c’est partout l’essor!
Alors au ciel lointain, par un suprême effort,
Le liseron tendit sa tremblante spirale
Et son pâle bouton ; et vers son pur désir
Un rayon descendit de la splendeur astrale;
Et l’on vit au zenith une étoile fleurir! December 25 1908
On a rugged rock, there was a tangled fragile vine,
Trying in vain to climb to the sky
On the bare summit, but there was neither trunk nor wall,
So the wind came to undo its useless embrace.
Below in the valley, the ivy knows that the oak
Is the mystical refuge, and there the hardy ivy endures.
It covers an old dungeon, but it always faces the sky,
Until one day it leaps with wild abandon
Taking the hills, everywhere it leaps!
And with a supreme effort, even towards the distant sky
The humble weed aspires.
Its pale flowers spiral with pure desire
Until finally the rays of heaven descend in radiant splendor
Taking them to the sky, where they bloom into stars.
Decrescere pondus convenit.
Si jamais vous n’avez appris á mépriser
Ce que vous chérissiez; et gravi, le front bleme
Et les genoux saignante, la station supreme
Du Golgotha Soupcon; et bu, sans l’épuiser,
Au calice profond qu’on tremble de briser;
Et préiéré douter des dieux et de vous-meme;
Et comme Julien, jeté votre anathéme
Et votre sang au ciel, sans pouvoir l’apaiser;
Si jamais vous n’avez songé qu’á cette meule
Formidable, le Vie, it faut que l’ame seule
Et semblable á Samson, tourne dans un’désert
Sans aube et sans étoile, et, qu’en ce noir délire,
Il fant, gladiateur, en succombant sourire;
Ah! ne blashphémes-pas. Vous n’avez point souffert!
If ever you learned to despair
All that you had cherished, and rose up with your face smeared
And your knees bleeding, at the last station
Of the cross on Golgotha, and then drink without ever emptying
The deep chalice that makes you tremble close to breaking
And to doubt that you and the gods are the same;
And like Julien, without any comprehension
Cast your blood to the heavens without being able to appease;
If ever your dreams became grindstones and all seemed
Formidable, and Life was for you an empty soul
And Like Samson, you wandered in the desert
Without dawn and without stars in delirious darkness
Well then, gladiator, I am forced to smile
Ah! Do not blaspheme. You have not suffered!
L’Abeille 1896
“A mon amie Magda Turpin”
Hier je te pleurais, aujourd’hui je te chante.
As tu senti mes pleurs sur ton front endormi?
Entendras tu ma voix? Ton coeur a-t-il frémi
Quand ta mére écoutait, eans soufflé et suppliante
S’il palpitait encor?—De ton âme vaillante
Les accents des aimés la dent de l’ennemi,
Ne feront plus jaillir l’étincelle. Parmi
Les obacuts au-delà ton ombre trébuchante.
A vu se lever l’aube à laquelle sa fond
L’humaine passion; telle en l’enur profound,
L’étoile se dissout aux rayons de l’aurore.
Tes yeux se sont fermas comme se etoila fleux
Sous un roleil brûlant mais le bas meteore
Resplendit tou regard plus haut que la douleur.
“Sonnet for my friend Magda Turpin”
Yesterday I cried for you, today I sing for you.
Have you felt my tears upon your sleeping face?
Have you heard my voice? Your heart must have shuddered
When your mother spoke to you softly and imploringly.
Do you breathe again? Your friends
Speak of your valiant soul. The teeth of the enemy can do no more
Than break the sky.
Those obstacles, like shadows, stumble
When the dawn rises
With human passion; even the most profound
Star disappears in the rays of dawn.
You eyes are closed like those fading stars
Under a brilliant sun, but the meteor
Makes your face resplendent and raises you above the pain.
L’Abeille May 1891
“Suite Depeches”
Du sang de l’ennemi, je vous reconnais tous:
Galois aux glaives tourdis guerriers France aux frotns roux
J’ai vu de réfletér, dans chaque lame nue
Le soleil des combats. O légion venue
Des champs de Walhalla, va diriger ses coups
Des preux soldats de France, et que sous ton courroux
Tremble encore Mennemie, qu’un étreinte inconue
Paralyse sa droite ! Oui, que le désespoir
Le poursaive, acharné, pressant son coursier noir
Que l’immonde démon des déroutes déchaîne
Tout l’essaim des terreurs—San cesse il eroire voir
Le galive flamboyant de le virge Lorraine
Etinceler aux cieux dans les brumes de soir
Suite Dépeches
. . .
