Quebec Studies

Weak Whites: Yellow Fever in Three Nineteenth-Century Louisiana Novels

Quebec Studies (2020), 70, (1), 33–55.

Abstract

Since the eighteenth century, yellow fever has had a racialized history in New Orleans and elsewhere in the Americas stemming, in part, from the disease’s origins in West Africa. There was a misconception that blacks were less likely to fall victim to the disease. This article establishes the theories around contagion and susceptibility, showing that whites, especially foreigners, were thought to be at greater risk for what was called the “Strangers’ Disease.” It then analyzes three nineteenth-century novels about New Orleans wherein yellow fever plays an important role. Two of the novels are quite well known: The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life (1880) by George Washington Cable and Chita: A Memory of Last Island (1889) by Lafcadio Hearn. The third novel, Amitié et dévouement, ou Trois mois à la Louisiane (1845) by Camille Lebrun, although virtually forgotten, is especially important as it represents the voice of a French woman writer whose views on race differ from those of the two other authors.

Depuis le dix-huitième siècle, la fièvre jaune est associée à l’histoire raciale des Amériques, et en particulier à celle de La Nouvelle-Orléans en Louisiane, qui a abrité une grande communauté d’esclaves venant d’Afrique de l’Ouest, l’un des berceaux du virus responsable de la maladie. À cette époque, circulait une idée fausse selon laquelle les Noirs étaient moins susceptibles d’être victimes de la fièvre jaune. Cet article nous éclaire sur les théories de la contagion, soulignant que les Blancs étaient considérés comme étant davantage à risque, principalement les étrangers plus disposés à être atteints. En témoigne l’appellation « la maladie des étrangers » qui lui était alors communément attribuée. Ensuite, il analyse trois romans du dix-neuvième siècle dans lesquels la fièvre jaune joue un rôle majeur. Les deux premiers romans The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life (1880) écrit par George Washington Cable et Chita: Un souvenir de l’Île dernière (1889) écrit par Lafcadio Hearn sont des ouvrages de référence. Le troisième, Amitié et dévouement, ou Trois mois à la Louisiane (1845) écrit par Camille Lebrun, reste un document méconnu et pourtant particulièrement important. Notre analyse de ces trois ouvrages souligne la prise de position tout à fait inhabituelle de l’écrivaine française sur le principe de race en tout point différente de celles des deux autres auteurs.

Access Token
£25.00
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Works cited

Blake, Lauren E., and Mariano A. Garcia-Blanco. 2014. “Human Genetic Variation and Yellow Fever Mortality during 19th Century U.S. Epidemics.” mBio. American Society for Microbiology 5 (3): n.p. Google Scholar

Brennan, Patrick. 2011. “Getting Out of the Crescent City: Irish Immigration and the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1853.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 52 (2): 189-205. Google Scholar

Cable, George W. 1913. Dr. Sevier. New York: Scribner’s Sons. Google Scholar

Cable, George W. 1988. The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life. New York: Penguin Books. Google Scholar

Carrigan, Jo Ann. 2015. The Saffron Scourge: A History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana, 1796-1905. Lafayette: University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press. Google Scholar

Chacón, Heather. 2014. “Public Health as Public Wealth: Yellow Fever and New Orleans’s Trade Economy in George Washington Cable’s The Grandissimes.” Studies in American Fiction 41 (1): 1-25. Google Scholar

“Decline and Civil War, 1830-1865.” 2015. Free People of Color in Louisiana. Louisiana State University Library Special Collections. https://lib.lsu.edu/sites/all/files/sc/fpoc/history.html. Google Scholar

Dee, Jonathan. 2019. “Why Lafcadio Hearn’s Ghost Stories Still Haunt Us.” The New Yorker (September 9). https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/09/16/why-lafcadio-hearns-ghost-stories-still-haunt-us Google Scholar

Espinosa, M. 2014. “The Question of Racial Immunity to Yellow Fever in History and Historiography.” Social Science History 38 (3-4): 437-453. Google Scholar

Gazette Hebdomadaire de Médecine et de Chirurgie. 1878. Deuxième Série, Tome X. Paris: G. Masson, editeur, Libraire de l’Académie de Médecine. Google Scholar

Gould, Philip. 2000. “Race, Commerce, and the Literature of Yellow Fever in Early National Philadelphia.” Early American Literature 35 (2): 157-86. Google Scholar

Hearn, Lafcadio. 2001. Chita: A Memory of Last Island. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Co. Google Scholar

Hogarth, Rana Asali. 2013. “Medical Science, Racial Ideology, and Practice, to Reconstruction.” In The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 24: Race, edited by Holt Thomas C., Green Laurie B., and Wilson Charles Reagan, 97-99. Durham: University of North Carolina Press. Google Scholar

Johnson, Joe and Robin White. Forthcoming. Friendship and Devotion, or Three Months in Louisiana. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Google Scholar

Kelley, Laura D. 2011. “Yellow Fever.” In Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. https://64parishes.org Google Scholar

