Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Nella Larsen

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Gay & Lesbian, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2022-09-07 22:37Z by Steven

Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Nella Larsen

Modern Language Association
2016-09-01
2010 pages
6 x 0.7 x 9.1 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9781603292191
Paperback ISBN: 9781603292207

Edited by:

Jacquelyn Y. McLendon, Professor Emerita of English & Africana Studies; Director Emerita of Black Studies
College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia

Nella Larsen’s novels Quicksand and Passing, published at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, fell out of print and were thus little known for many years. Now widely available and taught, Quicksand and Passing challenge conventional “tragic mulatta” and “passing” narratives. In part 1, “Materials,” of Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Nella Larsen, the editor surveys the canon of Larsen’s writing, evaluates editions of her works, recommends secondary readings, and compiles a list of useful multimedia resources for teaching.

The essays in part 2, “Approaches,” aim to help students better understand attitudes toward women and race during the Harlem Renaissance, the novels’ relations to other artistic movements, and legal debates over racial identities in the early twentieth century. In so doing, contributors demonstrate how new and seasoned instructors alike might use Larsen’s novels to explore a wide range of topics—including Larsen’s short stories and letters, the relation between her writings and her biography, and the novels’ discussion of gender and sexuality.

Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • PART ONE: MATERIALS / Jacquelyn Y. McLendon
  • PART TWO: APPROACHES
    • Introduction / Jacquelyn Y. McLendon
    • Historical and Cultural Contexts
      • Nella Larsen’s Passing and the Literary and Legal Context of the Passing Narrative / Martha J. Cutter
      • Nella Larsen’s Modernism / Caresse John
      • Helga Crane in West Egg: Reading Quicksand and The Great Gatsby as a Case Study in Canonicity / Shealeen Meaney
      • “A Whole World of Experience and Struggle”: Teaching Literature as Cultural and Intellectual Women’s History / Lyde Sizer
      • Nightlife and Racial Learning in Quicksand / Clark Barwick
    • Fiction and the Arts
      • Sounding and Being: A Resource for Teaching Musical References and Symbolism in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand / Gayle Murchison
      • Nella Larsen and the Racial Mountain: Teaching Black Musical Aesthetics in Passing and Quicksand / Lori Harrison-Kahan
      • Nella Larsen and the Civilization of Images: Teaching Primitivism and Expressionism in Quicksand / Cristina Giorcelli
    • Identity
      • “Anything Might Happen”: Freedom and American Identity in Nella Larsen’s Passing / Beryl Satter
      • Teaching Passing as a Lesbian Text / Suzanne Raitt
      • Approaching Gender in Quicksand / Beth Widmaier Capo
      • From “My Old Man” to Race Men in Quicksand / Riché Richardson
    • In the Classroom: Methods, Courses, Settings
      • The Matter of Beginnings: Teaching the Opening Paragraphs in Quicksand and Passing / Steven B. Shively
      • Versions of Passing / John K. Young
      • The Uses of Biography / George B. Hutchinson
      • “In Some . . . Determined Way a Little Flaunting”: Teaching with Nella Larsen’s Letters / M. Giulia Fabi and Jacquelyn Y. McLendon
      • Teaching Quicksand in Denmark / Martyn Bone
      • Teaching Nella Larsen’s Passing at an Urban Community College / Zivah Perel Katz
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Survey Participants
  • Works Cited
  • Index
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Psychological Lens Reveals Racial Repression at Heart of ‘Passing’

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2022-09-06 02:35Z by Steven

Psychological Lens Reveals Racial Repression at Heart of ‘Passing’

University of Kansas
2022-08-31

Rick Hellman
KU News Service

LAWRENCE – While many literary critics have found Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella “Passing” to be frustratingly opaque, and others have concentrated on its themes of same-sex attraction and class consciousness, an essay by a University of Kansas professor of English finds that racial repression is the focus of the novel by analyzing it from a Freudian perspective.

Doreen Fowler said she believed that the shift to a psychological reading explains why the two main characters — Irene, who lives as a Black woman, and Clare, who passes for white — are doubled.

In an article titled “Racial Repression and Doubling in Nella Larsen’s Passing” in the latest edition of The South Atlantic Review, Fowler wrote that the main character, Irene Redfield, “works to erase signs of her black identity — but those signs of blackness return to haunt her in the form of her double, Clare. While many scholars have recognized that Irene is ambivalent about her African American iden­tity and that Clare and Irene are doubled, my original contribution is to link the two. In my reading, Clare is Irene’s uncanny double because she figures the return of Irene’s rejected desire to fully integrate with the black race.”…

Read the entire press release here.

