Judith Fonseca Lestrange
1843 painting of Lestrange at 22
Judith Arielle Lestrange
November 9, 1821
January 5, 1911 (aged 89)|
|Resting place||Sawtelle National Cemetery, Porciúncula, Gold Coast, Sierra|
|Alma mater||Avalon College|
|Occupation||Poet, author, playwright, columnist|
|"A Seaside Eulogy" (1838), Forsaken at Sea (1846), "The Temple of Anubis" (1850), "On Wise Men" (1853), Jacob's Ladder (1867), The Tulpa (2017)*|
Symbolism (early works)|
Modernism (later works)
Martin Fonseca Lestrange|
Lestrange was born in Little Gibraltar to a prominent, upper middle-class family of lawyers and doctors. Although she attended Avalon College to become a nurse, she left without completing her studies to pursue a Bohemian lifestyle. Subsisting on her parents' finances, Lestrange spent months away from home, traveling to the mainland to explore the country. After spending several years in the Styxie, she returned to the Southland. She developed a close fondness for Porciúncula and the surrounding area, and eventually settled in Riverside where she lived with her husband, fellow poet Manuel Fonseca, and their three children.
Although her most creative period in life occurred during the initial years of her life in Riverside, her subject matter often dealt with the Channels and her hometown, and spoke fondly of her childhood. She produced her first novel, Forsaken at Sea which was poorly received at the time and was nearly discouraged from writing again. After struggling with depression, she joined the Methodist Church in 1859, and began turning her attention towards writing novels and plays. In order to sustain her career, and the long hiatuses in her poetry and novel creations, she wrote for various newspapers as a columnist under various pseudonyms, most under male names (the most prominent being "Harry Stein").
She was a known republican, and sympathized with the Landon during the Sierran Civil War, although she refrained from speaking on the matter for many years during and after the war. Lestrange however, contributed a series of papers and articles defending Landon's ideas (From the Eyes of a Frenchwoman), which were released posthumously in 1972. In 2017, an unpublished novel titled The Tulpa, was revealed by the Judith Fonseca Estate, and subsequently published by Puffin Press. Recognition of Lestrange as an accomplished writer came towards the end of her life as literary critics began seriously considering her works. The National Literature Society issued an official statement in 1996 on her 175th birthday, "Lestrange perfectly captures the truest essence of Sierran sentimentalism unlike any other. To understand Lestrange is to understand Sierra." Today, her legacy is celebrated throughout Sierra and the world, and her collective works have been hailed as a national treasure.
Family and childhood
Judith Fonseca Lestrange was born on November 9, 1821 in Les Chalets, Little Gibraltar, Channel Islands. Her father, Alexandre Lestrange, was a prominent, accomplished French lawyer on the island, who had served on the colonial government board from 1802 to 1809. Her mother, Mariène Alves, was the daughter of a Spaniard military officer, and was reputed for her pompous clothing. Lestrange's brother, Frederic, was five years older than she was, while her sister, Emile, was two years younger. Her uncle, Simeon Lestrange, was a doctor are arguably equal reputation as her father, as he was the only practicing surgeon at the time with knowledge in using anesthetics. Her patrilineal ancestral family, the Lestranges, was from Marseille while her matrilineal family, the Alves, was from Andalusia. Like virtually all French Channeliers at the time, the Lestranges were one of the several hundred Frenchmen implanted onto the islands during the reign of Louis XVI. The Lestranges originally settled in Bougainville but following the devastating fire in 1807, they moved to Little Gibraltar. In 1817, Alexandre Lestrange purchased a two-story mansion along the hills of Mont-Jacques-Noire in the Les Chalets, a new neighborhood reserved for the island's wealthiest owners.
Lestrange was affectionately called Jodie and based on all known accounts pertaining to Lestrange's earliest childhood, she was a kind and warm girl, with a calm temperament. Her older cousin, Catherine, wrote in her reflections on Lestrange in an 1859 diary entry, "Sweet Jodie was the conventional, respectful girl who existed within the conformities expected of the ideal female. Such stark contrast to what would become of her!" The young Jodie was educated and reared at home by her governess, Madame Estelle Langlois. Madame Langlois instilled in Lestrange a deep affinity for literature, the arts, and music, and their relationship was closer compared to Jodie's parents. Madame Langlois was also highly religious, in contrast to the Lestranges, and taught Jodie the Holy Bible, and accompanied her to Mass services.
