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Ourika: An English Translation

Overview

John Fowles presents a remarkable translation of a nineteenth-century work that provided the seed for his acclaimed novel The French Lieutenant's Woman and that will astonish and haunt modern readers.

Based on a true story, Claire de Duras's Ourika relates the experiences of a Senegalese girl who is rescued from slavery and raised by an aristocratic French family during the time of the French Revolution. Brought up in a household of learning and privilege, she is unaware of her ...

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Overview

John Fowles presents a remarkable translation of a nineteenth-century work that provided the seed for his acclaimed novel The French Lieutenant's Woman and that will astonish and haunt modern readers.

Based on a true story, Claire de Duras's Ourika relates the experiences of a Senegalese girl who is rescued from slavery and raised by an aristocratic French family during the time of the French Revolution. Brought up in a household of learning and privilege, she is unaware of her difference until she overhears a conversation that suddenly makes her conscious of her race--and of the prejudice it arouses. From this point on, Ourika lives her life not as a French woman but as a black woman who feels "cut off from the entire human race." As the Reign of Terror threatens her and her adoptive family, Ourika struggles with her unusual position as an educated African woman in eighteenth-century Europe.

A best-seller in the 1820s, Ourika captured the attention of Duras's peers, including Stendhal, and became the subject of four contemporary plays. The work represents a number of firsts: the first novel set in Europe to have a black heroine; the first French literary work narrated by a black female protagonist; and, as Fowles points out in the foreword to his translation, "the first serious attempt by a white novelist to enter a black mind."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780873527804
  • Publisher: Modern Language Association of America
  • Publication date: 1/1/1995
  • Series: Texts and Translations , #3
  • Pages: 47
  • Sales rank: 419,452
  • Product dimensions: 5.68 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.21 (d)

Meet the Author


John Fowles first published his translation of Ourika in a private edition in 1977. His many works of fiction include The Collector, The Ebony Tower, The Magus, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Daniel Martin, and A Maggot.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2007

    Very personal take on inequallity during French Revolution

    Ourika, by Claire De Duras, is a unique depiction of an African American during the French Revolution. Previous portrayals of Africans in French Tradition are reportedly vague and are not frequently described as individuals. The story of Ourika is a true story about an African woman who is rescued from slavery at a young age by the governor of Boufflers and is raised in a wealthy aristocratic white family. Claire De Duras was born in France in 1777 and was forced to flee her homeland shortly after the execution of her father. She doesn¿t return until 1808 with her French husband, the Duke of Duras. De Duras doesn¿t have the desire to publish the story of Ourika until she sees what an interest is provoked by telling it orally to the customers in her salon. When De Duras does publish it in 1823, she does so gradually because female authors were not given much, if any, credibility at this point in time. The first edition had no author or date printed on it and consisted of only 25 private copies. The book did not remain a secret for long and several thousand copies were printed over the next few years. De Duras wrote four other novels the same year as Orika, but only two others were published before she passed away in 1828. The story of Ourika is quite personable. The story is told by a doctor whom Ourika is one of his patients. At this point, Ourika¿s depression has taken a severe toll on her health and the doctor (who remains unnamed throughout the text) is determined to cure her despite her poor physical state. The doctor is initially taken by her gentle and eloquent manner, curious as to where an African woman had learned to be so proper. She insists that he can not cure her without knowing what troubles have ailed her health. Ouirka tells him the struggles she has had to face as an outcast throughout the course of her entire life as a black woman raised in a white person¿s world. As Ourika gets older, she is reminded daily of how alone she is. She has no family and no white man will marry her. She doesn¿t understand the culture of her own people since she has never experienced it, so she doesn¿t fit in anywhere. The only male friend Ourika has ever had marries a beautiful wealthy white woman. Ourika is constantly sneered at by those who do not know her, so she limits her time away from home. The accounts of Ourika¿s life are told in dramatic detail and give the reader much sympathy for her. Her depression causes frequent fevers and she falls unconscious on numerous occasions. All of Ourika¿s oppression is eventually relieved as she turns to God and becomes a nun, but at this point her body is too frail to continue much longer. Ourika is a remarkable story for someone who is interested in nineteenth century Europe or studying inequality between races throughout history. Ourika touches deeply on subjects not commonly written about in the early nineteenth century and paints a vivid picture of how difficult life was for women and minorities during the French Revolution.

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