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Dana Snowden

A Romance of the Republic: A 19th-Century Writer’s Quest for Paradise

Completed for Dr. Andrea Newlyn

 

              A Romance of the Republic: A 19th-Century Writer’s Quest for Paradise

     A Romance of the Republic, written by Lydia Maria Child, is an intriguing novel which

reflects certain predominant 19th-century views about racism, patriarchy, and class status. One

aspect of this story that is unique is the constant use of a flower motif, through which the reader

is drawn into a Paradise that is fantastically created, an Eden that is not limited in its range of

vision due to the wealth, class, nationality, and color of its individuals, but rather embraces

the many hues and varieties of life that any beautiful and perfect garden must possess. Although

one could argue that this utopia is never obtainable, Ms. Child successfully demonstrates that a

society can be egalitarian, not constructed on class consciousness and struggle, but rather based

on the framework of the Constitution, which states that all people are created equal, with unity

for all being the ultimate goal. These beliefs in equality are demonstrated through the strategic

use of class where the aristocratic faction should not have more value than their lower class

counterpoints. They are also reflected in the novel’s use of racial crossing, where many varieties

of people, including the pivotal octoroon sisters, Rosa and Flora, can have many potential colors

and racial identities. Finally, the egalitarian beliefs are evidenced in cultural differences, where a

society can only evolve into a more splendid creation when it derives sustenance from many

groups and resources.

     The fact that this book deals with the aristocracy at all turns presents an excellent

summation on the beliefs that money and prestige are not always used just for the purpose of

keeping the lower classes down, but can be used for the good of all peoples if the wealthy are

willing to share their good fortune. The characters of Mr. King, Mr. Blumenthal, and Mrs.

Delano were all very wealthy members of the highest social class; they also loved the two

octoroon would-be slave girls, Rosa and Flora, with a deep love that transcended any social

hierarchy. They were opposed by equally prestigious members of the elites through the

characters of Mr. Bell, Mr. Fitzgerald, and the Widow Fitzgerald, all of whom valued social

standing and southern slave laws far above the worth of human beings. This is further

demonstrated when Mr. Bell found out that his deceased son-in-law, Mr. Fitzgerald, had fathered

a child with a slave woman, Rosa. That child had been switched with Mr. Bell’s grandson and

was consequently being raised as the heir to the Bell fortune. Mr. Bell’s response was not to

think of rescuing his real grandson from slavery, but to hide the truth because he believed that it

would not be appropriate for "a merchant of his standing to leave his property to negroes" (393).

When the Widow Fitzgerald was apprized of the same incident, and realized that the boy she

had raised was not her son, her first response was to keep it quiet because it would place her in

"an embarrassing position before the world" (362). These two individuals were not concerned

with their own offspring because their desire for a spotless white social reputation was of higher

importance than honor and family obligation.

     To counteract the misuse of power that certain elites perpetuated, the author deals with the

situation of the switched boys in a way that not only allows true compassion to be exhibited but

allows both boys, Gerald and George, to profit equally as members of the King family. When

Mrs. King confessed to her husband that she had switched her baby with another, Mr. King

immediately vowed to pay restitution for any debt incurred by his step-son, and would gladly

welcome the newfound son into the family in whatever capacity the child would desire. The

next step of the patriarch was to seek out the ousted heir and "take him to Europe and have him

educated in a manner suitable to his condition, as (Mr. Bell’s) descendant and the heir of the

(Bell) property" (393). This is an example of the egalitarian society that is being presented as a

humane alternative to the domination tactics being manipulated by slave owners and some

northern aristocracy. It is an example free of strong-arm power and demonstrates that all people

can be judged on their own merit, not by the person society and heritage dooms them to be.

     By allowing numerous characters to be raced as something they are legally not, the

novel works to dispel the popular 19th-century belief that what you are assigned at birth must

continue throughout your life. The flower motif used here further propagates the feeling of

individuals having special beauty whether they are pure bred, prize-winning roses, or a hybrid of

several mixes; all are equally beautiful when transplanted side-by-side in Paradise, as is the case

with Rosa, Flora, and Tulee. The desire of the author to establish a society that mixes colors and

culture is evidenced by Flora’s conversation that states, "They are a good-looking set, between

you and I, though they are oddly mixed up. See Eulalia, with her great blue eyes, and her dark

eyebrows and eyelashes. Rosen Blumen looks just like a handsome Italian girl. No one would

think Lila Blumen was her sister with her German blue eyes, and that fine frizzle of curly light

hair. Your great-grandmother gave her the flax, and I suppose mine did the frizzling" (432). All

characters were genetically mixed into a beautiful blend that incorporated the best of all the

various races and cultures. The overall effect was not as malformed, as the elitist would have

argued, but had a simple, understated elegance that shone through like colors of a rainbow.

     The final manner through which egalitarianism is proven to be obtainable is in the use of

polyglots: individuals from many countries and cultures, speaking numerous languages. From

the French Madame, to the Italian Signor, to the "nations and races of Africa, Spain, America,

and Germany being pretty thoroughly mixed," the characters of this novel embrace, and indeed

celebrate, the eclectic make-up of their inner circle (432). They all had worked together to create

an environment of equality where their individual talents and contributions benefited the group

as a whole. Madame saved Rosa and Flora from slavery; Signor protected Rosa and guarded her

best interests while in Europe; Mr. King and Mr. Blumenthal both married the daughters of their

dear friend, Mr. Royal, and welcomed the sundry cast of nationalities that accompanied those

girls. All these acts were done out of love and a sense of loyalty by members of many

non-American heritages, all of whom had deep rooted character. None ever considered color as a

criterion for whether one should be worthy of basic human compassion.

     As the story concludes, we find a content, efficient, amalgamated group of past slaves,

polyglots, and wealthy aristocrats all living in an utopia of their own making. By allowing slaves

to be the wealthiest of the aristocracy, the unquestioned norms of patriarchal society are broken.

By having other slaves given their freedom while being able to live side-by-side, equally with

their past owners, the notion of race being the foundation of society’s structure, and class the

determiner of position in that edifice, is destroyed because all people can start at the bottom of

the ladder and work for a higher goal. The appreciation of many cultures for the unique and

various gifts they contribute to their spheres allows those individuals to branch out into other

spheres and impact many new clusters of people. Just as Paradise is beautiful, so is equality.

This leaves the reader with the logical progression of: 1) Flowers are beautiful: just as all people

are beautiful; 2) Flowers are from many genuses and possess many hues: just as people are from

many cultures and have many different colors; 3) People of many colors and cultures are

beautiful. When all varieties of people are planted in the same garden and live in peaceful

coexistence, they will develop their own accepting culture, which is nothing less than Paradise.

Works Cited

Child, Lydia Maria. A Romance of the Republic. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of

Kentucky, 1997.

 

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