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3.50  ·  Rating details ·  775 ratings  ·  57 reviews
Based on a true story, Ourika relates the experiences of a Senegalese girl who is rescued from slavery and raised by an aristocratic French family during the French Revolution. Brought up in a household of learning and privilege, she is unaware of her difference until she overhears a conversation that makes her suddenly conscious of her race - and of the prejudice it ...more
Paperback, 47 pages
Published January 1st 1995 by Modern Language Association of America (first published 1823)
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Average rating 3.50  · 
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Mar 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Ourika, first published by Claire de Duras in France in 1823, is a noteworthy short story that discusses that place of Africans in French society during the early 19th century. Madame de Duras (nee Lechat) came from an upperclass family that had to flee the country during Robespierre's reign of terror. While temporarily exiled, her father encountered a Senegalese girl about to be sold into slavery, and insisted that the girl, Ourika, come to live with his family. This forty seven page story is ...more
Apr 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To imagine that Ourika is a simply a tale about a woman who is distraught over a man is to severely misread the richness of this novel, which offers a complex regard of race, blackness, womanhood, identity, and intercultural acceptance. With its harsh criticisms of political fervor generated by the French Revolution as well as social behaviors--namely, French upper-class elitism--this was a risky novel for its time. It tells the story of a Senagalese girl who, one day, suddenly realizes she is ...more
Nov 28, 2014 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Laura by: Dagny
Free download in French is available at Project Gutenberg.

Free download in English (pdf file) is available at HathiThrust Digital Library.
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Ourika is the name of this short novel's eponymous heroine, a young Senegalese slave woman who is rescued from s life of drudgery and brought up by a French noblewoman around the time of the Terror. For perhaps the first time in literary history, authorClaire de Duras writes about the life of a black heroine surrounded on all sides by whites.

Young Ourika falls in love with her patroness's son, but Charles marries a sixteen-year-old girl of noble family:
God will bear witness, I was happy for
Jan 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
First, a tangent that I swear has a point:

For several years, I’ve had a copy of A.S. Byatt’s Possession sitting on my shelf. I planned to read it last year, but shortly before starting, I read an article about books inspired by other books. One of the books mentioned? Possession, which tips its hat to John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which, in turn, tips its hat to a little-known French novella by the name of Ourika.

Naturally, I then decided I could not read Possession until I read
3.5 stars. Interesting short story about an African/Senegalese girl, (rescued from slavery), who is brought up in an upper class family, and her thoughts/struggles being an educated black woman in eighteenth-century France.
Abrupt ending. Unresolved conflicts. Too much time inside Ourika's head.
Silvia Maresca
Would have given it 3 stars if it wasn't for such an abrupt, clichéd ending.
Interesting story though.
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars
This brief, bittersweet novel was a courageous pheonmenon in France in the 1820s. At a time when the abolition movement was gaining momentum in France, the traditionalist and conservative element was busy making new rules to take more rights away from people of African heritage. Therefore, it is astonishing that Ourika was published when it was (1824) and received the (limited) respect it did for its lovely, black heroine, the title character. (I say "limited respect" because white French ...more
Rachel Coyne
Aug 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Haunting. This should be a film. So much glorious visuals.
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It was so sad but there are very interesting topics of class, sex, race, and mental health!
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The shortest and strangest book I read in a long while. Minus two forewords, which I recommend reading after, it clocks in at just 45 pages. Those are basically, in today's parlance, a personal essay you might find on Medium. But it was written around 1820 and set during the French Revolution. The astonishing bit is the prescience on what today is taught in Gender and Identity Studies, and uncanny observations that seamlessly fit our social media landscape. Please see for yourself; it doesn't ...more
James Coleman
Oct 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
An excellent example of Romantic literature and definitely a thought-provoking piece on identity and the place of women/blacks/minorities in society during the French Revolution. Duras's projection of isolation within a society is incredibly striking as well.
Oct 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Called by many an "abolitionist tale", I felt that it didn't live up to the name. If anything, there were parts where I felt the author was romanticising slavery. While it was a revolutionary text for its own time, it's far from an anti-slavery text.
Mar 16, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a fascinating little book. I've never read anything like it. Written 200 years ago, it really resonates today. Of course the scholarly foreword and introduction both help with the context. Thanks Lauren for sharing this with me!
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Read it in one sitting, 4.5 stars. Was crying. Pretty much all that needs to be said.
Shy Guy
Dec 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Short and sweet. It might be an unpopular opinion, but I like the spiritual theme and how the story resolved.
Apr 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: assigned-reading
This book is, as we say in the literary world, Kind Of A Big Deal. It's the first novel (ok, so it's really more of a novella) set in Europe to feature a black heroine, and the first story narrated by a black female protagonist. The mere fact that Duras wrote this book right after the French Revolution is kind of amazing, AND it's based on real events.

