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A Romance of the Republic

An professor at school who I consulted about my thesis recently recommended that I read A Romance of the Republic, a novel written by Lydia Maria Child in the wake of the Civil War. Soon after I started it I knew I would be writing about it here, if only for the sake of writing the word “octoroon” a lot. Now, for the second time in my career as a blogger, I’ve had to create a family tree in order to explain a plot; this book is as complicated as The Lady of the Forest. The red lines indicate adoption.

A Romance of the Republic

Mr. Alfred Royal began his career as a clerk in Boston. He was in love with a young woman named Lila, but her rich family disapproved of him, so he went in search of his fortune. He found it, as worthy young men usually do in novels, but in his absence, Lila had married someone else. He moved to the West Indies and fell in love again, this time with the quadroon daughter of a gentleman of Spanish and French decent named Gonsales. Being in financial difficulties, and knowing of their regard for each other, Gonsales sold his daughter to Mr. Royal, who took both father and daughter with him to New Orleans and set up house in a remote suburb, anxious to avoid gossip about his wife. He never freed her, and he never really married her, because such a marriage was not legal in Louisiana. He did attempt to free his two daughters long after their mother and grandfather were dead, but by that time he was deeply in debt, and his creditors, after his death, decide that he had no right to dispose of his “property”, and that his daughters should be sold to repay some of his debts.

Rosabella and Floracita are two beautiful, well-bred young ladies, aged about 18 and 15, respectively. They look Italian or Spanish, and they are both very fond of art and music. Rosa sings beautifully, and Flora dances like a fairy. They have never been told that they are octoroons, or that their mother was a slave, and they aren’t told until Madame Guirlande, their neighbor and friend, is told that their father’s creditors want to sell them. She helps them escape to Nassau, a British island, with the aid of Rosa’s suitor Gerald Fitzgerald, who secretly marries Rosa before helping them to escape.

Fitzgerald, who Mr. Royal had never really liked, buys Rosa and Flora from the creditors, but does not tell them that when he joins them in Nassau. He brings them to his plantation on an island between South Carolina and Georgia and the three of them are very happy there for a while. They live in a little cottage hidden in the woods, because Gerald is not ready to acknowledge Rosa as his wife. Gerald and Rosa are very much in love, and Rosa does not know that their marriage was not legal, and Gerald behaves to Floracita as if he were her brother. They also have their slave, Tulipa — known as Tulee — with them, and when the sisters discover that she wishes to be free, they persuade Gerald to give her papers of manumission.

Soon, though Gerald gets bored. He had once told Alfred King, the son of a close friend of Mr. Royal, that if he was a sultan, he would like to have both sisters in his harem. He’s sort of in that position now, so he starts making advances towards Flora when Rosa isn’t around. Flora is very upset, but she doesn’t tell her sister because she doesn’t want to hurt her. Then one day she meets a northern lady, Mrs. Delano, in the woods. Mrs. Delano and Flora had met at Nassau and liked each other very much, and now Mrs. Delano is a visitor at the other plantation on the island, and Flora visits her whenever she gets a chance.

One day, Fitzgerald’s advances toward her become so unbearable that Flora runs to Mrs. Delano and tells her the whole story. Then it turns out that Mrs. Delano was Mr. Royal’s first love, the one who married someone else while he was off making his fortune. She decides to adopt Floracita, and takes her away to Boston. They allow Rosa to believe that she’s dead because Flora doesn’t want her to know how awful Gerald really is.

And he really is awful. He’s run into financial troubles, so he marries a northern girl, Lily Bell, and brings her back to his plantation. Rosa finds out, of course, although not before Lily Bell hears her mysteriously beautiful voice in the night and asks lots of questions. So Gerald is forced to tell Rosa that she’s still a slave. She’s pregnant, and she doesn’t want her child to be a slave, so she asks him to free her, and he says he will, but he’s still madly in love with her, so he keeps stalling.

The baby is born, and soon afterwards Gerald decides to sell Rosa to the appropriately named Mr. Bruteman, who had wanted to buy her and Floracita when their father died. Rosa finds out about it through Madame Guirlande and her husband, Signor Papanti, who had been the girls’ music teacher, and immediately becomes ill. Meanwhile, Lily Bell has also had a baby. Both are boys, both strongly resemble their father. Chloe, one of Gerald’s slaves, is its nurse, but she also helps Tulee to nurse Rosa through her illness, and consequently the two babies are brought together, which in this kind of book can only mean one thing. Yes, the babies are switched, but we don’t find out until the last hundred pages or so.

Rosa and Tulee escape with the baby to New Orleans, and then Rosa and the Papantis sail for Europe, leaving the baby and Tulee with Madame’s cousin Mr. Duroy. Soon afterwards, they hear that the whole Duroy household has died of yellow fever.

