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Books Unbound – “The Mulatto” by Victor Séjour

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The first published short story by an African American, “The Mulatto” appeared in 1837 in an anti-slavery magazine in France. Its author was the 19-year-old Victor Séjour, who had come as a student to Paris from New Orleans. This Books Unbound encore episode is presented in honor of Black History Month.

Séjour was a French-speaking person of color whose baptismal record identifies him as a “free quadroon”. His father had come to New Orleans among refugees of the Haitian Revolution. Set in Haiti, “The Mulatto” is a frank melodrama, a mode of extreme passion and good-and-evil morality that permeated 19th-century fiction and drama. An oedipal tragic secret lies at the heart of a story fueled by rape, injustice, revenge and murder. Séjour went on to have a highly successful career as a dramatist, with twenty of his plays in a variety of genres produced at the Comédie Française, the state theatre with which Molière was associated.

Indiana University associate professor Maisha Wester discusses the racial implications of gothic melodrama, in which elements of horror express the violence done to family within the institution of slavery.

Our reader is Lauren Robert. Sarah Torbeck hosts, with Jack Hanek as the announcer. Special music comes from the Twelve Grand Études of Frédéric Chopin, which were published the same year as “The Mulatto”, and are performed by Martha Goldstein courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The episode was produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with the interview produced by Doug Storm. Special thanks to Community Access Television Services for recording this week’s reading.

Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

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