When she reached the age of eight, she was sent to L'Epiphanie Academy, an all-girls school. A studious pupil, she was praised by her teachers for her work ethic and classroom brilliance. Lestrange took classes in classical literature, biology, chemistry, botany, art history, history, and geology. Taught in both French and Spanish, Lestrange would also learn English from Madame Langlois, whom had stayed in England for a number of years before she moved to the Channels.
Lestrange's father demanded and expected the best out of his children's education and was heavily invested in their learning despite being away from home for extended periods of time. Lestrange's mother was generally ambivalent to her children's upbringing as she treated herself to the intrigues of social life outside the home. Instead, Lestrange's mother relied on Madame Langlois to raise and take care of her and her siblings. However, Lestrange wrote favorably of her mother despite her shortcomings, although admitted that it was "a bond that was never fully actualized".
Adolescence and early writing
As a teenager, Lestrange transferred to Bougainville Academy, which was about 6 miles (9.5 km) south of her home. She continued her studies and developed a pronounced fascination in literature and poetry. It was into her second year in attendance at the age of 15 when she created her first poem, White Rabbit. Here, Lestrange developed lasting friendships which persisted into her adulthood through personal meetings and letters of correspondence. Of the friends she made at the academy, future composer Jeannette Gaspard was her closest confidant. Based on Lestrange's poems and verified accounts from Lestrange's contacts, researchers believe that Lestrange and Gaspard may had developed some form of romantic affinity during their youth which would continue for years to come. Many of her poems at this time were directed to her unnamed "beloved", and although Lestrange addressed recipients of both sex in her letters of correspondence as "beloved", she frequently spoke of her "lovely Jeannette" to others.
Her strong passion for writing and close friendships served as the progenitive nuclei for Lestrange's poetic ambitions. She remarked that "poetry is the living breath of life and gift of God that separates man from beast", and frequently wrote short poems and epigrams after a long day of studying and outdoor activities. Writing on whatever scraps she could find, she sometimes turned in tests with poems written on them, with the hope that her teachers would read them. At night, before bed, she would read various books she discovered from the academy's library. By the time she reached 17, she was well familiarized with the works of a diversified lineup of writers including Johnathan Swift, Jane Austen, Voltaire, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Charles Dickens. She had a keen interest in Greek and Roman mythology as well, and formed a mock secret society between her friends, and referred to each other by pagan gods' names.
In 1839, when Lestrange turned eighteen, she moved to Avalon and stayed in a dormitory room on the Avalon College campus. Avalon College was the only non-sectarian college in the island at the time, but was reputed for its disciplinarian-oriented and demanding form of teaching. She initially planned to study medicine, and took classes in the natural sciences and history. Lestrange attributed her first year literature and French composition teacher, Édouard Mari, as an influential mentor who reared her towards a life filled with poetry. Uninterested in medicine, and doubtful of her own abilities, she desired to channel her focus towards artistic expression which Mari encouraged in his class. Lestrange developed a close friendship with Mari whom she referred to as Uncle Édouard, and relied on him for reviewing and critiquing her works. Over the ensuing months, Lestrange's performance in her other classes declined, which caught the attention of her father who threatened to pull her from the college.
By her second year, she had grown to dislike the college considerably, and was frequently cited for discipline issues by the campus faculty. Mari died from a fever during the summer of 1839, leaving Lestrange without a mentor. Lestrange felt repressed by the strict regimen over her, and hated the rigid schedule she was given. In January 1940, halfway through her second year, she started a poem that read: "When the captain boarded his ship to sail, / It was as though there cast a metal veil."