Meanwhile, Flora is very happy with “Mamita Lila” — her name for Mrs. Delano, except that she misses her sister. Mrs. Delano has never been particularly interested in the question of slavery before, but now she kind of has to be, so she consults her friend Mr. Percival, a gentleman who has become an abolitionist. He tells her that although the law is in Fitzgerald’s favor, he would find it difficult to assert his right to Flora in northern courts, so his only real chance is to kidnap her. So Mrs. Delano rarely lets Flora out alone, and they live in peace for a year or so, during which Flora discovers that her father’s young clerk, Franz Blumenthal — known to the Royal family as Florimond — is living in Boston now. She also becomes an object of interest to a wealthy young gentleman named Green. Then Flora sees Fitzgerald in the street one day — she’s veiled, so the recognition is one-way — and Mrs. Delano decides that they’ll join the Percivals on their planned trip to Europe.

Mr. Green goes to Europe, too, and Mrs. Delano begins to wonder whether he’ll propose to Flora, and if so, what he ought to be told about her antecedents. Mr. Green is a northerner, but he is a firm supporter of the right of southerners to own slaves, because, you know, it’s such a gentlemanly institution. He even gets them tickets to see the new operatic sensation in Rome, Señorita Rosita Campaneo, but they discover that Fitzgerald is in Rome also, and that he’s got a wife with him and it isn’t Rosa. Flora knows that Rosa is too honorable to live with Gerald if they’re not really married, and wants to go find her. Plus, Lily Bell is on calling terms with Mrs. Delano, who she used to know in Boston, so there’s an increased danger of Gerald seeing Flora.

Mrs. Delano and Flora decide to leave Europe immediately and go in search of Rosa. They return to the island and discover that the cottage has been deserted. The plantation house is shut up too, because the Fitzgeralds are abroad, but they find Chloe’s husband Tom in Savannah, and he tells them how he helped Rosa escape to New Orleans. He also confides in them his wish to run away, and his fear that his wife and children are about to be sold, and so when Flora and Mrs. Delano embark on a boat to New Orleans, they take Chloe and her two children with them (illegally).

In New Orleans, everyone Flora used to know is either dead or gone, but they find out that the Papantis and Rosa planned to sail for Europe on a ship that was reported to be lost at sea, and that they left a servant and a white baby with the Duroys, all of whom died of yellow fever. And they discover and buy Madame’s parrot, which recognizes Flora’s voice and starts singing songs she taught it when Madame was their neighbor. They return to Boston with it and settle down. They are unable to find the Papantis and Rosa on the passenger list for the ship that was lost, but they can’t discover any other trace of them either.

Mr. Green asks for Mrs. Delano’s permission to pay his addresses to Flora, and she is forced to tell him that she is an octoroon. He promises not to tell anyone, but he’s kind of disgusted, and afterwards won’t even nod to Flora when he passes her in the street. Meanwhile, Flora shows signs of falling in love with Florimond Blumenthal.

The prima donna that Flora and Mrs. Delano missed seeing in Rome is, of course, Rosa. Signor Papanti and Madame changed their name to Balbino and pretended to have discovered her in Andalusia, and she’s about to appear on the stage for the first time when Flora and Mrs. Delano leave Rome. But although Flora is not there for her first performance, Gerald Fitzgerald is. Rosa sees him and his wife from the stage, and of course she uses the emotions she feels when she sees them to feed her performance, and everyone is very impressed. Gerald manages to see her backstage, but she kicks him out with the help of Alfred King.

This is actually Alfred King’s third appearance in the story. He was the first character who was introduced, but the backstory was confusing enough as it was, so I decided to save him for later. He is the son of Mr. Royal’s dearest friend, and the book began with Mr. Royal introducing the young man to his daughters. Mr. King was very impressed by them, especially Rosabella, and was alarmed but not disgusted when Gerald Fitzgerald informed him that they were octoroons.

He told the sisters when he left New Orleans, after that first visit, that if they were ever in trouble they should rely on him and think of him as a brother. He was abroad when their father died, but when he returned to America and heard of Mr. Royal’s death, he sought news of them. He met the Papantis and gave them some money to help the girls if they ever needed it, and it was he who paid for their passage to Europe. Now he has been secretly watching over Rosa for some time, and he makes himself known to her only when Gerald Fitzgerald refuses to leave her dressing room, and she needs Mr. King’s assistance to throw him out.

They become good friends, and when Rosa’s engagement in Rome is finished, she asks whether she ought to continue her career as an opera singer. He tells her that if she wants to do so, he will help her in any way that he can, but if she would rather marry him, that is an option, too. After ascertaining that he knows her whole story, including the part about the dead baby in New Orleans, she decides that she would, and they go off to live in Provence with the Balbinos.

Nineteen years pass. Flora is married to Florimond Blumenthal. The two of them and their three children, Alfred, Rosa (called “Rosen Blumen”), and Lila, live with Mrs. Delano. Chloe and Tom and their children are their servants. Gerald Fitzgerald has died (under mysterious circumstances — we later learn that he was probably killed by a runaway slave to whom he’d been typically horrible), and Lily Fitzgerald, with her son Gerald, has returned to Boston to live with her father.