Klotz, Sarah. 2012. “Black, White, and Yellow Fever: Contagious Race in the Mysteries of New Orleans.” The Mississippi Quarterly 65 (2): 231-260. Google Scholar

Lachance, P. 1994. “The Formation of a Three-Caste Society: Evidence from Wills in Antebellum New Orleans.” Social Science History 18 (2): 211-242. Google Scholar

Lachance, P. 2008. “The Saint-Domingue Influx: An Essay Review.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 49 (3): 335-340. Google Scholar

Lavergne, Gérard. 1892. “Panama: Le passé, le présent, l’avenir.” Le Génie civil - revue générale hebdomadaire des industries françaises et étrangères 525 (vol. XXI, no. 9): 140-143. Google Scholar

Lebrun, Camille. 1845. Amitié et dévouement, ou Trois mois à la Louisiane. Tours: Pornin. Google Scholar

Lebrun, Camille. 1850. Le Miroir de la France. Paris: Bureau de la Direction du Miroir de la France. Google Scholar

“Mat.” n.d. Dictionnaire de français. Larousse.fr. https://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/m%c3%a2t/49803?q=mat#49707 Google Scholar

McNeill, J. 2004. “Yellow Jack and Geopolitics: Environment, Epidemics, and the Struggles for Empire in the American Tropics, 1650-1825.” OAH Magazine of History 18 (3): 9-13. Google Scholar

Mercier, Alfred. 1860 La fièvre jaune, Sa manière d’être à l’égard des étrangers à la Nouvelle-Orléans et dans campagnes. Paris: Librairie Adrien Delahaye. Google Scholar

Mercier, Alfred. 1881. L’habitation Saint-Ybars ou Maîtres et esclaves en Louisiane - récit social. New Orleans: Imprimérie Franco-Américaine. Google Scholar

Monaghan, Frank. 1961. Bibliography French Travellers in the United States, 1765-1932. New York: Antiquarian Press Ltd. Google Scholar

“Mosquito-borne diseases.” 2020. In Neglected Tropical Diseases. World Health Organization https://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/vector_ecology/mosquito-borne-diseases/en/ Google Scholar

Nabae, Hitomi. 2014. “Creolization in Lafcadio Hearn’s New Orleans and Martiniquan Writings.” Review of International American Studies 7 (1): 131-150. Google Scholar

Smith, Matthew. 2019. “The Civil War’s Literary Aftershocks: George Washington Cable.” In New Orleans: A Literary History, edited by T.R. Johnson, 82-96. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Spear, Jennifer. 2009. Race, Sex, and Social Order in Early New Orleans. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Google Scholar

Starr, Frederick. 2019. “Illusion and Disillusion: The Making of Lafcadio Hearn.” In New Orleans: a Literary History, edited by T.R. Johnson, 96-113. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Thompson, Shirley. 2012. “The Long View from the Levee.” Transition 108: 1-17. Google Scholar

Tinker, Edward Larocque. 1928. Toucoutou. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. Google Scholar

Trask, Benjamin. 2009. “Yellow Fever in New Orleans, 1878: Crisis Management and the Cable Family.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 50 (1): 71-84. Google Scholar

White, Robin. 2019. “French Education in New Orleans.” In Languages in Louisiana: Community and Culture, edited by Nathalie Dajko and Shana Walton, 140-155. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Google Scholar

“Yellow Fever Deaths in New Orleans, 1817-1905.” Louisiana Division New Orleans Public Library. http://nutrias.org/~nopl/facts/feverdeaths.htm Google Scholar

“Yellow Fever and its Origins.” 1853. The Times-Picayune (September 25). https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view Google Scholar

Blake, Lauren E., and Mariano A. Garcia-Blanco. 2014. “Human Genetic Variation and Yellow Fever Mortality during 19th Century U.S. Epidemics.” mBio. American Society for Microbiology 5 (3): n.p. Google Scholar

Brennan, Patrick. 2011. “Getting Out of the Crescent City: Irish Immigration and the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1853.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 52 (2): 189-205. Google Scholar

Cable, George W. 1913. Dr. Sevier. New York: Scribner’s Sons. Google Scholar

Cable, George W. 1988. The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life. New York: Penguin Books. Google Scholar

Carrigan, Jo Ann. 2015. The Saffron Scourge: A History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana, 1796-1905. Lafayette: University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press. Google Scholar

Chacón, Heather. 2014. “Public Health as Public Wealth: Yellow Fever and New Orleans’s Trade Economy in George Washington Cable’s The Grandissimes.” Studies in American Fiction 41 (1): 1-25. Google Scholar

“Decline and Civil War, 1830-1865.” 2015. Free People of Color in Louisiana. Louisiana State University Library Special Collections. https://lib.lsu.edu/sites/all/files/sc/fpoc/history.html. Google Scholar

Dee, Jonathan. 2019. “Why Lafcadio Hearn’s Ghost Stories Still Haunt Us.” The New Yorker (September 9). https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/09/16/why-lafcadio-hearns-ghost-stories-still-haunt-us Google Scholar