Described as unscrupulous and uncivil by her teachers, she was placed with other students labeled as "hopeless" in their academic endeavors. After repeated violations, she was forcibly moved from her original dormitory room to a cabin further away from campus. Sharing the cabin with two other girls, Lestrange experienced cold, chilly nights and stuffy, humid days in the cabin, but remarked, "It is far better here, an apothecary's den, than at that damning asylum of convention."
During her time at the cabin, Lestrange suffered from bouts of depression and skipped class sporadically, much to the err of the faculty. In the spring of 1841, she was on the verge of expulsion, having been placed on academic probation the semester prior. Finally, after a serious episode and a failed suicide attempt, Lestrange unilaterally left the campus, and obtained a ticket for a one-way trip to mainland Sierra. She wrote a letter to her parents and Madame Langlois apologizing to her departure, and had them sent by her friend, Juliana. Lestrange arrived to Santa Monica on March 8, 1841, carrying with her only 500 pesos, and her belongings.
The mainland at the time was much more undeveloped than the Channels. Although both the mainland and the Channels were under the control of the Mexican government, the Channels was self-governed by the much larger French population, while the mainland consisted primarily Californio ranchers, artisans, workers, and natives who lived in small towns miles apart. Lestrange was halted by Mexican authorities, who believed she was a minor based on her appearance, and impounded her in Porciúncula, the only large city in the area, which she intended to go initially.
Since Lestrange failed to produce any documentation, and refused to reveal her identity and connection to her family in the Channels, she was released after spending a night in the prison. Wandering town as a vagabond, she eventually found comfort in the quarters of a non-institutional housing shelter. She was segregated with fellow women who were unemployed, and slept in the company of some 20 other individuals in a ward.
Early career and marriage
During her stay at the ward, Lestrange devoted her time writing poems based on her experience there. She wrote and read aloud her works to her fellow roommates, and spent time idling around the institution's grounds. The young woman also grew worried about her parents, and wrote a trove of letters she planned to send to them one day. In her letters, she addressed her parents as though they would receive it on a moment's notice, and showcased some of her poems to them. Lestrange started one of her letters assuring her father, "Dearest Father if it does please you / Know that the days which separate us shall be few," and wrote candidly of her reasons to leave Avalon College.
While the other women at the shelter resorted to prostitution or menial work in the town shops, Lestrange made a living commissioning poems and short stories to intrigued patrons. One such patron, Lt. Sergio Costa, a local Mexican military officer, took pity to her condition and paid her large sums of money for her works. She produced some of her most memorable and internationally recognized poems during this time, including "These eyes have seen", "Saint Gabriel's March", "A Seaside Eulogy", and "The Pitiful Seagull of Catalina".
Enjoying the patronage of Costa, she moved in to his home with his family in November 1841, and took care of the Costa children. Given free reign to roam about the lieutenant's home, she began writing some of her poems in Spanish from the comforts of her room. "I am most thankful to my kind benefactors. They, who have treated me most exceedingly more than could be afforded unto a cherished guest, I am most happy here than ever I did home," she remarked in a diary entry during Christmas season. Lt. Costa's wife, Isabel, grew increasingly wary of Lestrange's presence, and feared that her husband would abandon her for the young poet. The women's relationship was strained and caused significant tension in the household. Finally, after just three months in the company of the Costas, Lestrange was evicted from the house, and returned to the shelter penniless. About eighty pages of poems she wrote during her time there was confiscated and destroyed by Mrs. Costa, and she lost the favor of the lieutenant who refused to take her back in.
Devastated, Lestrange attempted suicide twice at the shelter, and spent four months in a writing dry spell. She recounted later in life, "It was as though the flame which gave inspiration to my own hands have been hushed away. I could not write, I could not speak. I could not perceive anything." In July 1842, she met Manuel Fonseca, a young Porciúncula native, in an open market. She was smitten, and discovered that Fonseca himself was an aspiring poet, and was the son of a reputable family of business owners. Lestrange was initially skeptical of Fonseca's own advances and offers to reside at his home however, but began to maintain continuous contact thereafter. For two more months, Lestrange remained at the shelter while Fonseca made frequent visits to her, exchanging poems and letters. In the span of one week, she wrote over twenty poems and a short story. Inspired, she wrote vivaciously about Fonseca. Although she was enamored by the young man, the love was, at the time, unrequited as Fonseca was engaged to another woman.
