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Passing
2003
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It was the last letter in Irene Redfield's little pile of morning mail. After her other ordinary and clearly directed letters the long envelope of thin Italian paper with its almost illegible scrawl seemed out of place and alien. And there was, too, something mysterious and slightly furtive about it. A thin sly thing which bore no return address to betray the sender. Not that she hadn't immediately known who its sender was. Some two years ago she had one very like it in outward appearance. Furtive, but yet in some peculiar, determined way a little flaunting. Purple ink. Foreign paper of extraordinary size. It had been, Irene noted, postmarked in New York the day before. Her brows came together in a tiny frown. The frown, however, was more from perplexity than from annoyance; though there was in her thoughts an element of both. She was wholly unable to comprehend such an attitude towards danger as she was sure the letter's contents would reveal; and she disliked the idea of opening and reading it. This, she reflected, was of a piece with all that she knew of Clare Kendry. Stepping always on the edge of danger. Always aware, but not drawing back or turning aside. Certainly not because of any alarms or feeling of outrage on the part of others. And for a swift moment Irene Redfield seemed to see a pale small girl sitting on a ragged blue sofa, sewing pieces of bright red cloth together, while her drunken father, a tall, powerfully built man, raged threateningly up and down the shabby room, bellowing curses and making spasmodic lunges at her which were not the less frightening because they were, for the most part, ineffectual. Sometimes he did manage to reach her. Butonly the fact that the child had edged herself and her poor sewing over to the farthermost corner of the sofa suggested that she was in any way perturbed by this menace to herself and her work. Clare had known well enough that it was unsafe to take a portion of the dollar that was her weekly wage for the doing of many errands for the dressmaker who lived on the top floor of the building of which Bob Kendry was janitor. But that knowledge had not deterred her. She wanted to go to her Sunday school's picnic, and she had made up her mind to wear a new dress. So, in spite of certain unpleasantness and possible danger, she had taken the money to buy the material for that pathetic little red frock. There had been, even in those days, nothing sacrificial in Clare Kendry's idea of life, no allegiance beyond her own immediate desire. She was selfish, and cold, and hard. And yet she had, too, a strange capacity of transforming warmth and passion, verging sometimes almost on theatrical heroics. Irene, who was a year or more older than Clare, remembered the day that Bob Kendry had been brought home dead, killed in a silly saloon-fight. Clare, who was at that time a scant fifteen years old, had just stood there with her lips pressed together, her thin arms folded across her narrow chest, staring down at the familiar pasty-white face of her parent with a sort of disdain in her slanting black eyes. For a very long time she had stood like that, silent and staring. Then, quite suddenly, she had given way to a torrent of weeping, swaying her thin body, tearing at her bright hair, and stamping her small feet. The outburst had ceased as suddenly as it had begun. She glanced quickly about the bare room, taking everyone in, even the two policemen, in a sharp look of flashing scorn. And, in the next instant, she had turned and vanished through the door. Seen across the long stretch of years, the thing had more the appearance of an outpouring of pent-up fury than of an overflow of grief for her dead father; though she had been, Irene admitted, fond enough of him in her own rather catlike way. Catlike. Certainly that was the word which best described Clare Kendry, if