1.0 Ourika (1823)

25 Apr


Duras, Claire de. Ourika. Trans. John Fowles. New York: The Modern Languages Association of America, 1994. Print. (ISBN: 0-87352-780-1)

Original language: French

Synopsis from the Back Cover:
“Based on a true story, Ourika relates the experiences of a Senegalese girl who is rescued from slavery and raised by an aristocratic French family during the French Revolution. Brought up in a household of learning and privilege, she is unaware of her difference until she overhears a conversation that makes her suddenly conscious of her race and of the prejudice it arouses. From this point on, Ourika lives her life not as a French woman but as a black woman ‘cut off from the entire human race.’ As the Reign of Terror threatens her and her adoptive family, Ourika struggles with her unusual position as an educated African woman in eighteenth-century Europe.”

Initially, the true story of a Senegalese girl living as a noble was part of a conversation that took place at Madame Duras’ house. The real Ourika was purchased by the governor of Senegal, the Chevalier de Boufflers in 1786, and he gave her as a gift to his aunt Mme la Maréchale who raised her as her own child in France, but, in contrast to the character of the novel, Ourika died at age 16 of tuberculosis in 1799 (Rouillard 19). This story raised interest among Madame Dura’s friends, and she felt encouraged to publish it. She incorporated the then-controversial (and in vogue) theme of interracial relationships, and made a few copies of the story anonymously in 1823 but reprinted several editions in 1824. Ourika became the best-seller of its time (DeJean viii). This success was resented by male writers such as Stendhal and Latouche who wrote anonymous provocative novels they passed as works of hers, and after that scandal she decided never to publish another book (Waller xiv).

At the time Ourika was published (1823), slavery was in practice and the Code Noir, the laws governing slaves, had been revised several times in order to avoid any loophole that might grant rights or freedom to slaves. Topics such as freeing slaves or interracial marriage were of great interest to those who defended slavery and those who opposed it. Although the French Revolution’s (1789-1799) motif: “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (Liberty, equality, fraternity) looked for the resolution of inequalities in society and abolitionist struggled to end slavery, the massacre of French people in Santo Domingo slowed the abolitionists’ momentum. It was not until 1848 that slavery was abolished in all French territories.

Watch the following documentary about the French Revolution and take notes. There is a quiz on this video, and afterward we are going to discuss this material on this page of the blog.


Posted by on April 25, 2013 in 1 Duras


29 responses to “1.0 Ourika (1823)

  1. YR-Z

    June 25, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    1. Why did the French Revolution shake the foundation of society?

    • Ethan

      June 25, 2013 at 2:39 pm

      The common people, whom could not spell their names, were thinking and making decisions about what they wanted in life and no longer going along with what they were told.. This caused the first and second estate consternation because these were commoners with no formal education that were deciding to storm the Bastille, Versailles, etc…

    • Jake Lankford

      June 25, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      The French Revolution shook the foundations of society at the time because the French monarchy was the oldest monarchy, the feudal character of Europe was altered, and because for the first time in Europe, the people mapped out their own human knowledge and ideas for themselves — ultimately taking over the Nobility and Clergy, paving the way for what should have the enlightenment of the French people, and not the ultimate acts of barbarism that ensued.

  2. YR-Z

    June 25, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    2. Looking at Marie Antoinette’s story and personal circumstances, what did you learn about aristocrat women’s duty in those days?

    • niyati

      June 25, 2013 at 4:02 pm

      I learned that the sole duty of a woman was to produce a heir.

    • Ethan

      June 25, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      Aristocratic women, along with being a vessel for a male heir, were to be seen and not heard. They were expected to live a life of following tradition and stay at home.

    • Jake Lankford

      June 25, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      Aristocratic women did have to produce male heirs for succession; however, they also had to be on top of the current fashion, cultural debates, and become a political gesture at their family’s will (in the case of Marie Antoinette, a Hapsburg wife for a Bourbon union).

  3. YR-Z

    June 25, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    3. What was the role women played when the King’s solders advanced on Paris?

    • Jake Lankford

      June 25, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      Women were often seen as the catalysts for some of the mob-violence/marches that went on during the French Revolution; this can especially be seen when the “Fearsome Fish-Ladies of the Markets” marched with pikes and knives towards Versailles. When the king’s soldiers advanced upon Paris, many women were given leadership roles and led many of the revolutionists counter-attacks.

  4. YR-Z

    June 25, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    4. How did the idea of the guillotine originate?

    • niyati

      June 25, 2013 at 4:00 pm

      Guillotine was proposed by a french physician, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, during 1789. The idea of the guillotine was proposed because it was a way of execution that was humane. The blade decapitated people while they supposedly felt no pain.

      • YR-Z

        June 25, 2013 at 2:01 pm

        To me, it was surprising that they used the word “humane.” They could not find other way to deal with their opponents but killing them.

      • Ethan

        June 25, 2013 at 2:44 pm

        Also, the revolutionaries wanted to move away from the traditional monarchical ways of execution that included: drawing and quartering, burning, hanging, and drowning.

      • Jake Lankford

        June 25, 2013 at 4:18 pm

        To me, it is not that surprising that they created the guillotine when you consider the time and location of the French Revolution. This was at the time when few of the educated class was participating in politics unless they were extremists or radicals, and medical technology had not advanced (which really did not happen until the mid-19th century).