She longed for Fonseca's return of affection, and developed an obsession over him. Between late 1842 and 1845, her poetry subsisted primarily of subject matter and references to Fonseca, and of love. Ironically, it was during this period of uneasiness and desperation that produced some of her most critically acclaimed and famous works. Fonseca was aware of Lestrange's obsession, and this fact only further fueled the young female poet's self-described "tempest of the heart".
After Fonseca's relationship with his fiancé deteriorated and ended, he returned his affections towards Fonseca, and the two married on June 8, 1845, at the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana, with Fonseca's family in attendance. Their marriage ironically caused a noticeable decline in frequency, depth, and length in Lestrange's writing for the first few years. Although their relationship was close, their conflicting personalities often led to bitter arguments. Lestrange desired to travel while Fonseca insisted on staying near home with his family. In January 1847, the couple met novelist Robert Rathburn, whose idyllic, free-roaming lifestyle inspired the couple to travel. Rathburn became their lifelong friend, and accompanied them in their travels across Sierra.
In the wake of the California Gold Rush in 1848, Fonseca and Lestrange moved to Bernheim, and joined fellow artists and travelers at a utopian colony. Lestrange encountered people from all walks of life, and her experiences on the campgrounds helped shape her political beliefs and ideology. She developed strong ties with early socialist thinkers, and Lestrange joined the Benevolent Association of Freemen as a contributing poet. "The Shepherd's Hatchet" (1848) was among the first instances where she began infusing political commentary into her poems. Lestrange and her husband did not remain in Bernheim for long, and departed in the summer of 1851. They moved in with William and Regina Clements, close friends of theirs, in San Francisco City. The Clements owned a minor publishing company, and helped publish and distribute some of Lestrange's works to the general public.
Sierran Civil War
When the Sierran Civil War broke out, the Lestranges remained at home in Bernheim. Although able-bodied civilian males were generally required to enlist in the military forces, Manuel was allowed to stay with Lestrange due to their importance and status as writers and cultural leaders. They became acquainted with the Republican leader Isaiah Landon, and were frequent dinner guests to his home. Their stay in Bernheim helped boost community morale with their creative works. It was during this time however, when she began to publish some of her works under pseudonyms, all as males. Her most prominent works during this time period were written under the pseudonym Harry Stein. Other names included Arthur Wheeler and Esteban Ortiz.
Some of her most politicized writings emerged from this period, often espousing republican ideals, though stopping short of advocating the Landonist thought her peers proposed. Lestrange used these names to conceal her identity and wanted to gauge the quality of her work to the public without regard to her own fame. Her friendship with Landon and other republican leaders also cast doubt on her true loyalties, and was worried her works would be censored outside the Republic. While the war raged, literary works and civilian communications including her own continued to freely flow between the self-declared Republic in the north and the Kingdom in the south. Despite open knowledge that Lestrange was a republican sympathizer, her works under her own name continued to receive praise and admiration from the Kingdom.
The Lestranges' relationship with Landon and the Republican leadership raised objections by Royalist readers and observers. She and her husband were declared "traitors" by the Porciúncula Times, and an editorial even called for her arrest and "summary execution" for her politically-steeped publications. Nonetheless, after the war concluded, she returned southward with her family to Riverside where she faced no charges by the federal government. Although she received idle threats by loyal supporters, the King's gesture of clemency towards Landon extended towards many republicans including the Lestranges themselves, whose works were regarded as invaluable to the Sierran cultural community.
Following the war, Lestrange settled in Riverside where she and her husband owned a 14.5 acre farm. She took up citrus farming a few years after it was introduced to the region and compiled over 450 pages on botany and biology, which were filled with illustrations. Lestrange continued writing mostly poems and short stories, which were primarily published by The Inland Empire Enterprise in weekly segments well into her later years. She and her husband became patrons of the developing theater scene in Riverside, and was inspired to write the script of The Woman of the Channels, the first of her two only plays.