any single word could describe her. Sometimes she was hard and apparently without feeling at all; sometimes she was affectionate and rashly impulsive. And there was about her an amazing soft malice, hidden well away until provoked. Then she was capable of scratching, and very effectively too. Or, driven to anger, she would fight with a ferocity and impetuousness that disregarded or forgot any danger; superior strength, numbers, or other unfavorable circumstances. How savagely she had clawed those boys the day they had hooted her parent and sung a derisive rhyme, of their own composing, which pointed out certain eccentricities in his careening gait! And how deliberately she had--Irene brought her thoughts back to the present, to the letter from Clare Kendry that she still held unopened in her hand. With a little feeling of apprehension, she very slowly cut the envelope, drew out the folded sheets, spread them, and began to read. Excerpted from Passing by Nella Larsen, Nella Larsen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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Summary
<p> A classic, brilliant and layered novel that has been at the heart of racial identity discourse in America for almost a century. </p> <p>Clare Kendry leads a dangerous life. Fair, elegant, and ambitious, she is married to a white man unaware of her African American heritage and has severed all ties to her past. Clare's childhood friend, Irene Redfield, just as light-skinned, has chosen to remain within the African American community, but refuses to acknowledge the racism that continues to constrict her family's happiness. A chance encounter forces both women to confront the lies they have told others - and the secret fears they have buried within themselves.</p>
Table of Contents
Introduction: Nella Larsen's Erotics of Racep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xxix
A Note on the Textp. xxxi
The Text of Passingp. 1
Backgrounds and Contextsp. 83
Reviewsp. 85
"Passing" Is a Novel of Longings (April 27, 1929)    Mary Rennelsp. 85
Beyond the Color Line (April 28, 1929)p. 85
The Color Line (April 28, 1929)    Margaret Cheney Dawsonp. 87
The Dilemma of Mixed Race: Another Study of the Color-line in New York (May 1, 1929)p. 88
As in a Looking Glass (May 3, 1929)    Alice Dunbar-Nelsonp. 90
Touch of the Tar-brush (May 18, 1929)    W.B. Seabrookp. 91
Passing (June 1929)    Esther Hymanp. 93
The Cat Came Back (June 5, 1929)    Aubrey Bowserp. 94
Novel of Race Consciousness (June 23, 1929)    Mary Griffinp. 96
Passing (July 1929)    W. E. B. Du Boisp. 97
Passing (July 1929)p. 99
Passing (Aug. 1929)    Mary Fleming Larabeep. 99
Do They Always Return? (Sept. 28, 1929)p. 101
Passing (Dec. 1929)    "M. L. H."p. 102
Passing (Dec. 12, 1929)p. 102
Contemporary Coverage of Passing and Racep. 105
When Is a Caucasian Not a Caucasian? (March 2, 1911)p. 105
Writer Says Brazil Has No Color Line (Oct. 1925)p. 107
Does It Pay to "Pass?" (Aug. 20, 1927)    Don Piersonp. 107
From White Negroes (May-June 1928)    Juanita Ellsworthp. 109
3,000 Negroes Cross the Line Each Year (July 12, 1928)p. 111
From Negro to Caucasion, Or How the Ethiopian Is Changing His Skin (1929)    Louis Fremont Baldwinp. 112
Crossing the Color Line (July 28, 1929)    Emilie Hahnp. 117
From Crossing the Color Line (Aug. 26, 1931)    Caleb Johnsonp. 121
75,000 Pass in Philadelphia Every Day (Dec. 19, 1931)p. 123
Careful Lyncher! He May Be Your Brother (Jan. 21, 1932)p. 124
Blonde Girl Was 'Passing' (Jan. 23, 1932)p. 125
Virginia Is Still Hounding 'White' Negroes Who 'Pass'p. 126
The Rhinelander/Jones Casep. 129
Society Youth Weds Cabman's Daughter (Nov. 14, 1924)p. 129
Poor Girl to Fight Hubby's Parents (Dec. 26, 1924)p. 130
From Calls Rhinelander Dupe of Girl He Wed (Nov. 10, 1925)p. 133
From Loved Rhinelander, Wife's Letters Say (Nov. 13, 1925)p. 134
From Rhinelander Bares Love Secrets (Nov. 21, 1925)p. 137
From Kip's "Soul Message" Notes Read (Nov. 28. 1925)    Archie Morganp. 138