Espinosa, M. 2014. “The Question of Racial Immunity to Yellow Fever in History and Historiography.” Social Science History 38 (3-4): 437-453. Google Scholar

Gazette Hebdomadaire de Médecine et de Chirurgie. 1878. Deuxième Série, Tome X. Paris: G. Masson, editeur, Libraire de l’Académie de Médecine. Google Scholar

Gould, Philip. 2000. “Race, Commerce, and the Literature of Yellow Fever in Early National Philadelphia.” Early American Literature 35 (2): 157-86. Google Scholar

Hearn, Lafcadio. 2001. Chita: A Memory of Last Island. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Co. Google Scholar

Hogarth, Rana Asali. 2013. “Medical Science, Racial Ideology, and Practice, to Reconstruction.” In The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 24: Race, edited by Holt Thomas C., Green Laurie B., and Wilson Charles Reagan, 97-99. Durham: University of North Carolina Press. Google Scholar

Johnson, Joe and Robin White. Forthcoming. Friendship and Devotion, or Three Months in Louisiana. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Google Scholar

Kelley, Laura D. 2011. “Yellow Fever.” In Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. https://64parishes.org Google Scholar

Klotz, Sarah. 2012. “Black, White, and Yellow Fever: Contagious Race in the Mysteries of New Orleans.” The Mississippi Quarterly 65 (2): 231-260. Google Scholar

Lachance, P. 1994. “The Formation of a Three-Caste Society: Evidence from Wills in Antebellum New Orleans.” Social Science History 18 (2): 211-242. Google Scholar

Lachance, P. 2008. “The Saint-Domingue Influx: An Essay Review.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 49 (3): 335-340. Google Scholar

Lavergne, Gérard. 1892. “Panama: Le passé, le présent, l’avenir.” Le Génie civil - revue générale hebdomadaire des industries françaises et étrangères 525 (vol. XXI, no. 9): 140-143. Google Scholar

Lebrun, Camille. 1845. Amitié et dévouement, ou Trois mois à la Louisiane. Tours: Pornin. Google Scholar

Lebrun, Camille. 1850. Le Miroir de la France. Paris: Bureau de la Direction du Miroir de la France. Google Scholar

“Mat.” n.d. Dictionnaire de français. Larousse.fr. https://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/m%c3%a2t/49803?q=mat#49707 Google Scholar

McNeill, J. 2004. “Yellow Jack and Geopolitics: Environment, Epidemics, and the Struggles for Empire in the American Tropics, 1650-1825.” OAH Magazine of History 18 (3): 9-13. Google Scholar

Mercier, Alfred. 1860 La fièvre jaune, Sa manière d’être à l’égard des étrangers à la Nouvelle-Orléans et dans campagnes. Paris: Librairie Adrien Delahaye. Google Scholar

Mercier, Alfred. 1881. L’habitation Saint-Ybars ou Maîtres et esclaves en Louisiane - récit social. New Orleans: Imprimérie Franco-Américaine. Google Scholar

Monaghan, Frank. 1961. Bibliography French Travellers in the United States, 1765-1932. New York: Antiquarian Press Ltd. Google Scholar

“Mosquito-borne diseases.” 2020. In Neglected Tropical Diseases. World Health Organization https://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/vector_ecology/mosquito-borne-diseases/en/ Google Scholar

Nabae, Hitomi. 2014. “Creolization in Lafcadio Hearn’s New Orleans and Martiniquan Writings.” Review of International American Studies 7 (1): 131-150. Google Scholar

Smith, Matthew. 2019. “The Civil War’s Literary Aftershocks: George Washington Cable.” In New Orleans: A Literary History, edited by T.R. Johnson, 82-96. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Spear, Jennifer. 2009. Race, Sex, and Social Order in Early New Orleans. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Google Scholar

Starr, Frederick. 2019. “Illusion and Disillusion: The Making of Lafcadio Hearn.” In New Orleans: a Literary History, edited by T.R. Johnson, 96-113. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Thompson, Shirley. 2012. “The Long View from the Levee.” Transition 108: 1-17. Google Scholar

Tinker, Edward Larocque. 1928. Toucoutou. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. Google Scholar

Trask, Benjamin. 2009. “Yellow Fever in New Orleans, 1878: Crisis Management and the Cable Family.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 50 (1): 71-84. Google Scholar

White, Robin. 2019. “French Education in New Orleans.” In Languages in Louisiana: Community and Culture, edited by Nathalie Dajko and Shana Walton, 140-155. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Google Scholar

“Yellow Fever Deaths in New Orleans, 1817-1905.” Louisiana Division New Orleans Public Library. http://nutrias.org/~nopl/facts/feverdeaths.htm Google Scholar

“Yellow Fever and its Origins.” 1853. The Times-Picayune (September 25). https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Details

Author details

White, Robin Anita

White, Robin Anita