French author Claire de Duras’s novel Ourika (), originally published anonymously, centers around the true story of a woman who was purchased as a . Project Gutenberg · 58, free ebooks · 3 by duchesse de Claire de Durfort Duras. Ourika by duchesse de Claire de Durfort Duras. No cover. The Project Gutenberg EBook of Ourika, by Claire Duras This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most other parts of the world at .

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Published inMme de Duras’ Ourika is a unique contribution to French literature: The sky should have been the limit for this multi-talented character, but angst and depression sets in when she suddenly realises what it really means to be black in an era of racial segregation. I did not regret being black.

I was told I was an angel. There was nothing to warn me that the colour of my skin might be a disadvantage.

I had only iurika friend of my own age and my dark skin never meant he did not like me”. From the posture of a carefree child prodigy attracting the favour of French nobilities, she finds herself in duas position of a lonely young woman with no escape from her privileged yet wretched existence. Ourika’s despondency and ultimate passing show society’s power to break those who have the impudence to challenge its rules.

Yet, beside this all to common fact of life, this novel is also telling a far more uplifting story, one that debunks some deeply ingrained stereotypes that have nurtured social ordinance. She tells of women’s ability to achieve extraordinary feats in all spheres of human endeavour.

Ourika by duchesse de Claire de Durfort Duras

She has gained a tremendous range of skills and knowledge under the tutelage of the best teachers of her time: I liked painting, and a famous painter took it upon himself to direct my efforts.


I learned English and Italian, and Mme de B. She guided my intellect and formed my judgment. When I talked with her and discovered the treasures of her mind, I felt my own exalted. It was admiration for oueika that opened my own intelligence to me”. Given the ferocious exploitation of African labour in the s, the thought of depicting a black African girl who was neither a slave nor a maid could appear quite fanciful.

Ourika by Claire de Duras

Yet, the actual young person who inspired Mme de Duras shows otherwise. She had been purchased in Saint Louis by ouria Chevalier de Boufflers, then Governor of Senegal, and presented as a gift to Mme de Beauvau who brought her up in Paris just like her own daughter. Looking at her was an everlasting pleasure: Embarked aboard the slave- ship Phillis, she ourikq arrived in America in on the brink of death and had been named Phillis Wheatly.

Ourkia she received the best possible education a girl could get at the time, thus becoming the first major African-American female intellectual. What turns an author, a book or a literary character into an inspirational icon, cherished by society over time, is a matter of conjecture, but the reasons for Mme de Duras’ novel ebbing toward obscurity in the 19th century can be explained by die-hard racism and sexism: The subsequent shift from slavery to 19th century colonial exploitation and the pseudo-scientific theories developed on “the inequality of human races” only pushed dissenting voices, such as Mme de Duras’, further towards total oblivion.

The ouria to male cultural and intellectual hegemony that was initiated by 18th century and early 19th century women was also met with contempt, scorn and preconceived ideas; although those who were feeling under threat in this case were not the shady profiteers of slave labour but a bevy of male philosophers and writers convinced of men’s superiority over oueika.


For example, Jean-Jacques Rousseau took great exception to the ascendency of women in French intellectual life.

From a Rousseauian point of view, it has been seen as a clever ploy aimed at seducing men of letters who were easily distracted from their all important men’s business.

But this interpretation does not stand close scrutiny.

Ourika: An English Translation Summary & Study Guide

Every page tells us the story of genuine love and attachment. If she teaches her to dance to perfection, for example, it is not to exploit her youth and charm; it is rather because she knows her entourage will appreciate seeing her representing Africa to advantage in a quadrille, symbolising the four corners of ouroka globe.

She wants people to engage with her as they would with any aristocratic lady of her age: To her, Ourika is not a “Noble savage”. She is a good tempered and gifted individual and she wants her to look her best, to behave like a genuine aristocrat and to assume her Durxs origins.

Furthermore, she does not satisfy herself with common stereotypes about Africa, but makes genuine efforts to find out relevant information about Ourika’s country: But unfortunately, doing the right thing according to one’s conscience or inclination does not mean doing so in the eyes of society.

Thus Mme de B. What might have been if they had not been refused entry to the pantheon of the all-time Greats?