Theses Doctoral

Louisiana in French Letters

Pavy-Weiss, Yvonne

The French have seen Louisiana in many different lights: as pictured in the accounts -- sometimes dry and matter-of-fact, sometimes brazenly mendacious -- of the early explorers; as an Eldorado which drew Parisian speculators to the bank-windows of the shrewd Scot, John Law; as a worthless stretch of marshy lands handed over to Spain, and then sold to the United States by Napoleon; as the gorgeous country of Meschacebé, peopled by Chateaubriand’s Indians, birds, bears, and fragrant trees; as the home of French colonial memories, and the refuge of a serene and picturesque culture sought by a few modern travelers in the United States who refuse to be content with visiting New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Hollywood. Louisiana of these French records is the subject of this dissertation.

There is little to be added to the detailed, thorough, and well-documented histories of Louisiana which have already been written in French and English. Therefore, our chief purpose here was not geographical or historical but psychological and literary. It has been to discover how the French people knew or thought of the distant Empire given them in the New World by a few hardy explorers. What was their reaction to this fabulous new province across the Atlantic? Now and then some even of the first of the missionaries or travelers in this strange land who recorded their experiences were found to be sensitive to the “picturesque” of the magnificient landscapes, the rivers, mountains, and boundless prairies -- although this sense of the “picturesque” as is well known, was not greatly developed in the seventeenth century, and the word itself had not yet been borrowed by the French from the Italians. These accounts of the first explorers show that they were inclined to consider the practical aspects of life. The things which interested them were the fruit and grain that the country produced, the animals (the delicacy of their flesh and the warmth of their furs), the gold and precious stones -- or even baser minerals -- that they hoped to find in Louisiana, their Eldorado.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
French and Romance Philology
Thesis Advisors
Bede, J. D.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 1, 2017


This dissertation was submitted and defended in 1943. Columbia awarded a posthumous degree in 2017.