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Shadows on the Bayou

A book by Patricia Vaughn

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A glimpse into a society not discussed in history books

  • Jul 8, 1998
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From my review in Affair de Couer in the February 1998 issue. This book is more than just a love tory, but a lesson in history, a glimpse into a society not discussed in high school history books because so little is known about it. Set in pre-civil war new orleans, the story is cented around a young woman of color, in this case, a quadroon, three-quarter white, one-quarter black and the legacy into which she was born. From the day she was born, Sylvia Dupont is detined to become a mistress to a rich Creole (the definition of Creole is ambiguous, in this case it is an American born of French or Spanish parentage)planter. She is primed, and educated to this end, as she herself is a result of a placquee (an agremment set up between a white man and a woman of color). She is taught the ways to seduce a man of means and keep him interested enough to make a cvontract that will promise her a lavish home, expensive furnishing, clothes, and support and education for the children that will result from their union. Adrien Valcour is such a suitor and Sylvias's mother, Celeste relaizez all of her hopes and ambitions will be realized when a contract is made between her daughter and Monsieur Valcour. Celeste, a mulatto (half-wife/black) is still bitter over the abandonment of her "protector", Sylvia's father when her children were young. The snag in the plan is Justin Reynaud, a wealthy free man of color, who meets Sylvia on a boat returning from France. Sylvia is returning after four years of education in the arts and becoming a lady, while Justin is returning from a business trip. Sparks fly, but Sylvia knows that she cannot entertain the idea of becoming involved with a man of African descent even though it has been her dream as a child to marry and be a wife. Her destiny is to become a mistress, not a wife. Justin believes that the quadroon ball and placquees are just another form of slavery since there is a law forbidding marriage between white and blacks. Besides most of these men le! ave their mistresses after they marry a woman of their own color, leaving the children without a father and sometimes without support. Justin belongs to a class of free blacks that own ladn, are skilled artisans and well educated, often in France. Most of them scorn the system that prostitutes their women. Sylvia and Justin's paths cross again when his aunt, Mademoiselle Angelique is asked by Sylvia's mother to Sylvia how to "keep a house". Justin is always around upsetting Sylvia's emotional state of mind. Soon they are caught up in their feelings for one another and just when they are about to consummate the relationship, Justin declares he will not take her unless they marry. Sylvia dare to defy traditon, plan a wedding with Angelique's help and the support of some black nuns. Sylvia marries Justin and is disowned by her mother. Their happiness is troubled with her brother's gambling debts and double life, their conflicting views on loyalty, old girlfriends and a scorned suitor. There is a flood, a kidnapping and death as their marriage is tried again and again. This was a very interesting book, rich with scenery of both New Orleans and Cane River, today still the home of today's black Creoles. It is also unsettling. There were blacks who owned slaves as well as those who viewed themselves better than other blacks because of the mixture of white blood in their veins. But we must realize that prople of color were were as much a victim of their circumstances as during this time in history just as their white counterparts were.

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About the reviewer
Dera R Jones Williams ()
Ranked #1097
Dera is a writer, editor, genealogist, writing mentor, researcher, and family historian, and she is active in local literary and national literary circles. She is the keeper of family stories, archivist … more
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About this book


In New Orleans of the early 1800s, few options were open to free women of color. They could work as domestics or seamstresses with long hours and low pay. But another choice, and one that evolved as an acceptable way of life, was to become the mistress of a wealthy Creole man. Such women, known asplacees, were given homes and kept in luxury, and, to many, such a lifestyle was infinitely preferable to a life of poverty and labor. InShadows on the Bayou, Patricia Vaughn tells the story of Sylvia Dupont, the beautiful and well-educated daughter of aplaceewhose lover discarded her when he married, a common occurrence. Sylvia has been raised and educated for the purpose of becoming aplaceeherself, and she returns from school in France to the fate that awaits her, a contract set up between her mother and a wealthy Creole planter who will become her lover. En route, however, she meets Justin Reynaud, a free man of color and a wealthy businessman in his own right. Although she has been taught all her life to look down on men of color, Sylvia finds herself drawn to the handsome and proud Justin, who points out that the life to which she is destined is as much a form of slavery as the life of any shackled field hand. Resigned to her fate, Sylvia refuses to accept Justin's words, but can't get them--or the man himself--out of her mind. When they meet again, both realize their attraction to one another, and eventually Sylvia is forced to choose between the life she has been raised for ...
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ISBN-10: 0671520059
ISBN-13: 978-0671520052
Author: Patricia Vaughn
Publisher: Pocket

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