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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 234

The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life is an 1880 historical romance novel by George Washington Cable. The story follows the New Orleans Grandissime family in the time immediately following the Louisiana Purchase and much centers around issues of race and class. Honore Grandissime is the head of the French...

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The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life is an 1880 historical romance novel by George Washington Cable. The story follows the New Orleans Grandissime family in the time immediately following the Louisiana Purchase and much centers around issues of race and class. Honore Grandissime is the head of the French side of the family, who takes in a young man named Joseph Frowenfeld. Joseph and Honore's household discusses the caste system in New Orleans, foreshadowing the troubling events at the end of the novel. Eventually this leads to a fight between Joseph and Honore's uncle, Agricola. The Grandissimes rely on slavery to continue their way of life, which the openly racist Agricola appreciates, but Joseph is an abolitionist.

Honore has a mulatto half-brother, also named Honore Grandissime. They want to go into business together, but Honore is also preoccupied with helping a woman he is secretly in love with, Aurora Nancanou. His uncle murdered her husband over gambling problems. This leads Honore to also attempt to help a slave, who is engaged to Aurora's maid. Bras Coupe is an African prince in love with Palmyre, and the indignity of slavery to the former prince inspires him to attack his white overseer, and when a mob of white aristocrats catch him trying to escape, Honore attempts to intervene. The novel ends with Coupe's brutal and tortured murder, showcasing the dark social reality of nineteenth-century New Orleans.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1006

Honoré Grandissime and Aurora Nancanou, both members of the Creole aristocracy though they are unaware of one another’s identity, meet at a masked ball and fall in love at first sight. Honoré is a young merchant and the head of the Grandissime family. Aurora, a young widow, is from the De Grapion family. Aurora’s husband accused Honoré’s uncle, Agricola Fusilier, of cheating at cards, which led to a duel in which Agricola killed him. With that, Agricola cleared his honor, and he also collected the gambling debt of Aurora’s husband, his entire estate. Aurora and her daughter Clotilde were left penniless. Agricola gave the estate to Honoré, making him a wealthy man.

Joseph Frowenfeld, a young American immigrant, arrives in New Orleans with his parents and sisters. All are stricken with fever, and only Joseph survives. The lonely young man forms a friendship with his physician, Dr. Keene. Joseph and Honoré meet by chance one day and find a common interest in their concern over the injustice of slavery and the caste system of New Orleans society. Honoré’s life, however, depends upon these institutions. Joseph wishes them to be wiped out at once.

Deciding to earn his living as a druggist, Joseph opens a small shop and soon becomes friendly with his aristocratic landlord. The landlord is Honoré’s half brother, who bears the same name but is not acknowledged as a member of the family because he is a quadroon. He is called the Darker Honoré. Joseph finds another new friend in Agricola, and he is also struck by the charm of Aurora and Clotilde when they call to make purchases. He learns more about Aurora from Dr. Keene. The physician tells him about Palmyre, a freed slave who had once been Aurora’s maid and who hates Agricola in part because of his role in the capture and punishment of her husband, the rebellious slave Bras Coupé. One night, Joseph is awakened by pistol shots nearby. A few minutes later, Dr. Keene and several others enter the shop with Agricola, who has been stabbed; his companions had fired on his assailant.

Several days later, Aurora calls upon her landlord in order to make some arrangements about the rent she cannot pay. She knows her landlord’s name is Honoré Grandissime, but she does not connect this name with the man she loves until learning that they are half brothers.

When Dr. Keene falls sick, he asks Joseph to attend to one of his patients. The patient is Palmyre, who was wounded after stabbing Agricola. Joseph promises Dr. Keene to keep her trouble a secret and goes to dress the wound. When Joseph pays his last visit to Palmyre, now almost recovered, she begs him to help her make the white Honoré love her. Palmyre’s maid, however, misunderstanding the conversation, thinks that Joseph wronged her mistress. She strikes him over the head, and Joseph reels groggily into the street. Some passing pedestrians, seeing him emerge bleeding from Palmyre’s house, draw a natural inference, and soon everyone knows about Joseph’s misfortune. Only Clotilde and Honoré believe him innocent. Public feeling among the Creoles is running high against Americans, and Joseph finds that both his liberal views and his trouble at Palmyre’s house are held against him.

Honoré’s conscience bothers him. He feels that he holds Aurora’s property unjustly, but he also knows if he returns it to her he will ruin his family. He makes his choice, however, and calls upon Aurora and Clotilde to present them with their property and the income from it. Now he cannot declare his love for Aurora, for if he does so, his family will think he returned the property out of love instead of a sense of justice.

On his return from Aurora’s house, Honoré meets the Darker Honoré with Dr. Keene. The physician has risen from his sickbed because he hears of Honoré’s call at Aurora’s house. Dr. Keene, also in love with Aurora, is jealous. His exertion causes a hemorrhage of the lungs, and the two Honorés carry him home and watch over him. While they attend the sick man, the Darker Honoré proposes to his brother that they go into partnership, so that the Darker Honoré’s money can save the family from ruin. His brother accepts the offer. The decision turns Honoré’s family against him, however, and Agricola leads an unsuccessful lynching party to find the Darker Honoré. Not finding him, the mob breaks the windows of Joseph’s shop as a gesture against liberal views in general.

Aurora sets Joseph up in business again on the ground floor of her house and makes Clotilde a partner in the store. Brought together in this manner, the two young people fall in love. At the same time, the Darker Honoré wastes away for love of Palmyre, who is trying to revenge herself upon Agricola by voodoo spells. When Agricola can no longer sleep at night, his family determines to catch Palmyre in her acts of witchcraft. They catch her accomplice, but Palmyre escapes.

When the Darker Honoré goes to Joseph’s store to get medicine for himself, he meets Agricola, who insults him. The Darker Honoré stabs Agricola and escapes. The wounded man is carried upstairs to Aurora’s house to die; there the two families are united at his deathbed. Agricola reveals that he once promised Aurora’s father to promote a marriage between Aurora and Honoré.

The Darker Honoré and Palmyre escape together to France. There he commits suicide because she still would not accept his love. Joseph finally declares his love for Clotilde. Aurora refuses to accept Honoré’s offer of marriage because she thinks he made it out of obligation to Agricola. Then Honoré makes his offer again as a man in love. In a last gesture of family pride, Aurora refuses him, but at the same time, she throws herself into her lover’s arms.

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