This new historicist study chronicles the life and work of a Louisiana French Creole, Leona Queyrouze (1861-1938) who grew up in the turbulent era following the Civil War. Her articles and poetry, mostly written in French, were published in the local periodicals, L’Abeille, Comptes-Rendus, the Picayune and the Crusader under the pseudonyms, Constant Beauvais, Salamandra, and Adamas. She also translated plays from French into English in New York under at the request of Harpers Bazar and wrote two symphonies that were performed at the World Exposition in New Orleans in 1884.
Through an ever-widening critical lens, I focus upon her personal life, her ethnic identity as a Creole, the Vieux Carré, and her salon that included such notables as writer Mollie Moore Davis, Charles Gayarré, historian; Paul Morphy, chess player; Dr. Alfred Mercier, novelist and dramatist; General P.G. T. Beauregard, Adrien Rouquette, bohemian poet-priest, and Lafcadio Hearn who later became an important figure in the fusion of eastern and western literature. Her salon functioned as a folk group, one that created the Athénée for the preservation of French culture through its literary organ, the Comptes-Rendus. In the symbolic acts of conservatism and dynamism, according to the twin laws of folklore, they were instrumental in preserving the French Creole culture at the same time they were factors in its change.
In her writing, Queyrouze addresses the key issues of the period and calls for egalitarian reform and suffrage even as she struggled with her own elitism and assumptions of racial hierarchy. In the final analysis, I compare her work to that of mainstream American writers, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Kate Chopin who were calling for social reform from within the patriarchal social structure while Queyrouze was positioning herself as an outsider in work that was both elegiac and rebellious. Contrary to the Protestantism and realism of her counterparts, including George Washington Cable, Queyrouze followed the French romantic aesthetic traditions codified by Victor Hugo and Alfred de Musset, and as such, her work challenges our notions of a monolithic American literature.