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Journal > Volumes > 44 (2013) / 3 (Autumn)
Presenting the “Poor Miserable Savage” to French Urban Elites: Commentary on North American Living Conditions in Early Jesuit Relations
Bronwen Catherine McShea
Columbia University

While the Relations de la Nouvelle France, authored by Jesuit missionaries in French North America and printed in France between 1616 and 1673, are well known, the European context in which they were published has been underexplored. Here, it is argued that remarks in the Relations concerning Native Americans’ living conditions formed a dialogue with the French social and cultural milieu from which the missionaries came, and to which the Relations were addressed. Featuring discussions of North American “poverty,” cuisine, sanitation, dwellings, and medicine which refer to nonelite cultures within France itself, the Relations reveal a Jesuit effort to appeal to elites who identified with a newly evolving, Paris-centered culture of consumption, aesthetics, and self-conscious distance from France’s poor. The Relations mirrored and redeployed elite attitudes toward marginal populations on behalf of the mission and reveal that the Jesuits sought to import this particular culture to North America with Catholicism.

Pages: 683 - 711