Liminality in Gender, Race, and Nation in les Quarteronnes de la Nouvelle-Orléans by Sidonie de la Houssaye
This project examines themes of race, gender, and nation in a series of four novels by nineteenth-century Louisiana author Sidonie de la Houssaye. The series, called Les Quarteronnes de la Nouvelle-Orléans (The Quadroons of New Orleans), is based on the system of plaçage. Plaçage, a system of concubinage in which white men took women of mixed racial heritage (such as quadroons) as mistresses, becomes a source of conflict and contradiction in the series. The author sees plaçage as a tragic necessity for some educated and morally upright quarteronnes. For others, those quarteronnes depicted as libidinous and avaricious, it is a means of benefiting from the destruction of families from the upper echelons of white society.
Between these binaristic visions of plaçage, I found that de la Houssaye also offers a more nuanced vision of life in New Orleans for women and women of color in particular. I refer to these nuances as liminal spaces; spaces of in-betweenness. In the first two chapters, I explore the liminal racial status of the heroines and how that liminality becomes the basis for a performative model of race. In the third and fourth chapters, I explore the connections between peformativity in gender and its connections to performative race. In the final chapters, I explore how the author envisions Louisiana as a place that lacks a unified sense of nationality and how that lack affects the lives of the characters and the author herself.
Although it has long been ignored, the liminal space that is Louisiana has produced a significant body of literature in French as well as in English. These novels are a fascinating sample of the francophone Louisiana oeuvre. They also, as I argue, address issues that are currently of great interest to literary scholars working in the fields of gender, race, and postcolonial studies. It is my hope that readers of this dissertation will agree that these novels, and Louisiana literature in general, merit a great deal of further study.
Advisor:Jack Yeager; Benjamin Martin; Kate Jensen; Pius Ngandu; Nathaniel Wing
School:Louisiana State University in Shreveport
School Location:USA - Louisiana
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Date of Publication:04/07/2006