Tags: , , , ,

Racial Repression and Doubling in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2022-09-04 03:06Z by Steven

Racial Repression and Doubling in Nella Larsen’s Passing

South Atlantic Review
Volume 87, Number 1, Spring 2022

Doreen Fowler, Professor of English
University of Kansas

Critics of Passing have often observed that the novel seems to avoid engagement with the problem of racial inequality in the United States, and Claudia Tate goes so far as to write that “race … is merely a mechanism for setting the story in motion” (598). In the apparent absence of race as the novel’s subject, scholars have identified class or lesbian attraction as the novel’s central preoccupation. (1) While same sex attraction and class are certainly concerns of the novel, I would argue that critics have overlooked the centrality of race in the novel because the subject of Passing is racial repression; that is, a complete solidarity with an oppressed, racialized people is the repressed referent, and, for that reason, race scarcely appears. As a novel about passing, Larsen’s subject is a refusal to fully identify with African Americans, but Larsen’s critique is not only directed at members of the black community who pass for white; rather, Passing explores how race is repressed in the United States among both whites and some members of what Irene refers to as “Negro society” (157). Throughout the text, darkness is blanketed by whiteness. Even the word black or Negro seems to be nearly banished from the text. As I will show, the novel explores how an association with a black identity is repressed by many characters, including Brian, Jack Bellew, Gertrude, and other members of Harlem society, but Irene Redfield, the central consciousness of the novel, through whose mind events are perceived and filtered, is the primary exponent of racial repression. Jacquelyn McLendon astutely observes that Irene Redfield “lives in constant imitation of whites” (97). (2) Building on this observation, I argue that Irene, who desires safety above all, identifies safety with whiteness and represses a full identification with the black community out of a refusal of the abjection that whites project on black people. For this reason, Irene not only imitates whites in her upper-class bourgeois life, she, like a person passing for white, works to erase signs of her black identity–but those signs of blackness return to haunt her in the form of her double, Clare. While many scholars have recognized that Irene is ambivalent about her African American identity and that Clare and Irene are doubled, my original contribution is to link the two. In my reading, Clare is Irene’s uncanny double because she figures the return of Irene’s rejected desire to fully integrate with the black race.

In this essay, I propose that Larsen turns to Freudian theory to analyze the psychological dimension of racial repression. As Thadious Davis observes, Larsen was “very much aware of Freud, Jung, and their works” (329), and the cornerstone of Freud’s theory is repression. According to Freud, “the essence of repression lies simply in turning something away, and keeping it at a distance from the conscious” (“Repression,” SE 14:147). Repression, then, is a form of self-censorship, which occurs, Freud explains, when an instinct is driven underground because the satisfaction of that desire…

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , ,

The Burdened Virtue of Racial Passing

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2022-05-16 19:38Z by Steven

The Burdened Virtue of Racial Passing

The Boston Review
2022-05-13

Meena Krishnamurthy, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

A still from Rebecca Hall’s film Passing, based on the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen. Image: Netflix

Though a means of escaping and undermining racial injustice, the practice comes with own set of costs and sacrifices.

In Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing, adapted by Rebecca Hall and distributed on Netfli­x last fall, Clare Kendry—a light-skinned Black woman—decides to pass as white. Clare grows up poor in Chicago; after her alcoholic father dies, she is taken in by her racist white aunts. When she turns eighteen she marries a rich white man who assumes she is white. Clare makes a clean escape until, some years later, she runs into her childhood friend, Irene Redfield, at a whites-only hotel; Irene, it turns out, sometimes passes herself, in this case to escape the summer heat. The storyline traces their complex relationship after this reunion and ends in tragedy for Clare.

Hall’s film adaptation joins several other recent representations that dramatize the lived experience of passing. The protagonist of Brit Bennett’s best-selling novel The Vanishing Half (2020), for example, decides to start passing as white in the 1950s at age sixteen after responding to a listing in the newspaper for secretarial work in a New Orleans department store. Much to her surprise, after excelling at the typing test, Stella is offered the position; her boss assumes she is white. Initially Stella keeps up the ruse just to support her and her sister, but passing also becomes a way for her to escape the trauma of her father’s lynching and the prospect of her own…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stories of racial passing, from the pages of Nella Larsen to Detroit’s upper class

Posted in Articles, Audio, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2022-03-31 22:52Z by Steven

Stories of racial passing, from the pages of Nella Larsen to Detroit’s upper class

Stateside
Michigan Radio
2022-03-25

“Still’s Underground Rail Road Records,” 1886  /Boston African American National Historic Site

To escape slavery in Georgia, light-skinned Ellen Craft and her dark-skinned husband William posed, respectively, as a white gentleman traveling with his enslaved manservant in 1848.

