Born in 1794, the illegitimate daughter of a Creole planter and one of his mulatto slaves, the charismatic and strong-willed quadroon girl started her career as a coiffeuse, with access to the "best" homes in the Vieux Carré. This enabled her to supplement her income by acting as a go-between, carrying billets doux and arranging clandestine rendezvous for her well-to-do-white clients. She eventually became the proprietress of a famous, lavishly appointed bordello, the Maison Blanche (among others); and through a network of intelligence agents among the black servants to the city's rich, she was able to exploit the secrets of New Orleans society, using blackmail to protect the houses of prostitution she controlled.With friends like that, it's a surprise that Hearn ever got to Japan at all.
Marie's grandmother and mother had been conjurers--adpets of hoodoo. Marie, however, showed no interest in following their example and one night when, legend has it, a rattlesnake entered her bedroom and "spoke" to her. Whereupon Marie decided to study with a renowned hoodoo doctor named Alexander. Soon she was teaching her teacher.
She then began a flourishing business in the manufacture and sale of a wide range of charms and herbal medicines. Admired and feared for her powers of healing and hexing as well as for her psychic and fortune-telling abilities. Marie became renowned as a kind of combination mambo-witch shamaness, who was consulted by both blacks and whites. One wealthy Creole family bought her a house at 1020 St. Anne Street in gratitude for her magical intervention in the court trial of their son. She also gained a local reputation as a saint for tending to wounded soldiers during the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, for nursing the victims of yellow fever epidemics, and for providing food and amulets to the prisoners on death row and in parish jail.--Jonathan Cott, Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn 145 (1990)
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Life Imitates Caricature: Lafcadio Hearn in Sin City
Japanophiles will remember Lafcadio Hearn as one of the earliest enthusiasts for the realm, if somewhat highly perfumed and overheated (how Edward Said overlooked this guy, I'll never know.). Perhaps not many of them know that he left quite a trail even before he made it across the pacific, all wrapped up in a marvelous and too-little noticed biography by Jonathan Cott. Here Cott, with excusable relish, provides context for Hearn, during his stay in New Orleans (sic), where he met "the most legendary figure of that period, Marie Laveau."