From Rhinelander Jury Reaches a Decision after Twelve Hours (Dec. 5, 1925)p. 145
[Rhinelander Editorial], The Crisis (Jan. 1926)p. 147
Rhinelander Gets a Fair Deal (Jan. 26, 1926)p. 147
Mrs. Rhinelander to Sail (July 16, 1926)p. 148
About Nella Larsenp. 149
New Author Unearthed Right Here in Harlem (May 23, 1928)    Thelma E. Berlackp. 149
Behind the Backs of Books and Authors (April 13, 1929)    Mary Rennelsp. 150
Jean Blackwell Hutson to Louise Fox (Aug. 1, 1969)    Nella Larsenp. 151
Author's Statementsp. 152
[Nella Larsen Imes, Guggenheim Application]p. 152
[In Defense of Sanctuary]p. 156
Lettersp. 158
To Carl Van Vechten [1925]p. 158
To Charles S. Johnson [Aug. 1926]p. 158
To Eddie Wasserman [April 3, 1928]p. 161
To Eddie Wasserman [April 5, 1928]p. 161
To Dorothy Peterson [n.d.]p. 162
To Dorothy Peterson [July 19, 1927]p. 163
To Dorothy Peterson [July 21, 1927]p. 164
To Dorothy Peterson [Aug. 2, 1927]p. 166
To Langston Hughes [n.d.]p. 167
To Langston Hughes [1930]p. 168
To Carl Van Vechten [April 15, 1929]p. 168
To Gertrude Stein (Jan. 26, 1931)p. 169
To Carl Van Vechten [May 14, 1932]p. 170
The Tragic Mulatto (A)p. 171
The Quadroons    Lydia Maria Childp. 171
From The Garies and Their Friends    Frank J. Webbp. 180
From Clotel    William Wells Brownp. 192
From Iola Leroy    Frances E. W. Harperp. 200
From An Imperative Duty    William Dean Howellsp. 207
The Father of Desiree's Baby    Kate Chopinp. 213
From Pudd'nhead Wilson    Mark Twainp. 218
From The House Behind the Cedars    Charles Waddell Chesnuttp. 220
The Octoroon    Georgia Douglas Johnsonp. 227
Near White    Countee Cullenp. 227
Mulatto    Langston Hughesp. 227
From Imitation of Life    Fannie Hurstp. 229
Selections from Stories and Novels of Passing: "The Moment of Regret"p. 243
From Iola Leroy    Frances E. W. Harperp. 243
From The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man    James Weldon Johnsonp. 248
From Flight    Walter Whitep. 257
From Plum Bun    Jessie Redmon Fausetp. 262
From Black No More    George S. Schuylerp. 270
Passing    Langston Hughesp. 281
Selected Writings from the Harlem Renaissancep. 285
The Mulatto to His Critics    Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr.p. 285
The Sleeper Wakes    Jessie Redmon Fausetp. 285
Heritage    Countee Cullenp. 308
Two Who Crossed a Line    Countee Cullenp. 311
Criteria of Negro Art    W. E. B. DuBoisp. 312
Freedom    Nella Larsenp. 320
From The Negro-Art Hokum    George S. Schuylerp. 324
From Nigger Heaven    Carl Van Vechtenp. 326
Passing for White, Passing for Colored, Passing for Negroes Plus    Langston Hughesp. 332
Criticismp. 335
Nella Larsen's Passing: A Study in Irony    Mary Mabel Youmanp. 337
Nella Larsen's Passing: A Problem of Interpretation    Claudia Tatep. 342
Nella Larsen: Mystery Woman of the Harlem Renaissance    Mary Helen Washingtonp. 350
From Passing for What? Aspects of Identity in Nella Larsen's Novels    Cheryl A. Wallp. 356
[From Black Female Sexuality in Passing]    Deborah E. McDowellp. 363
Nella Larsen's Harlem Aesthetic    Thadious M. Davisp. 379
From Miscegenation and "The Dicta of Race and Class": The Rhinelander Case and Nella Larsen's Passing    Mark J. Madiganp. 387
Clare Kendry's "True" Colors: Race and Class Conflict in Nella Larsen's Passing    Jennifer DeVere Brodyp. 393
From Sororophobia    Helena Michiep. 409
Passing, Queering: Nella Larsen's Psychoanalytic Challenge    Judith Butlerp. 417
From Passing Fancies    Ann duCillep. 435
Nella Larsen and the Veil of Race    George Hutchinsonp. 444
From The Recurring Conditions of Nella Larsen's Passing    Kate Baldwinp. 463
Passing and Domestic Tragedy    Gayle Waldp. 486
Passing: Race, Identification, and Desire    Catherine Rottenbergp. 489
Racial Etiquette: Nella Larsen's Passing and the Rhinelander Case    Miriam Thaggertp. 507
A Chronology    Nella Larsenp. 533
Selected Bibliography    Ruth Blandon and Lucia Hodgsonp. 539
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