Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

The Frontiers of Popular Exoticism: Marie Bonaparte's New Orleans Crossings

Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

The Frontiers of Popular Exoticism: Marie Bonaparte's New Orleans Crossings

Article excerpt

In stories and novels designed primarily for female consumption and published throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, popular novelists played an essential role in transforming the female traveler into a heroic model of cosmopolitanism for Second Empire female readers and travelers. In contrast to the canonical literature of Nerval, Gautier, and Flaubert, the highly charged exotic fiction of popular novelists remains little understood. Female authors such as Anais Segalas, the Countess Dash, and Raoul de Navery made significant contributions to the genre, publishing their works with Hachette and in reviews like the Revue des deux mondes. The most prolific writer of the popular exotic, Marie Bonaparte-Wyse, turns her exotic gaze to Reconstruction New Orleans as a cultural crossroads for female settler, traveler and slave. At this key moment of rebuilding post-Civil War US and modern France, Bonaparte-Wyse's short story "Maxime: recit des moeurs creoles" (1874) and book-length travel account, Les Americaines chez elles (1895) dwell on similarities between the man of color's lack of freedom and the colonial woman's social retreat. My comparison of these two texts written more than twenty years apart will shed light on the unique contribution of this prolific and outspoken femme de lettres and voyageuse to contemporary notions of race and foreignness. (1)

Bonaparte-Wyse's impressive role in fueling female readers' emerging taste for travel must be measured initially through the correspondence of the journalist and Swiss nomade, Isabelle Eberhardt, who sought out Bonaparte-Wyse's literary and financial support on the advice of their mutual friend, Lydia Pachkov (Charles-Roux 238). Pachkov, an orientalist then living in Paris who had published her own travel accounts of North Africa and the Middle East in the 1870s, sent letters of introduction for Eberhardt to such prominent intellectual and political figures as the editor Georges Calmann-Levy and Charles Maunoir, the President of the Paris Geographical Society. In a letter written to Eberhardt on March 18, 1890, Pachkov sets forth the etiquette expected of the nineteenth-century voyageuse, recommending that Eberhardt join the Paris Geographical Society and dine at the Petite Vache 60, rue Mazarine, amongst the most renowned explorers and politicians of her time, where she must dress in elegant orientalist fashion: "Il faut trouver le moyen de vous presenter sans qu'on vous prenne pour une aventuriere. Je vous y aiderai" (Charles-Roux 214; quoted in Doyon xxxi). (2)

Nearly ten years later, Pachkov suggested that Eberhardt meet a most gracious cousin of Napoleon III--"une vieille momie couverte de diamants et vetue de dentelles. Elle a bien pres de quatre-vingts ans. Bref, sa maison est curieuse et quelquefois utile, si l'on sait y trouver des relations. Votre premiere visite, faites-la en europeen. N'allez chez elle en costume arabe qu'en soiree et en la prevenant que vous avez cette habitude" (Charles-Roux 238; Doyon xviii). (3) The vieille fille for whom Eberhardt likely adopted European dress, in place of her usual Algerian bedouin garb, was none other than Marie Bonaparte-Wyse, in full repossession of the name Louis-Napoleon legally denied her. Having previously obtained funding from the princess herself, Pachkov felt confident Eberhardt would extend the same favor for Eberhardt. (4) There exists no proof that Eberhardt actually visited Bonaparte-Wyse; this documentation of their relationship suggests nonetheless that this Second Empire writer and traveler stood as a fin-de-siecle figure of authority and respectability in an era of few women explorers.

With three different husbands, four nationalities, and eight pennames, (5) Marie Bonaparte-Wyse rarely sought approval from either family or state. Born Studholmina Hodgson in England in 1831 to Laetitia Bonaparte-Wyse (the daughter of Lucien Bonaparte and niece of Napoleon Bonaparte), Studholmina-Marie Bonaparte-Wyse was the illegitimate daughter of Laetitia and Captain Studholm John Hodgson, born after Laetitia left her husband Thomas Wyse in 1828. …

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