You were made to rule the world.
—Chateaubriand to Mme de Duras

In 1786 the chevalier de Boufflers, then governor of Senegal, brought back for his aunt, the princesse de Beauvau, a black girl called Ourika, some two years old, who was going to be put on a slave ship. He made presents of other small black children, along with parakeets and monkeys, to various members of the French aristocracy. Mme de Beauvau later claimed to have loved her protégée as her own daughter, but the girl died when only about sixteen.

On a few facts like these, Mme de Duras (1777–1828)—one of the prominent influential political figures of the Bourbon Restoration—constructed her delicate and moving tale, Ourika, the great bestseller of 1823–24. Goethe much preferred it to the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Talleyrand told her he was lost in admiration for her art....


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