Elsie Roxborough was born in 1914 in Detroit to one of Michigan’s most prominent Black families. When she died in New York City in 1949, her death certificate listed her race as white. She had lived there as a white woman for over a decade, working for a time as a model while aspiring to acclaim as a playwright.

“She almost immediately goes to New York City after graduation from the University of Michigan,” said Ken Coleman, a journalist who has researched the Roxborough family. Elsie Roxborough “at least professionally changed her name to Pat Rico at one point, and then ultimately, Mona Manet, and her brown, brownish-black hair becomes Lucille Ball auburn.”

Roxborough represents one of the few documented historical instances from Michigan of a Black person choosing to live nearly full-time as a member of white society. This phenomenon, known as racial passing, has received renewed popular attention through recent artistic works like Rebecca Hall’s film adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing and Britt Bennett’s novel The Vanishing Half

Listen to the story (00:19:36) here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Suspect-Proof”? Paranoia, Suspicious Reading, and the Racial Passing Narrative

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2022-03-20 02:02Z by Steven

“Suspect-Proof”? Paranoia, Suspicious Reading, and the Racial Passing Narrative

American Literary History
Volume 34, Issue 1, Spring 2022
pages 272–282
DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajab089

Sinéad Moynihan, Associate Professor of English
University of Exeter

This short essay considers racial passing narratives in relation to the “postcritical turn,” highlighting the proliferating reappraisals of the practices of “suspicious” or “symptomatic” reading in literary studies and the extent to which passing narratives offer an opportunity to test some of the claims of this body of scholarship. The utility of the passing narrative for this critical project lies in its persistent, self-conscious foregrounding of reading practices. Revisiting passing narratives in light of postcritique reveals that symptomatic reading is not a monolithic practice; rather, there are multiple ways of reading suspiciously. Moreover, and more importantly, passing narratives disclose that what has now become an orthodoxy in postcritique—that attitudes such as “paranoia,” “suspicion,” and “vigilance” profoundly limit “the thickness and richness of our aesthetic attachments”—ignores contexts, like that of a passer in a white supremacist society, in which such strategies are not a choice but are essential for survival (Felski 17). The key question posed herein is: What forms of privilege enable a reader to relinquish her attachment to paranoia, suspicion, and vigilance; to opt for openness rather than guardedness, submission rather than aggression (21)? Narratives of racial passing provide one answer to that question.

Read the entire article in HTML or PDF format.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

That Middle World: Race, Performance, and the Politics of Passing by Julia S. Charles (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2022-03-08 23:31Z by Steven

That Middle World: Race, Performance, and the Politics of Passing by Julia S. Charles (review)

Journal of Southern History
Volume 88, Number 1, February 2022
pages 164-165
DOI: 10.1353/soh.2022.0019

Tyler Sperrazza
University of New Haven, West Haven, Connecticut

That Middle World: Race, Performance, and the Politics of Passing. By Julia S. Charles. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020. Pp. xviii, 224. Paper, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-5957-2; cloth, $95.00, ISBN 978-1-4696-5956-5.)

The past decade has seen a tremendous growth in scholarly inquiry around the subject of racial passing. The context of the current historical moment coupled with viral discussions of cultural appropriation and “blackfishing” brings a sense of urgency to understanding the long history of passing and its function in the U.S. context. Julia S. Charles’s That Middle World: Race, Performance, and the Politics of Passing offers a perspective on this phenomenon that places performance at the heart of the racial passing experience. Charles calls for a rejection of previous scholarly treatments of passing that foreground experiences of loss among those who pass and instead argues for a focus on the opportunities that performing race offered to certain mixed-race African American citizens. Charles presents a book of theory and philosophy on racial passing meant to inform the ways scholars of African American literature and media studies can make sense of mixed-race and passing characters throughout nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature.