After Christmas Day in 1910, Lestrange developed a cold after she returned to her home in Riverside from a trip to San Francisco City. After her symptoms improved following New Year's Day, she began to take daily walks outside her home. Following a heavy rainstorm on January 8, she fell ill again and she began experiencing stronger flu-like symptoms that quickly progressed to a severe case of pneumonia.
During her lifetime, Lestrange produced a total of 919 poems, 6 novels, 2 plays, and 33 short stories, as well over 4,500 pages of letters. However, only a small number of her works have been integrated into the Sierran literary canon. An extensive writer, her repertoire of writing was immense and Lestrange mused that writing allowed her to live. Despite this, she was aware of the lack of fame she attained and sense of mediocrity she felt during most of her career. She often questioned her existence as a woman, which she attributed as the source of disdain and dismissal from professional and literary circles, and contributed essays on feminism, socialism, and transcendentalism.
Most of Lestrange's early works circulated in local newspapers and periodicals, which were made possible by her sponsor, Mexican Lieutenant Sergio Costa. Lestrange received some royalties for her works, but was disenfranchised after Costa severed ties and his support for her. She kept copies for all of her works, though as many as 80 of her poems were lost when the Costas destroyed her works before she was evicted. Before she married her husband, Manuel Fonseca, she bound her works into three homemade anthologies. After marrying, Lestrange submitted her works in the original anthologies to St. Mary's Press, which published her works accordingly as three separate anthologies in verbatim as Maladies (Vol. 1), Oceanside (Vol. 2), and Sojourn (Vol. 3). The volumes contained roughly 150 poems each, but were selectively organized by themes Lestrange. Later on in her career, Lestrange's successive poems were compiled and anthologized, and those poems were published in Miracles (Vol. 4), Eddies (Vol. 5), and A Madwoman's Mind (Vol. 6).
Forsaken at Sea
Commemoration and legacy
Since public recognition and respect for Judith Fonseca Lestrange's work was delayed until her later years, the poet would not see the extent of her influence and impact on Sierran culture, poetry, and literature. She has since been remembered as one of the Channel Islands, and the Kingdom's greatest poets, and has been held in high esteem by the international communities of both English and French literature. An innumerable amount of her works have been featured and published in anthropologies, papers, and other media, and studied and analyzed by students in schools across the Kingdom. While Lestrange was mostly rejected by her peers for her unorthodox lifestyle, she is now widely acknowledged for her post-modern innovation, despite having used conventional forms of poetry in her earlier works, and continuing to do so occasionally later in life. Her free form poetry was among the first of its kind in Sierra, and has been regarded as the Sierran answer to the Northeast Union's Walt Whitman.
Short story collections
Political and religious views
Lestrange wrote literary criticism and political texts. In her early life, she was highly suspicious of authority and sympathized with the poor and the working class. She was also interested in women's rights and suffrage. She and her husband became personally acquainted with Isaiah Landon before, during, and after the Sierran Civil War. The Lestranges became committed republicans and their views compromised Lestrange's reception among readers following the civil war. Influenced by Landon, they developed socialist views and Lestrange later self-identified as a Landonist, although she was careful not to write extensively on the matter.
Lestrange initially opposed the temperance movement and believed that alcohol was one of the "finest pleasures" in life, and consumed large quantities of wine. After suffering from depression and her subsequent conversion to Methodism, she became an advocate for abstentionism and advocated for the total prohibition of hard liquor and wine. She wrote several pieces on the matter, declaring that alcohol was a "vice" that destroyed the health and well-being of citizens.
Lestrange was born and raised as a Roman Catholic but her faith lapsed as an adolescent. After she underwent a depressive period in life, Lestrange joined the Methodist Church and became a devout follower. She incorporated religious themes and biblical allusions into her work. Later in life, she became more skeptical to religion in general, including her church. She and her husband privately corresponded to friends regarding their doubts. When she was accused of being a deist in 1904 by a local newspaper, she wrote back a rare rebuke against her accuser, and said that she was a "committed Christian".
Portrayal in media
The Lord Mulholland
| Poem Laureate of Sierra