In the early years of the nineteenth century, the burgeoning cultural pride of white Creoles in New Orleans intersected with America’s golden age of print, to explosive effect. Imagining the Creole City reveals the profusion of literary out-put—histories and novels, poetry and plays—that white Creoles used to imagine themselves as a unified community of writers and readers.
Rien Fertel argues that Charles Gayarré’s English-language histories of Louisiana, which emphasized the state’s dual connection to America and to France, provided the foundation of a white Creole print culture predicated on Louisiana’s exceptionalism. The writings of authors like Grace King, Adrien Rouquette, and Alfred Mercier consciously fostered an image of Louisiana as a particular social space, and of themselves as the true inheritors of its history and culture. In turn, the forging of this white Creole identity created a close-knit community of cosmopolitan Creole elites, who reviewed each other’s books, attended the same salons, crusaded against the popular fiction of George Washington Cable, and worked together to preserve the French language in local and state governmental institutions. Together they reimagined the definition of “Creole” and used it as a marker of status and power.
By the end of this group’s era of cultural prominence, Creole exceptionalism had become a cornerstone in the myth of Louisiana in general and of New Orleans in particular. In defining themselves, the authors in the white Creole print community also fashioned a literary identity that resonates even today.
Rien Fertel is a visiting professor of history at Tulane University.
Praise for Imagining the Creole City
“A fascinating literary history of Francophone and Anglophone creole New Orleans writers from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. . . . [An] exceptionally thoughtful and intelligent book.”—American Historical Review
“Fertel uses rare publications and archival collections to present a taut, deeply researched, and gracefully written study. His book is foundational for understanding New Orleans’s history and the birth of Louisiana literature.”—Journal of American History
“In understanding the multivalent legacies of the architects of Creole culture, Fertel’s interdisciplinary approach to historical narratives, poetry, political essays, and fiction is welcome and effective. . . . From this study, an important genealogy of New Orleans’s contentious print culture emerges.”—Journal of Southern History
“With an informative notes section that highlights important bodies of work, and a comprehensive bibliography that testifies to the scale of his research, Fertel consolidates the information most relevant to his thesis within each chapter. . . . An important intervention in studies of Creole literary history, giving, for the first time, serious critical treatment of the white Creole print culture that contributed both to Creole identity formation and to ideologies of race and identity in the larger United States.”—Journal of American Studies