Sunday, November 10, 2013

Alice Alida Le Bourgeois Jaquet Durkee Hardy-The/Pierre de Coulevain: Continued

Illustration from Eve Victorieuse 1900
Internet Archive

I think I may have just discovered a heretofore unknown American writer from Louisiana, who was thought for over a century to be a French woman--first Mlle. Favre de Coulevain, and then Jeanne Philomene Laperche.

The more I look into Joseph H. Durkee’s wife Alice, born Marie Alida Lebourgeois, discussed in the previous blogpost, the more I believe that she is the true author of all of the works written under the pseudonym of Pierre de Coulevain. These include Eve Victorieuse, Noblesse Americaine, Sur la Branche, L’Ile Inconnue, Au Coeur de la Vie,  and Le Roman Merveilleux. In English, they are Eve Triumphant, American Nobility, On the Branch, The Unknown Isle, The Heart of Life, and The Wonderful Romance. It must be understood that although the writer known as Pierre de Coulevain was not considered to be a great author, her works were very popular, both in America and in Europe. Some went through many printings, and most received fairly favourable reviews. There were several articles in the press responding to the views expressed in the novels on Europeans and Americans, particularly American women, and she appears to have been widely quoted.

From what I have been able to ascertain, she was born Marie Alida Lebourgeois on September 20, 1861 in Opelousas, St. Landry, Louisiana, in the heart of Creole and Cajun country. Her parents were Louis Florian Lebourgeois and Marie Alida Beraud. Her family did own a plantation in Lousiana as she claimed, and continued to own it after the Civil War. She was part owner with her brother Raoul. Before she married Joseph, she married William F. Jaquet on September 30, 1880, a marriage which was described as “unhappy”.  After Jaquet’s death, she married the wealthy Joseph H. Durkee in New Orleans on January 20, 1894 on his thirty-second birthday. (This may have been done for her family’s benefit, as it was also claimed that they had married earlier in Paris). They spent much of their marriage living in Paris, where they may have owned an hotel near the Bois de Boulogne. As mentioned in the previous blogpost, she claimed authorship of the Pierre de Coulevain novels (and short stories). One newspaper account states that her husband Joseph had helped her with Noblesse Americaine, and that an Italian man had assisted her with Eve Victorieuse. Another account stated that she had “apologized” for her claims to be the true writer “Pierre de Coulevain”, who accepted her apology. Six years after Joseph’s death at sea, she married Lucien Hardy-The on June 30, 1904 in Philadelphia. Not only was he a French capitalist, politician and former newspaperman allegedly, he also sang baritone. Alice and Lucien were said to have met at one of her “musicales” in Paris, and developed their relationship over the Pierre de Coulevain authorship controversy. (One account states that he was an Englishman). She died of pneumonia on November 16, 1906 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. She had been on her way to Louisiana from Paris and fell ill in New York. In her will she left most of her fortune, estimated to be about half a million dollars, to her husband, her portion of the St. Landry plantation to her brother Raoul, and her jewellery worth upwards of $100,000 at the time to her niece, Blanche. There is no mention in the newspaper accounts of there being any reference in the will to her writings. A death notice states that she was “beautiful” and “accomplished”.

It appears that only one of the major works attributed to Pierre de Coulevain was published after Alice/Alida’s death, that being Au Coeur de la Vie in 1908. Several of the translations of her works were published post mortem, up until 1914. She may have had one French language manuscript ready enough for publication at the time of her death. It may be that all of the translations were written by Alice/Alida herself, but she was reluctant to publish them all while she was living due to having used recognizable American models for some of her characters. (The “translations” may have been the true originals of the works—the French versions could have been written second, and possibly not by her).  Judging by her surviving husband’s credentials, he may well have been capable of arranging for the posthumous publication of her work.

In the previous blogpost I mentioned that there was a newspaper report that a Mlle. Favre de Coulevain had expressed public outrage at Alice’s claims that she had written de Coulevain’s novels, and claimed to have been the authoress herself. In 1913 there were reports that Mlle. Favre, supposedly born in Geneva, had died in Lausanne, Switzerland on August twenty-second of that year.

Now, it gets a little more bizarre. It  now appears to be accepted  that Mlle. Favre was another pseudonym, and that a woman by the name of Jeanne Philomene Laperche was the real name of the author, which makes the newspaper reports referring to Mlle. Favre as a real person even more odd. It is said that Laperche, who died in 1927, made the decision to kill off the Pierre de Coulevain persona in 1913 and to stop writing under this name. This happened around the time the last English translations were coming out, it should be noted. Clearly, it could have been a rather convenient thing to do if the real author was now deceased.

My current theory is that Laperche, Lucien Hardy-The, and possibly Alice herself, were accomplices in the whole business of claiming that someone other than Alice was the true author of Pierre de Coulevain’s works. (I have not yet ruled out that Laperche could have written the French versions from English originals written by Alice). As I have suggested previously, Alice could have had good reason to remain anonymous but still have wanted it to be before the public that she was the author, thus her claims in the newspapers and the clues in the works themselves. This includes the clue described in the previous blogpost, that of her giving her heroine in American Nobility the same birthday as her husband and placing her on the same ship he died on, the Bourgogne, all in the same sentence. I will be looking for more clues in the novels as I read through them.

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