O'connor, Florence J.
O'CONNOR, Florence J.
Born circa 1830s; died death date unknown
The frontispiece of The Heroine of the Confederacy (1864) is a portrait of Florence O'Connor: a profile of a young woman with dark hair, an aquiline nose, and a broad forehead. O'Connor, who identified with Louisiana's Creole Catholics, viewed the Civil War as based on matters other than differences over slavery or the sovereignty of the Union; rather, it was a conflict between Anglo-Saxon Protestant and Catholic sensibilities.
O'Connor's strongly partisan novel romanticizing the Confederate cause was published in London during the Civil War and reprinted in New Orleans in 1869. O'Connor attempted to provide a Southern answer to Harriet Beecher Stowe, who served as the model for Madame N. "She was one of that style of wealthy, illdressed, ill-bred Northern aristocrat who fills our hotels during the winter, and who, through courtesy, are invited to the homes of our planters, and then returns to the North to write of Legrees and Uncle Toms."
The novel opens in Rosale, a sugar plantation south of New Orleans, when secession has started but before Louisiana secedes. Natalie de Villerie, ward of Judge de Brevil, is about to be engaged to Lieutenant Clarence Belden, but she is loyal to the South: "I would sever my very heart strings if I thought they bound me to an individual of Northern principles." Belden pleads with Natalie to leave the South, but she breaks with him, joins other Southern women in war efforts, and becomes the first woman in New Orleans to give her jewels to the Confederate cause. A mark of character in O'Connor's women is their capacity for self-denial and restraint; however, as the novel progresses Natalie becomes more spirited.
The tide of battle turns after Shiloh, and the Union army marches south to take New Orleans. Natalie refuses to lower the rebel flag, wraps it around her, and is shot but not seriously injured. Natalie leaves New Orleans for Mississippi and then Virginia, where as Soeur Secessia, a nursing sister in Richmond Hospital, she discovers Belden among the wounded. They are briefly reunited before he dies. Under various disguises, Natalie performs a number of heroic acts for her cause. Count Bernharnais, fighting for the South, loves Natalie, who is unable to return his love because her heart, like her beloved Rosale, is "in ruins." Perhaps, when the war is over, she can return his love.
The novel is flawed by O'Connor's intention to publicize the Southern cause to an English audience; however, O'Connor's portrait of Natalie as a young woman whose character is strengthened by the war and her picture of the response of Southern women to the Confederate cause is a corrective to the stereotype of the Southern belle.
Knight, L., ed., Biographical Dictionary of Southern Authors (1978).