Category Archives: 1 Duras

1.2 Ourika (pages 18-46)

By Yosálida C. Rivero-Zaritzky

This second part talks more about the beginning and height of the French Revolution and its repercussions on Ourika’s immediate social circle. In the beginning, she embraces the hope that the ideals of the Revolution might help improve her situation. However, the events in Santo Domingo, the massacre of white people at the hands of rebel slaves, makes her more self-conscious of her race and fate. Many aristocrats leave the country to avoid persecution, but Ourika stays with Mme de B. in France. She realizes that she has romantic feelings for Charles, the grandson of Mme de B. and her long-time friend, but he only sees her as a dear confidant. Knowing that she cannot marry the man whom she loves, Ourika enters a convent where she seeks peace in a sisterhood of women who share her devotion, but the severe depression that for years had consumed her has damaged her health beyond repair.

It is interesting how self-perception can determine the type of life a person may lead. It is true that as humans we are a product of our social environment. On the other hand, we enjoy the benefit of our own agency. Going back to the time when Ourika was written, women had very few choices. In fact, Ourika receives the best possible education for an aristocrat woman (music, painting, instruction in numerous languages) but even that is limited. She enjoys a more comfortable lifestyle than other women of her race and even other Caucasian women. She receives an education equal to that of other aristocrats, but not equal opportunities.


Posted by on June 27, 2013 in 1 Duras


1.1 Ourika (pages 3-18)

By Yosálida C. Rivero-Zaritzky

This first section of the novel begins with the introduction of a male narrator who mentions Ourika, his new patient. She tells him the story of her life since she feels that the suffering from her past is the reason for the illness of her present. She is a colored, educated woman who was raised by an aristocratic family in France some years before of the French Revolution. In this section, Ourika describes her life before the beginning of this historical period. Growing up she never felt disadvantaged by the color of her skin; she paid her skin color little if any notice at all. Overhearing a conversation between her protector, the Mme. la Marechale de B., and a Marquise dramatically changed her life and her notions of self.

(1823) has elements from the Enlightenment and the Romantic movements, as do many works of art from this transitional period. On the one hand, it is evident that, on a daily basis and at social gatherings at Mme. de B.’s house, the air was filled with stimulating conversations that strongly favored reason, an Enlightenment characteristic. On the other hand, the story revolves around the personal views, the surroundings, and the circumstances of the main character, a heroine who succumbs to melancholy, a Romantic element. Another Romantic characteristic is the presence of an exotic heroine, a non-traditional, non-Caucasian main character from a remote land with different traditions and language.

The reader learns of the customs of the time with regard to women when Ourika’s comments on her training: she says that it was “considered essential for a girl’s perfect education.” (9) She learned to sing and paint. She learned English, Italian, and “was well read,” all qualities characteristic of an aristocratic education and very difficult for common citizens to obtain. She said that she “knew no other way of life [… and that she] acquired a sharp contempt for everything that didn’t belong in that world. [Her] world.” (8). Ourika was African, but she was never treated differently than any other member of the family, so it was easy for her to overlook the fact that she had dark skin. It is curious that she never felt different until the conversation between the two friends brought the topic to her attention. After that, Ourika says that her childhood ended. She was 15 years old at the time she had that awakening, and it marked the rest of her life. It was not only the fact that she had dark skin; it was the realization that because of that, her opportunities in life were limited.


Posted by on June 26, 2013 in 1 Duras


1.0 Ourika (1823)


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