Ourika is an 1823 novel by Claire de Duras, originally published anonymously.



The story is based on a few bare bones of historical facts, and was committed (reluctantly) to the page by Claire de Duras. She only did so to prevent any possible plagiarism, as she recounted the story — with much acclaim — to those attending her salon in post-Revolutionary Paris. She was the close friend of François-René de Chateaubriand, whom she had met in exile in London, and who helped her in publishing this story among others.

The novel is unique in that it represents a critical break from the representation of black literary characters, and that it also represents perhaps the first earnest attempt by a white author to situate herself within a different racial/national psyche. The novella covers the time before, during, and after the French Revolution and addresses key themes of race, nationality, exile, interracial love and kinship and the psychological adjustment to these. It signifies an important movement from traditional notions of race, nationality, and kinship towards the identity politics of today.


Ourika, a Senegalese infant, is "saved" from the slave trade by the governor of Senegal, and brought back to Paris as a gift for Madame de B. She is raised well, according to the standards for white Parisian girls of high society; she is accomplished in many areas and is even a débutante. After Ourika's society outing, things begin to go awry. She overhears a conversation between her benefactress and a Marquise as they discuss her future, or lack thereof. The Marquise's famous line is: "Ourika ... has been placed into Society without its consent; Society will avenge this indiscretion."

Ourika is then struck by the realization of her color, and undergoes a psychological reaction akin to Frantz Fanon's account of racial awareness in Peau Noire, Masques Blancs (Black Skin, White Masks). She sinks into profound melancholy and is physically affected by it to the point where her life is endangered.

Key themes

See also


  • Chilcoat, Michelle. "Confinement, the Family Institution, and the Case of Claire de Duras’ Ourika." Vol. 38, No. 3. (Fall 1998),6-16.
  • Dimauro, Damon. "Ourika, or Galatea Reverts to Stone." Nineteenth-Century French Studies. (Spr-Sum 2000). 187.
  • O'Connell, David. "Ourika: Black Face, White Mask." The French Review. Special Issue. No. 6, Studies on the French Novel (SPring, 1974), 47-56.
  • Rouillard, Linda Marie. "The Black Galatea: Claire de Duras’ Ourika." Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Vol. 32, No. 3 & 4. (Spring-Summer 2004), 207-22.
  • Warburton, Eileen. "Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down: Ourika, Cinderella, and The French Lieutenant's Woman." Twentieth Century Literature. Vol. 42, No.1, John Fowles Issue (Spring, 1996), 165-186.
  • Weil, Kari. "Romantic exile and the melancholia of identification." differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. Vol. 7, No. 2, (Summer 1995). 111-27.

External links


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