"The stupid aristocracy of skin": Charles Testut's French southern antislavery novel. "Le Vieux Salomon, ou une famille d'esclaves au XIXeme siecle"
This dissertation considers a nineteenth-century French southern antislavery novel by Charles Testut, Le Vieux Salomon, ou une famille d'esclaves au XIXeme siecle [the Old Solomon, or the Life of a Slave Family in the Nineteenth-Century], written in 1858. First published as a serial in the author's paper, L'Equite: Journal de progres universel (1871), it has sunk into oblivion. However, it is of interest for French studies today because its author, a Frenchman who had traveled and lived in the Caribbean and the United States, makes a significant contribution to the literary portrayal of slavery in the South as a Southern author. His distinctiveness lies in his French intellectual heritage and in his awareness of the rich historical and cultural links between the ethnic legacies of Louisiana and the French Caribbean It is Testut's blatant attack on slavery that sets him apart from other French Southern writers. While his contemporaries wrote about the issue with nostalgia for the 'good old days' and portrayed masters as kind patriarchs and slaves as faithful and devoted servants, Testut challenged this generalization. Though he included a few 'good masters' in his novel, Testut decried the State's active role in the plantation economy in antebellum Louisiana and the white hegemony that perpetuated an exploitative racial hierarchy My first chapter, entitled 'Social Disruption: Testut and French Socialism,' explores Testut's socialist ideology set forth in his Reconstruction newspaper, L'Equite: Journal de progres universel (1871). Throughout his life, Testut was committed to the cause of defending the marginalized. In Le Vieux Salomon, Testut applies his theories to the issue at hand in the United States and the French colonies: slavery and the prejudice of race Chapter two, 'La plus grande et la plus belle des Societes humaines---Freemasonry and Le Vieux Salomon,' is devoted to the Masonic ideology as portrayed in Le Vieux Salomon . The novel not only testifies to Testut's French republican ideology, but also to his conception of the world molded by Masonic teaching. Testut creatively integrates in the novel Masonic symbols and principles and uses the Masonic initiation ritual as a motivating force in the plot In chapter three, 'The Stupid Aristocracy of Skin: The Black Persona in Le Vieux Salomon,' I show how Testut endeavors, through his construction of raced and gendered identity in his protagonists, Rose and Casimir, to eradicate the association of blackness with inferiority My last chapter, 'Local Color and the Literary Imagination: Can a Southern Antislavery Novel Outmatch its Northern Forerunner?' is a comparative study between Le Vieux Salomon and Harriett Beecher Stowe's Uncle Toms Cabin (1852). The few critics who have read Testut's novel all make reference to Stowe's work. My objective is to show how Testut's use of local color enriches his literary production and how, in this particular case, his quality as a French southern local writer sets him apart from Stowe's singular northern view