The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life is an 1880 novel by George Washington Cable. The novel entails a story about the Creole society living in the New Orleans, Louisiana and other South Eastern regions which used intense Creole slave labor in the early 1800s. Cable wrote the novel with the intention of raising awareness about the deplorable conditions in which the creoles lived and the racial injustice that they faced. The following is a summary of the novel detailing events from the introduction to chapter twenty six about “A Ride and Rescue”.
The novel begins by explaining the life and literary achievements of the author and how he came to write the novel, market and proceed on with other works. Some of the characters are comparable to real life characters in Cable’s life. On such character is Agricola Fusilier who is comparable to Charles Arthur Gayarre - a white supremacist just like Agricola (Cable, 12).
The first chapters tell the adventures and romantic involvements of various members of the Grandissime family. Honore Grandissime and Aurora Nancanou both come from the Creole aristocratic families. The two met at a masked ball and fell in love (Cable, 33). Honore was a young merchant and the leader of their family. Aurora on the other hand was a widow from the De Grapion family. Her husband had been killed by Honore’s uncle Agricola Fusilier after an argument over a game of cards (Cable 142).
The gist of chapter one to twenty six mainly trails the relationship between Honore Grandissime and Joseph Frowenfeld, a young man of German descent from Philadelphia and whose entire family had succumbed to yellow fever (Cable, 32). Joseph had arrived with his parents and sister but the whole family suffered a bout of yellow fever and Joseph survives courtesy of efforts by his physician friend Dr. Keene.
Honore and Joseph talk about the caste system that was rife in New Orleans and this helps bring to the fore the themes about racial and class discrimination, poverty, slavery among others. Although Honore wanted the system to end, he knew that it was the very system that kept him a wealthy man and gave him a high status in the society.
Several conflicting positions arise. Honore is torn between his ideal conversations with Joseph who wanted radical social reforms to end slavery and those of his proud uncle Agricola Fusilier who had given him an entire estate and made him a wealthy man. However, he is bitter with his uncle who is a racist and brutal man determined to preserve the Grandissime family culture that uphold caste system practices.
Agricola’s anger is illustrated when he killed Aurora’s husband after being accused of cheating in a game of cards (Cable, 142). The estate which Agricola had left to Honore had been taken from Aurora’s husband after the murder. Nevertheless, Honore did not want to disappoint his uncle although he had grounds to disagree with his uncle about the slave labor because he was persuaded that slave exploitation and racial discrimination were inhuman acts.
Joseph decided to start life by operating a drug shop and he soon became friends with his aristocratic landlord. The landlord happened to be Honore’s half brother who was a quadroon (a person who is one quartet black) (Cable, 109). As Joseph goes about his drug business, he converses with the creoles about their plight. The creoles are oppressed and with the imminent expansion of agricultural lands and the arrival of more settlers, their situation becomes worse. One of them says a group of half a dozen men were discussing cession outside Joseph’s shop when one stated, “the British flag will be floating over this town within ninety days!” (Cable, 56). Though oppressed, the Creole slaves are rebellious and resist speaking in English. One man states, “I know men in this city who would rather eat a dog than speak English!” (Cable, 58). This downright hatred of the settlers’ ways by the slaves forms a central theme in the rest of the chapters.
Honore Grandissime is an honorable man and he tries to help many people and act in a just manner. He sought justice for Aurora, the widow although he was also in love with her. He also helped Bras Coupe, a slave who was engaged to Aurora’s maid, Palmyre. Coupe attacked his white boss and several Creole aristocrats led by Agricola chase him as he escapes through swamps. Honore tried to intervene but the mob catches and lynches Coupe. Joseph meanwhile continues to be good friends with Dr. Keene with whom he works at drug shop. Joseph also comes to know and befriend Aurora and her daughter Clotilde whom he had met while working at the drug shop.
The first twenty six chapters of the novel Grandissime: a tale of Creole Life tells of the struggles of the slave creoles against an oppressive and racially discriminative regime led by Agricola Fusilier. On the other hand is a nephew to Agricola and a young German immigrant who are determined to restore justice and racial fairness.
I think what Honore Grandissime did was quite commendable. He chose to fight slavery and oppression with the help of his friend Joseph Frowenfeld at a time when the practice seemed acceptable especially among his white folks. Standing up against a wrong regardless of the number of people supporting it, should be encouraged in modern societies in order to improve humanity.
Cable, George Washington. The Grandissimes; a story of Creole life. New York: Sagamore Press, 1957. Print.