One day Mrs. Fitzgerald calls at the Delano-Blumenthal household and tells them that the prima donna they missed in Rome, now Mrs. King, is coming to Boston. Flora and her adoptive mother don’t go out in society much but Mrs. Fitzgerald promises to come see them the day after the party at which Mrs. King will make her debut into Boston society, and tell them all about her. At the party, Rosa is a huge success. She is shaken when she is introduced to young Gerald Fitzgerald, but she seems to like him and dances with him several times.

At around the same time, Lily Fitzgerald’s father, Mr. Bell, helps to apprehend two runaway slaves belonging to his friend Mr. Bruteman. He never sees them, but one is a dark-complected white man, vaguely Italian-loking, and the other is a “yellow” mulatto girl disguised as a boy. They address each other as George and Henny, and of course the reader knows that the young man must be the other baby Gerald Fitzgerald, heretofore presumed dead.

Flora remembers Mr. King from his visit to New Orleans when her father was alive, so she and Mrs. Delano go to call on the Kings several days later, but find that they have left town. Soon the Delano-Blumenthals leave town, too, to board for the summer in a house at Northampton with Joe Bright, a blacksmith and abolitionist, and his family. Mr. Bright really is a bright spot in the book — possibly the only genuinely entertaining, pleasant-to-read-about character in it.

The Kings have come too stay in Northampton, too, and Flora, hearing Mrs. King’s voice as the family is out for a walk one evening, thinks that she sounds very like Rosa, but the reunion between the sisters does not occur until Rosa and Madame’s parrot recognize each other’s voices. Then there is a happy reunion between the sisters and their families — husbands, children (Rosa has a teenage daughter named Eulalia), and, in Flora’s case, an adoptive mother.

Soon the Fitzgeralds arrive in Northampton, too, and Rosa is alarmed to see that young Gerald is showing an interest in her daughter. Eventually she tells her husband that she switched her baby with Mrs. Fitzgerald’s, and that Gerald is her son and Eulalia is his sister. They are forced to tell both Gerald and his mother the whole story. Mrs. Fitzgerald is upset, but as long as they don’t try to take Gerald away from her, she insists that she doesn’t care. Gerald is kind of upset at first, but he realizes that being the son of an octoroon doesn’t change who he is, and since he admires Rosa enormously, he’s really more glad than not. He refers to her and Lily as his Rose-mother and his Lily-mother. And of course he gently breaks things off with Eulalia.

Also at Northampton, Flora discovers Tulee, who has been brought there by a southern family. Because they are in Massachusetts, she’s technically free, so she comes to live with the Delano-Blumenthals, and she explains to them that it was another black woman and white baby that died of yellow fever with the Duroys in New Orleans.

Alfred King tries to find the baby — Lily’s baby — who was sold, and discovers that Mr. Bell participated in the capture and enslavement of his own grandson, who was fully white, and practically identical to Gerald. Gerald (II), that is (see family tree). Mr. King tells Mr. Bell about it, and Mr. Bell is furious. He won’t accept his actual grandson, Gerald (III), because he is married to the mulatto girl, Henriet, and he won’t accept his adopted grandson, Gerald (II), because he is the son of an octoroon. But he doesn’t have to deal with the dilemma for very long, because he soon dies of the shock.

Then the Civil War begins. Gerald Fitzgerald, Alfred King, Florimond Blumenthal, and Alfred Blumenthal all go off to fight. Gerald meets the other Gerald, who is known as George Falkner (Tulee had his initials tattooed on his arm when he was a baby), and they become close friends. Gerald dies, and Alfred King takes in Henriet and begins to educate her, telling G.F. that he wants to help him and his family for Gerald (II)’s sake.

Alfred King comes back from the war missing an arm and a leg. Neither of the Blumenthal men is injured. Alfred King finds G.F. a job in Europe, and escorts him and his wife and daughter there. He gives him lots of good advice and tells him the true story of his birth. G.F. decides to be known as Gerald Fitzgerald.

And that’s about it.

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7 comments

  1. Wow what a confusing story! There are so many Geralds, how to keep trick of which one of which? Nice job on the summary though, thanks :)


    • In context, it’s not that difficult to tell them apart. Glad you found the summary helpful.


  2. what is the time frame? And anymore idea on the Slave Tulee?


    • I believe it starts around 1850, give or, probably, take a few years. And it ends around the same time the Civil War does. What were you hoping to heat about Tulee?


      • I have a story of a Columbus Tulee who fled Washington state back in 1920 after killing his father. Rumor is that he ran away to New Orleans.


        • Okay. Well this takes place about forty years before that and also it’s fictional.


  3. […] keeping the characters straight can be a bit of a challenge (i think this is somewhat on purpose)- there’s a good review here- lots of spoilers, but I found the summary […]



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