*New Orleans. Louisiana’s leading city, located on the Mississippi River near the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans is essentially an island, surrounded by Lake Pontchartrain to the north; the Mississippi River, which curves in a semicircle around it; and numerous bayous and swamps. Because of its status as the most foreign of all American cities, New Orleans, especially the old French Quarter, in which most of the action of the novel occurs, seems itself a character in the novel. Founded by the French in 1718, the city became part of the United States after the sale of Louisiana in 1803. Following the purchase and the American occupation, the city remained very much a French and Spanish city, with language, culture, and food more associated with Europe than with the rest of the United States. Cable was a native of New Orleans and was fascinated by the Creoles, descendants of French and Spanish settlers; their history and unique lifestyle, so different from his own, intrigued him, even as certain aspects of their existence repulsed him.
The plot of The Grandissimes could not have occurred in any other American city, for only in New Orleans did the peculiar institution called placage exist as an established and accepted part of society. White Creole men frequently took mistresses of mixed blood, known as “quadroons” or “octoroons.” They housed these young women in their own homes on the periphery of the...
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