Rewriting of the past and paradigm of the feminine in “The Quadroons of New Orleans” by Sidonie de La Houssaye
Les Quarteronnes de la Nouvelle-Orléans is a novel written by a Creole women of the white francophone aristocracy, and appeard as a serial in a Louisianan newspaper from 1894 to 1898. The action is set in a mythical immoral New Orleans of the early 19th century, and tells the story of multiple characters who belong to different social spheres, yet each linked in some way to quadroons. The Quadroons of New Orleans draws upon different literary genres and traditions, both French and English, to tell stories of love and seduction, but distinguishes itself from other romance novels by the progressive attention the novel gives to the condition of women. Stereotypical tales of seduction give way to complex tales of friendship, personal conflicts and love where quadroons and white heroines alike become less typified, hence permitting the gradual deconstruction of the categories, social class and race assigned to the characters at the start of the novel. In my dissertation, I analyse the substitution of a phallocentric point of view (male gaze) for a gynocentric one (female gaze), through the theoretical framework of narratology and semiotics. The adoption of a gynocentric point of view can be seen everywhere, in the narration of the narrator, but also in the numerous dialogues of the female characters. Women stand out and speak out. My analysis is not limited to the story but also considers the agency of the character of the quadroon (her use of power, knowledge, desire, etc.) and how that shifts throughout the novel. My dissertation concludes by suggesting that those shifts in agency serve as a critique of a male-run society and the moral disorder produced by it. Despite the idealized representation of a past and world that never existed, the character of the quadroon allowed Sidonie de La Houssaye to give birth to a female narrator and characters unimaginable in a novel with only white characters.