The blood of my enemy, I recognize you
Gauls with your heavy swords,
You Frank warriors with your red faces.
I see reflected in your naked blades
The sun of combat. O legion who comes
From the fields of Walhalla, who will rain blows
On the valiant French soldiers, how your fury
Will make Mennemi tremble again in an unknown embrace
Paralyzing his rights, yes, that is despair.
The persecutor, fierce, urges his black steed,
That filthy foul demon of chaos unleashed,
And the never ending swarm of terror crosses against
The blazing swords of the virgin of Lorraine
Glittering against the sky in the mists of evening.
Par un matin d’Avril, à l’heure où tout palpate,
Que la nature emue en un frisson s’agite,
Souriant au reveil sous son manteau d’azur,
Et que l’âme des fleurs s’exhale dans l’air pur,
J’errais le front courbe, l’âme lasse et meurtrie,
Suivant vers le passé ma rêverie,
Et je sentais en moi le blasphème gronder
Et tout un ocean de mepris deborder;
Et je songeais toujours, quand des fleurs et de l’herbe
Surgit devant mes pas comme une blanche grebe
Faite un cimetière.
Etrange floraison!
Un rayon pâle et doux qui dorait un viel arbre
Mettait une auréole au front d’un saint de marbe;
Le zéphyr, en passant, réveillait les rameaux,
Courbant sous son baiser la fleur des blancs tombeaux
Et dans ma somber nuit tout-à-coup vint à luire
Un peu de cet azur qui semblait me sourire.
Le blasphème impuissant se heurtait à la mort;
Sereine elle distait: “Silence! Ici tout dort.”
Un charme amer et doux me tetint immobile;
Haletant, j’ecoutais comme il faisait tranquille,
Mystérieuse étreinte où la Mort frissonnant,
Troublée en son repos par ce jour rayonnant
Se réchauflait, livide, aux amours printanières.
L’air vibrant, tout chargé de baisers, de prièrs;
A l’autel de la Mort, la vie en triumphant
Secouait sur le monde un flambeau dévorant.
Je sentis ma douler s’envoler de mon âme
Comme un oiseau funèbre effraye de la flamme;
J’oublai ces ongs jours noirs de doute et d’horreur,
Où, seul, désespéré, maudissant son erreur,
Plearant l’illusion se trompeuse et se belle
L’homme décu toujours, confiant et fidèle,
S’affaisse dans la lutte, accablé, tout sanglant,
Le couer plein de débris, et l’âme de néant.
Je n’étais plus qu’un marbe au regard immuable
Fixé sure l’invisible, et du froid ineffable
De ces gardiens des morts mon être s’engourdit,
Pénétre doucement d’un sommeil de granit!
Je vis avec l’esprit se presser dans l’espace
Le semis fécondant des âmes que Dieu chasse
Dans le nouveau sillon, germes de l’avenir,
Fragments de l’infini.
Puis vint le Souvenir,
Vision du Passé, don’t le masque est étrange;
Extase et cauchemar, souriant profil d’ange
A la paupière humide, et soudain grimaçant,
Haineux, somber et tragique.
Un chaos manacant
Fait d’éclairs et de nuit, de choses innommées,
Envahit l’horizon, larves inanimées,
Informes et dormant au sein de l’avenir
Jusqu’à l’éclosion qui doit les réunir.
Une puissante main dans l’espace étendue
Tenait un arc immense, et, de loin entendue,
Une voix cria l’heure, et flèche vola:
C était l’arc du Destin.
Mon esprit se troubla,
Étraint par l’invisible, à cette voix profonde
Tombant dans l’infini comme un écho qui gronde.
J’ ne vis pas peser nos sombres passions,
Et je n’entendis pas le cri des nations.
Comme un torrent gonflé, debordant sur la plein,
Ravage la moisson, l’espoir de tant de peine,
Et, brutal, la matile aux calloux de son lit,
Ainsi le Temps rapide abat, brise et détruit
Les projets mûrissants, l’idéal, l’espérance,
Et roule dans son cours la joie et la souffrance,
Les peoples éperdus, broyés en tourbillon
Jusqu’à l’éternité.
L’orgueil, l’ambition,
Le fracas des plaisirs, tout s’éteint et tout passé,
Indistinctes vapeurs s’effacant dans l’espace.
