Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Last Island

Last Island. Fashionable resort in the Gulf of Mexico that is devastated by the hurricane that kills Chita’s natural mother and leaves her adrift in the sea. Filled with well-to-do vacationers from New Orleans, the island has a hotel whose guests enjoy the beach, bathe in warm salt water, relish fine food and drink, dance to the music of well-paid orchestras, and flirt with one another pleasurably. Over pearly dawns and flaming wine-red sunsets is the comforting sky, sometimes divinely blue, often mysteriously luminous or sprinkled with stars. When the storm begins to lash the island, the wind is like a breath, then it howls with sand-filled fury. Water suddenly creeps over the polished dance floor. Lightning crackles. The sea heaves monstrously. In a flash, cottages and native dwellings, and the gorgeous hotel are scoured from the land. Trees and numberless bodies are scattered for a hundred miles along the coasts of the devouring sea.

*Gulf of Mexico

*Gulf of Mexico. Sea off the coast of Louisiana that is a combination of life and death, of beauty and horror. “If thou wouldst learn to pray, go to the sea,” readers are advised. Feliu Viosca, Chita’s foster father, says that the “world is like the sea: those who do not know how to swim in it are drowned.” Those who venture too far into the sea find its water turning colder and may be clutched and drawn in by treacherous undercurrents. However, when Feliu swims through dangerous breakers and rescues Chita, who is floating on a billiard table far from shore and still tied to her dead mother by a scarf, the ocean “lifts up its million hands, and thunders as if in acclaim.”

The gulf’s coastal environment contains both delights and horrors....

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Chita Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bisland, Elizabeth. The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906. Includes letters by Hearn to friends, including Bisland herself, clarifying the insights leading to Chita and his artistic intentions in writing the novel.

Colt, Jonathan. Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. Informal biographical reader, combining an affectionate account of Hearn’s career and generous selections from his works. Comments that, although Hearn depicts the characters in Chita with overdone sentimentality, his poetic prose imitates hypnotic tides and waves and conveys an impressionistic sense of the sea’s eternal mystery.

Kunst, Arthur E. Lafcadio Hearn. New York: Twayne, 1969. Solid introductory critical biography. Includes treatment of Chita in detailed summary with many quotations. Relates Hearn’s poetic prose to structural elements of music.

Stevenson, Elizabeth. Lafcadio Hearn. New York: Macmillan, 1961. Thorough, beautifully written biography. Discusses Chita as a story of solitude, the sea, and loneliness, with its three parts moving from the sea as destroyer to the sea as deceptively calm to a finale of human loss.

Turner, Arlin. Introduction to Chita: A Memory of Last Island. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969. Relates Chita to events in Hearn’s professional life, accounts for his being influenced by Pierre Loti and Théophile Gautier, and discusses Hearn’s handling of sources for details in Chita, particularly the August, 1856, Last Island storm. Reprints two of Hearn’s stories that are preliminary studies for Chita.