    • Tiffany Wright

      June 25, 2013 at 7:57 pm

      I could see why the word humane was used because with burning it is not an instant death. The victim goes through 1st 2nd and lastly 3rd degree burn stages…feeling every moment of it. Likewise with hanging there were some who had thick necks so their own weight and gravity didn’t cause the neck to snap at that very moment thus prolonging death. Though I don’t agree with any methods for it is not my choice if someone should live or die but if placed in their shoes I wouldn’t want to suffer. I would like it to be quick and to the point.

  5. YR-Z

    June 25, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    5. What were the differences between Marie Antoinette’s trial and her husband’s?

    • Ethan

      June 25, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      Marie Antoinette came to represent all that was hated about the monarchy and was treated as such. She was hardly allowed to speak at her trial and as the outcome was already decided, the court added charges that would simply hurt her emotionally as well, such as claiming she had incest with her son. Finally, when she was taken to the guillotine she was driven in an open topped tumbrel and not a closed carriage as her husband was. The differences expound how far the people had come from the beginning of the Reign of Terror to the end.

      • Jake Lankford

        June 25, 2013 at 4:21 pm

        When you think about it though, Louis the 16th did have a carriage and did not have the court accuse him of incest, but they also did not allow him to properly address the crowd or finish his speech when he was executed. Ethan is totally right though when he mentioned the differences that had brought the French people to such cruelty and violence over the period of the Reign of Terror and the Revolution.

      • Tiffany Wright

        June 25, 2013 at 8:14 pm

        I agree with the previously stated comments by Ethan and Jake concerning the differences of Marie Antoinette and King Lois XVI’s trials. However, I wanted to point out that the people blamed Marie Antoinette for the bankruptcy of the country. So to treat Marie Antoinette more harshly than her husband I could see that happening. The people took out on her what they had been wanting to do since the very being when the mob of women caused her to flee to King Louis XVI’s apartment. The people wanted her to feel the neglect and disrespect she served them while as queen.

  6. YR-Z

    June 25, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    6. Why the height of the French Revolution is called the Reign of Terror?

    • niyati

      June 25, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      The height of the French Revolution was the Regin of Terror because anyone and everyone were getting executed. Neighbors turn in neighbors. People were afraid of each other because police spies were everywhere and anyone suspected of suspicious activity were taken and put on trial and executed. “make terror order of the day”

      • Jake Lankford

        June 25, 2013 at 4:22 pm

        Not to mention that any sort of verbal or other support of the former two upper-estates was also met with death. You didn’t complain or you would have been sent off to the guillotine yourself because you would have been branded as a “traitor”.

  7. YR-Z

    June 25, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    7. How did the Revolution get out of the hands of its founders?

    • Jake Lankford

      June 25, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      Mostly because at the initial onset Free Press and poisonous articles were being published urging the public to evolve into what is known as a “mob mentality”. Robespierre himself had to contain his own people and use fear to keep some measure of order. Plus, the founders kept getting killed for their own ideas that sparked the revolution (especially in the case of Danton when he and his followers wanted to suspend the senseless killing of the citizenry).

    • Tiffany Wright

      June 25, 2013 at 7:41 pm

      The Revolution got out of the hands of its founders to me by having someone always wanting to go a little further. Even now I deal with people that want to out do others, and in doing so over power the original notion, idea, and/or process. Unfortunately, someone comes along and steals the show from the originator and the over-thrower to become the new over thrower. Which now keeps the vicious cycle going. If Robespierre was able to address how violence was getting way out of hand then maybe the guillotine would not have been his end. It is almost as if a hard blow has to be dealt for others not to try and over throw the originator or just stop the cycle.

  8. YR-Z

    June 25, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    8. Why were the revolutionaries against the Catholic Church?

    • Jake Lankford

      June 25, 2013 at 4:27 pm

      The revolutionaries were against the Catholic Church was because since the time of Rome the church had played an integral part in the way people thought, acted, and interacted with each other. New Radicalism was emerging alongside the Enlightenment when people began to decide their own fate and destiny in the world. Why continue to follow an ancient church that did nothing to alleviate the pains and problems of the world around you when ideas of freedom and equality inspired something the people had never before had?

    • Elizabeth (Betsy) Blakley

      June 25, 2013 at 9:58 pm

      One of the major reasons why the revolutionaries fought to remove the Catholic Church from French society was due to its strong ties to the monarcy which they had overthrown. From murdering the king as a symbol of the end of the old government, to the execution of anyone who dared to speak against the new system, it was clear that any sign of favoritism toward the old monarchy was considered to be dangerous to the Revolution’s development. Just as they beheaded those who spoke fondly of the past monarchy, the revolutionaries felt that it was necessary to cut all ties with the Catholic church and remove its traces from their new French society.

  9. Marquisse Jackson

    June 25, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    I would also argue that the protestant’s new views on the argument of democracy vs monarchy. The catholic church recently made a strong stand of reforming the church with spiritual rules and public demonstrations, and as previously stated the enlightenment period was inspiring people to think for themselves. This was the emergence of the scientific method and exploring by ones self to find the answer to problems. The Catholic monarchy that ruled every part of peoples lives was no longer seen as any sort of freedom and uprisings were occurring where people wanted a chance to have a say in how their everyday lives were governed.


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