Ourika is from Senegal originally, but she was adopted/purchased by a Frenchman when she was two years old. He brought her to Paris to live with
Kevin Orr
Feb 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
An interesting historical context lead me to this read. Published discreetly and read by only 40 or Parisian women at first, it soon became a widespread success in France. Duras' story-within-a-story is well-written and poignant, and her character's experience in the Reign of Terror provides an interesting thought experiment. Overall, the most profound element lies in the main character's inability to cope with a quagmire that plagued many of minority persons of the period... Their explicit ...more
Sarah Elizabeth
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short but not sweet, Ourika is named for its protagonist. Ourika is a black woman adopted by a French family, living through the Reign of Terror in France as she discovers her own difference. She is from Senegal, she is black. Ourika faces lifes challenges with an added challenge of her own: how can an educated black woman live in the society she finds herself best fitted for. Duras succinctly and compellingly enters the mind of her protagonist, a character who's fate seems to resemble the ...more
Gala Patenkovic
Jul 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
The first known novel to talk about life from the perspective of a negro woman, "Ourika" explores the French society through its most tumultuous times: before, during and after the French revolution of 1789. A strong portrayal of the nature of the French aristocracy with its said and unsaid rules, Ourika examines what is really a "natural" order, and what is an order that we as a society have constructed and deem "normal". The young woman presents well the sentiments of immigrants and a sense of ...more
Carolyn Heinze
Jun 14, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one, really
Hm. Well. Nothing against the rich, but this is one of those examples of a bourgeoise having the right connections to get something published. Was intrigued by the story and its length - at 75 pages, I thought that maybe it would be a nice, simple, tightly-written story. Set against the backdrop of the Revolution, she could have done so much more with the material. But this book is just whiny, and about as subtle as a hurricane. Apparently, Mme de Duras (not to be confused with Marguerite) was ...more
Aug 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Interesting little book. It has to be considered in two contexts, I think -- in today's context, where much of the content here would still be problematic (that, for example, Charles views Ourika more or less as an extension of himself; the way the book ends), and in the context in which it was written, where it wasn't really recognised that, you know, white people are not the only people.

Not going to hold this up as an example of great writing, but it is at least thought-provoking.
Sep 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Quite a heart-rendering little piece by Claire De Duras. John Fowles provides a beautiful translation that is concise, yet still fully captures the torment of Ourika. She sees herself as one who carries the burden of having an "irremediable stain of color" in a high class French society. That one simple phrase threw me into a sympathetic state of distress for our self-deprecating character. All in all, "Ourika" is a very short read but carries a very powerful story.
Nov 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
Though its theme of race, society, and unrequited love is interesting, and it stands as one of the earliest abolitionist pieces where a "white person tried to present a black person's thoughts", the extremely short story itself has not much else to recommend. It left me unsatisfied, and yet unwanting. I guess the term I'm looking for here is indifference. Maybe it's just the translation I read. Would be a great piece to study in the classroom though.
Sep 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Aside from being the longest thing I've ever read in French (god, that's pathetic. I can do better), I thought this book was great. It might not have much in the way of plot or characterisation, but it offers interesting commentary on the subjects of racism, slavery, and class. The juxtaposition of Ourika's bleak situation in the Polite World and the bloody backdrop of the French Revolution is fascinating.
Apr 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
This is probably one of my top 5 favorite books and it is hard to pin-point why; part of me thinks that it is the unrequited/unexpressed love of Ourika for Charles, another due to it's concise writing, being able to express so much in barely 50 double spaced pages, and yet another part for the forward by John Fowles, which stirred feelings of a kindred soul for the written word.
Aug 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Classic story about a woman who pines away because she feels like an outcast from aristocratic French society due to her skin color. This was assigned reading in high school, and I happened across it again in a bookstore. I wrote more about Ourika on Dead Men Blogging.
Jan 11, 2012 rated it liked it
I didn't read this particular translation - I actually read the original French text. It was good, but rich, and extremely loaded. Very dense language and a lot of ideas and themes and struggles packed into a mere 45 pages. Still, it was pleasant to tackle this and I have a lot of respect for Duras for writing and publishing such a novel at the time she did.
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500 Great Books B...: Ourika - Claire de Duras - Brina 1 5 Mar 26, 2017 01:42PM  

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Claire de Duras left her native France for London during the French Revolution in 1789, and returned to France in 1808 as the Duchess of Duras. She maintained a famous literary salon in post-Revolutionary Paris and was the close friend of Chateaubriand, who she had met while in exile in London, and who helped her to publish her books.

Ourika was published anonymously in 1823, one of five novels
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“I was ungrateful to Providence by not being happy; and, yet, does happiness always result from the gifts of intelligence? I tend to believe the contrary: one must pay for the gift of knowledge by wishing not to know...” 0 likes
“He believed me, and I was overwhelmed by bitterness when I saw that he did. My tears stopped; I told myself that it was quite easy to deceive those whose interest lay elsewhere.” 0 likes
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