The pursuit of pleasure
New Orleans quadroons were desired by white men for their beauty and the combination of their almost white racial performance and the promise of sexual excess of their African blood as represented in nineteenth century Anglo-American travel accounts. This dissertation considers how nineteenth century Louisiana literary representations of quadroons, free mixed-race women, challenged racialized and gendered stereotypes. By putting the marginalized figures at the center of their narratives, Louisiana authors showed how the quadroons’ hybrid identity and status as free women of color allowed them to serve as a literary nexus for the continual redefinition of the increasingly marginalized francophone communities that, faced with the encroaching Americanization, would need to transcend race or cease to exist in Louisiana. Antebellum French collection of poetry Les Cenelles (1845) written by Creole free men of color responds to the extramarital interracial relationships that are now seen through the lens of the trope of plaçage. The poets present themselves as legitimate marriage partners for quadroons and combat stereotypes of free women of color by grounding their opposition to interracial relationships in moral rather than racial terms. Alfred Mercier’s L’Habitation Saint-Ybars (1881) and George Washington Cable’s stories “‘Tite Poulette” (1879) and “Madame Delphine” (1881) manipulate the American Tragic Mulatta trope to show that Louisiana Creoles need to confront myths of racial purity and look towards a community based on shared cultural heritage among Louisianans rather than one divided by the calculus of racial distinction. Sidonie de la Houssaye’s tetraology Les Quarteronnes de la Nouvelle-Orléans (1894-98) confronts white men’s hypocritical behavior that punishes quadroons for their racial performance by staging those performances and punishing characters who engaged in them. The legacies of quadroons can be seen through cultural productions featuring the ongoing complexities of race relations today through Horace Jenkin’s film Cane River (1982) and Brit Bennett’s novel The Vanishing Half (2020). A renewed interest in free people of color in the nineteenth century has led to attempts to recognize their important place in American history and recent publications address how today’s rhetoric echoes that of Reconstruction era Louisiana discussions on racial justice.