The Autumn Garden dramaturgy: Louisiana

Table of Contents

Louisiana –

Louisiana is bordered by Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas, its state capital is Baton Rouge and it is divided by the Mississippi River. It is the only U.S. state to be governed under the Napoleonic Code. Indian occupancy in the area probably spanned 16,000 years; at the time of European settlement the region was inhabited by the Caddo and Choctaw. French explorer La Salle descended the Mississippi River in 1682 and claimed the entire river basin for France. The city of New Orleans was founded in 1718, and Louisiana became a French crown colony in 1731. Colonization increased in the 1760s with the arrival of French-speaking Acadians (Cajuns) from Nova Scotia. Spain controlled the territory from 1762 to 1800; then it passed back to the French. The lands that constitute modern Louisiana were acquired by the U.S. as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and became the Territory of Orleans in 1804. Louisiana became the 18th U.S. state in 1812. It seceded from the Union in 1861 at the start of the American Civil War and was readmitted in 1868. The plantation economy continued with the farmer class denied land ownership, which contributed to the rise of the populist Huey Long in the 1920s. After World War II Louisiana experienced more rapid development with the rise of offshore oil and gas drilling. Soybeans are a major agricultural crop; tree farming and shrimp fishing are also important. Petroleum and natural gas are the chief mineral resources.

France had lost most of her American empire by the early 19th c. However, French continued to be spoken not only in the West Indies, Quebec, and Acadia, but in various parts of Canada and the USA, particularly New England and Louisiana. The latter figures quite prominently in French literature (e.g. Manon Lescaut and works by Chateaubriand). Books in French had also been written there from the early 18th c., the earliest being histories and travel writing. The 19th c. saw a flourishing of literature, journalism, and theatre. Playwrights such as Auguste Lussan, Placide Canonge, and Victor Séjour, imitating French Romantic drama and melodrama, had their plays performed in New Orleans. Poets and song-writers included Tullius Saint-Céran, Adrien and Dominique Rouquette (disciples of Chateaubriand and champions of Louisiana literature), and the black poets included in the anthology Les Cenelles (1845). Many novels were published, by writers including Alexandre Barde and Charles Testut, both émigrés from France, and particularly Alfred Mercier (1816-94), who with his brother Armand founded the Athénée Louisianais for the defence of French-language culture. Mercier’s most important work is L’Habitation Saint-Ybars (1881), a plantation novel based on childhood memories. The last significant Louisiana novelist was Sidonie de la Houssaye, parts of whose uncompleted romanfleuve, Les Quarteronnes de la Nouvelle Orléans, were published in 1894-8.

Written French literature seemed dead in Louisiana at the beginning of the 20th c. However, an oral culture of songs, tales, etc. survived in rural regions settled by 18th-c. refugees from Acadia (‘Cajuns’). In 1968 a Conseil pour le Développement du Français en Louisiane was set up, and there was the beginning of a revival of written literature, based on the oral tradition and often written in Cajun French—which was also given wide currency in France when Jean Vautrin’s novel, Un grand pas vers le Bon Dieu, set in Louisiana and drawing on Patrick Griolet’s scholarly work on the language, won the Prix Goncourt in 1989.

The history of Louisiana was profoundly altered with the 1901 discovery of oil in the state. For the rest of the century, Louisiana’s economic fortunes were pinned to those of the oil industry. The Progressive movement of the early twentieth century brought little change to Louisiana, dominated as it was by the Bourbon elite, except for implementation of the severance tax—a tax on natural resources that are “severed” from the earth—and creation of the white party primary system.

Louisiana experienced a political revolution with the 1928 election of Huey P. Long as governor. Long employed populistic rhetoric in appealing to the common people and in promising to unseat the entrenched elites. As governor and, after 1932, as United States senator, Long oversaw a vast expansion in public works and social services, building roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals, and providing free medical care and textbooks, all funded by increases in the severance tax and the state’s bonded debt. In 1934, Long created the Share-the-Wealth movement, with its motto “Every Man a King,” in which he promised to tax the wealthy in order to provide economic security for all American families. Intended as an alternative to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Share-the-Wealth won over millions of impoverished Americans and raised the possibility of Long challenging Roosevelt’s 1936 reelection. However, Long’s undemocratic methods, which included using the state’s coercive power to stifle political dissent, combined with his presidential aspirations, provoked opposition and heightened fears of his becoming an American dictator. Long was assassinated in September 1935, allegedly by a political opponent, although controversy has continued to surround this event. Long left an ambiguous legacy: he improved daily life for common people, but his dictatorial tactics, corrupt practices, and centralization of power were in keeping with Louisiana traditions, and, despite Long’s successes, Louisiana remained amongst the nation’s poorest states.

For the next twenty-five years, contests between Longite and anti-Longite—or reform—factions of the Democratic Party characterized Louisiana politics. In 1939, a series of exposés revealing widespread corruption sent many leading Longites to prison and brought the reformers to power. Between 1940 and 1948, the reformers continued the popular public works and social services of Longism while also implementing changes, including civil service, designed to end Longism’s abuses. Military spending during World War II and, later, the expansion of the petrochemical industry along the Mississippi River financed much of the reform program. In 1940, war games known as the Louisiana Maneuvers greatly improved U.S. military preparedness, and during the war, the New Orleans businessman Andrew Jackson Higgins designed and built military transport boats that proved essential to the Allied war effort.

From 1948 to 1960, Earl K. Long, Huey’s younger brother and himself a formidable historical figure, dominated Louisiana politics. Long, who finished the unexpired gubernatorial term of Richard Leche, 1939–1940, quickly became a political power in his own right. During two nonconsecutive gubernatorial terms (1948–1952, 1956–1960), Earl Long continued the public works and social services aspects of Longism; he also engaged in some of Longism’s abuses but nothing near those of his brother.

Earl Long was also progressive on the question of race. As the civil rights movement gained momentum after World War II, and as the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision invalidated segregated schools, Earl Long strongly supported black civil rights by permitting black voter registration, ensuring that black people benefited from his economic programs, and trying to persuade white Louisianians to abandon segregation. Despite these efforts, white support for legal segregation remained strong, and the desegregation of public schools and of Louisiana as a whole proceeded slowly. Legal segregation had been dismantled in Louisiana by the early 1970s, but as the twentieth century ended, desegregation in certain local school systems, including Baton Rouge, remained under federal court supervision.

Summers in Louisiana are hot and humid with high temperatures from mid-June to mid-September averaging 90°F (32°C) or more and overnight lows averaging above 70°F (22°C). Temperatures are generally mildly warm in the winter in the southern part of the state, with highs around New Orleans, Baton Rouge, the rest of south Louisiana, and the Gulf of Mexico averaging 66°F (19°C),

Louisiana was the first site of oil drilling over water in the world, near the mouth of the Mississippi River. The oil and gas industry as well as its subsidiary industries such as transport and refining, have dominated Louisiana’s economy since the 1940’s. Beginning in 1950, Louisiana was sued several times by the U.S. Interior Department, in efforts by the Federal Government to strip Louisiana of its submerged land property rights, which stored vast reservoirs of oil and natural gas.

Louisiana – great source, wealth of information

One Response

  1. It appears relevant to me to note that the Cajun language and culture which were “given wide currency” in France through the work of Jean Vautrin as stated above, and for which he received the Prix Goncourt in 1989, was a case of huge scandal in France because of the plagiarism on the work of Patrick Griolet’s initial literary works “Mots de Louisiane” and “Cadjins et Créoles en Louisiane”. This case is today referenced in contexts of famous cases of plagiarism.

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