The title of Charles’s book also serves as its main theoretical construction. “That Middle World” is a location that Charles defines as an interstitial and metaphysical space occupied by mixed-race characters that becomes the “location of culture and identity for so-called mulattoes in African American fiction” (p. 22). This space both creates and destroys boundaries between Black and white and offers a means of interpreting passing African Americans’ experiences as a constant process of both making and crossing borders in a liminal space free of the “inadequate Black-white racial binary” (p. 40). Throughout the central chapters of the book, Charles adroitly moves between the historical lives and contexts of African American authors and the worlds their characters inhabit. Many of her subjects—Charles W. Chesnutt being central—were themselves mixed-race and able to navigate the boundaries of That Middle World in their everyday lives. Charles’s interweaving of the historical and the literary is a welcome addition to this growing field of passing studies…

Read or purchase the review here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

‘Passing’ keeps its writing simple, asking viewers to lean in for greater understanding

Posted in Arts, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2022-01-21 02:00Z by Steven

‘Passing’ keeps its writing simple, asking viewers to lean in for greater understanding

The Los Angeles Times
2022-01-18

Rebecca Hall

Adapting Nella Larsen’s slim novella took writer-director Rebecca Hall 13 years. “Ultimately, I did my best to build my script and my film, not so much out of language as out of small moments of behavior,” she says. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

My adaptation of Nella Larsen’s “Passing” had a slow birth, even by the often glacial standards of script development. When I started writing, I was an actress in my 20s with vague but fervent aspirations to one day direct. I wrote the first draft in 10 days, immediately after first reading the novel, in something of a fugue state. I was fascinated but also mystified by that fascination, and my first draft was crude and impractical. I didn’t think for a second that I would ever have the means or the courage to turn it into a film.

In retrospect, I probably could never have written it otherwise. Over the years, I tinkered, adjusting it radically and then minutely and then radically again until it became something of a piece of me — not so much a project or a process as a thing that I have lived in dialogue with for the better part of my adult life.

The main challenge of the adaptation revolved around the character of Irene. Contemporary reviewers often missed both Irene’s centrality and her fundamental unreliability. Clare, the object of Irene’s obsession, was frequently taken to be the main character, rather than one half of the extraordinary — and extraordinarily complicated — relationship that drives the action…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

Passing for Racial Democracy

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Passing, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2022-01-19 03:00Z by Steven

Passing for Racial Democracy

The Baffler
2021-12-06

Stephanie Reist

Detail from A Redenção de Cam (Redemption of Ham), Modesto Brocos, 1895. | Museu Nacional de Belas Artes

The complexities of the color line in the U.S. and Brazil

A CENTRAL POINT OF TENSION between Irene Redfield (played by Tessa Thompson) and her husband Dr. Brian Redfield (André Holland) in Rebecca Hall’s Passing, based on the Nella Larsen novel of the same name, is whether their family should remain in the United States. While Irene can pass for white out of convenience, the same is not true of her darker sons and her husband, who routinely informs his children about lynchings and white violence. Irene disapproves of this talk, despite her work for the Negro Welfare League. In one pivotal scene, she drives her tired husband home after a long day of visiting patients, and the couple discuss going to South America, specifically mentioning Brazil. The issue returns when the couple fights over the consuming role that Clare (Ruth Negga)—who has chosen to pass as white to the point of marrying a bigoted white husband and having a daughter with him—exerts in their lives and marriage.

In Larsen’s novel, Brian’s longing for Brazil, which becomes conflated with what Irene perceives as his desire for the effervescent, delightfully dangerous Clare, is even more pronounced: Brazil is the one that got away, Brian’s lost hope for a society where he and other black members of the talented tenth could be judged by their merits, not lynched because they failed to stay in their place. Irene even implicitly sanctions an affair between her husband and Clare to assuage her guilt for denying her family the chance to be truly “happy, or free, or safe”—a state she laments as impossible when speaking to Clare about her choice not to pass…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rebecca Hall’s Brief But Spectacular take on ‘Passing’ and racial identity

Posted in Articles, Arts, Autobiography, Biography, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United Kingdom, United States, Videos on 2022-01-13 14:53Z by Steven

Rebecca Hall’s Brief But Spectacular take on ‘Passing’ and racial identity

PBS Newshour
2022-01-12

Melissa Williams

Rebecca Hall has been on-screen since age 10, but in her new film “Passing” she steps into the director role for the first time. It is based on a novel that was written in 1929 by Nella Lawson Larsen at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Hall shares her Brief But Spectacular take on “Passing” and on her own racial identity as part of our arts and culture series, CANVAS.

Read the full transcript here.

Tags: , , , , , ,