On a morning of April, at the hour when all awakens
Andn natures is enthralled into new life,
Smiling, awakening under an azure coat,
With the scent of flowers breathing into pure air,
I wander, with heavy head, tired heart,
And gloomy reverie, towards a statue,
And I feel roar blasphemy within me;
When I see all the flowers and herbs
Emerging into a white sepulcher sheet
Made of starry white flowers
Covering the grounds of tombs.
Strange blossoming!
Radiant and pale, they adorn the trees
And glow against the foreheads of marble saints
While the gentle passing breeze awakens winter branches
Bending to kiss the flowers over the tombs.
And within my dark thoughts there suddenly gleams
A little of the azure smiling sky
While the impotent blasphemy harkens towards death.
Serenely, a voice says: "Silence, all sleep here!"
Ane a bittersweet calm keeps me still;
Catching my breath, I listen to the tranquility
Embraced by the mysery of quivering death
Troubled in its peace in the brightness of day
So much life still. And love
And the fullness of kisses sweet
Like prayers upon the altar of death, life is trimpahnt
Trembling like a devouring flame
I feel the searing pain enter my soul
Like a funeral bird, I fear the flame
I know thelong dark days of doubt and of horror,
Of despair, curses, and failures,
And I cry out against the lovely lying illusion
Of mankind, confident and faithful
Subsiding in the struggle, defeated and bloody
With hearts in fragments and spirits empty
I stand like a marble saint, with unwavering regard
Transfixed and invisible, and ineffably cold
Like these guardians of death, I am numb,
Nothing penetrates my granite sleep;
Yet, I live, and my spirit still fills the air
Like a fertile seed of the souls God sows
In new furrows, planting the kernels of the future,
Each a fragment of the infinite.
These monuments,
Are visions of the past, with their weary masks
Hiding the invisible cold
These guardians of death
Are both ecstasy and nightmare,
Smiling with their angelic profiles
Yet with glittering, grimacing eyes,
Full of hate, death, and tragedy.
Oh, manacing chaos!
Flashes of lightning in the night of things unkown
Invading the horizons, like lifeless cocoons.
Formless, you sleep within the future,
Until the bursting forth, you will be re-united;
By a powerful hand, you will be sent forth
From his immense bow, into limitless regions,
With his voice crying, “Your hour as come!”
And youru arrow will fly from the Archer of your destiny.
But my spirit is troubled,
Held by an invisible resonating voice
Falling into the infinite like an roaring echo.
And I know I will not live to plumb the depths of dark passions,
And I will not hear the cries of nations,
Like an expanding torrent, invading the lands
Ravaging the harvest. With hope dying in pain,
Brutally crushed back into stony furrows.
So swiftly time cuts us down, its winds destroying
The ripening fields, the enterprises, ideals, and dreams
And runs does in tis course all joy, and all suffering,
Of a bewildered people, ground down like chaff
In the whirlwind of eternity.
The pride, the ambition,
The throes of pleasure, all die, all pass,
Dissolving into vapor, diffusing into space.
Donna Meletio was born in Dallas, Texas, the daughter of a Greek father and an
Irish mother. After attending a Catholic elementary school, she later enrolled in Hillcrest
High school and left for the University of Texas at Austin in 1969. Before completing her
degree, she married and moved to San Antonio, Texas, where she worked at a bank. Her
first two daughters, Saran and Maegan, were born during this time. After a short tenure
living in Tampa, Florida, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina (where her third daughter,
Kate, was born), Donna returned to San Antonio and began restoring historical properties
and managing real estate. At the same time, she began attending classes at a local
community college. She became a licensed broker and expanded her real estate business
while earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) in
1990. She sold her business in 1993. After receiving her master’s degree at UTSA in
1994, she began teaching freshman English, first at San Antonio College, then at UTSA
and Trinity University. It was during this time that she began publishing her poetry and
short stories in small press, earning the Corona Press awards for the poem “Life Still,”
and short story, “Forgotten Words.” When she visited New Orleans in 1995 she happened
upon the portrait of Leona Queyrouze who would became the subject of her dissertation.
She applied to the doctoral program at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge with
the goal of pursuing her research on Queyrouze. While completing her dissertation, she
returned to San Antonio and resumed teaching at UTSA where she received teaching
awards. She is currently a member of the Southern Conference of MLA, the Popular
Culture Association, and the Texas Folklore society, and has presented her work at their
conferences. She earned her doctorate in August, 2005, and is working on a collection of
Leona Queyrouze’s poetry and a critical biography while pursuing her interest in various
folklore projects.
[--Donna M. Meletio, B.A., University of Texas San Antonio, 1990
M.A., University of Texas San Antonio, 1994
August, 2005]
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