Another window. HUM 3285: British and American Literature Spring 2011 Dr. Perdigao February 28, 2011. Nella Larsen (1891-1964). Born in Chicago as Nellie Walker; daughter of white Danish mother Marie Hanson and black West Indian father Peter Walker
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HUM 3285: British and American Literature
February 28, 2011
Carl Van Vechten (Hugh Wentworth) claimed to have discovered her, introduced her to Knopf publishers
Quicksand (1928): Helga Crane, daughter of white mother and black father; teacher at Naxos; travels to Denmark; considered exotic; returns to America; questions of race in America, abroad: South: Chicago: Harlem: Copenhagen: NYC: South; desire for control over her body and identity—resulting in quicksand, loss of autonomy and agency
Passing (1929); Harmon Foundation’s bronze medal for achievement in literature; Guggenheim Fellowship in creative writing (1930); writes in Spain and France--for novels on racial freedom and husband’s infidelity; divorce in 1933, failure to publish third novel; loss of status in return to nursing; stops writing in the late 1930s
Charges of plagiarism for story “Sanctuary” (1930); Sheila Kaye-Smith’s story “Mrs. Adis” published in 1922
Lost connections to other New York writers; former husband died in 1941; worked as nurse in NYC hospitals until death in 1964
Recovery of her work in 1970s
Passing (1929): Irene Redfield, Clare Kendry; passing in America; racial identity; psychological doubles; themes of racial passing, class and social mobility, and female desire
Ideas of safety and security versus risk
Passing as “a device for encoding the complexities of human personality, for veiling women’s homoerotic desires, and for subverting simplistic notions of female self-actualization” (Thadious M. Davis 253)
Female sexuality—ideas about domestic sphere in relation to a “woman’s quest for satisfaction and completion” (Davis 253).
Works end with “irreparable breakdown of illusions about emancipatory strategies or possible futures for women” (Davis 253).
Ideas about Africa—Irene, Brian
“Heritage” poems: Cullen, Bennett, McKay
Being American—Clare, Toomer
Mrs. Dalloway—tea, party; buying flowers; planning parties
Septimus: Clare; window as symbol
Walter White, former director of NAACP, had encouraged Larsen to complete Quicksand
Van Vechten introduced novel to his publisher; Du Bois praised the novel
Contemporary critics questioning endings of stories—like Fauset and Hurston—sacrifice of independent female identities
Marriage and death as themes
Conflicting ideas about racial and sexual identities, a black and feminine aesthetic
Ideology of romance—marriage and motherhood
Repressed female sexual experience
Ideas about black female sexuality—insisting on chastity like the purity of Victorian bourgeoisie (McDowell xiii)
How does one identify him/herself and why? What happens when academics, philosophers, and sociologists change the terms on you?
What does it mean to be black, middle class, and a woman?
Ideology=social constructions that can confine groups; system of beliefs established and becomes part of “cultural norm”
Race, class, and gender are constructs; we created race through language (real but manmade)
Carole Vance writes, “Sexuality is simultaneously a domain of restriction, repression, and danger as well as a domain of exploration, pleasure, and agency” (qtd. in McDowell xiv).
Ideas of pleasure and danger in both texts
19th century ideas about sexuality but flirtation with “female sexual desire” connects them to the liberation of the 1920s (McDowell xiv).
Doubles—offering ideas about the relationship between black women and desire and sexuality versus the idea of the black woman as respectable in middle-class terms (McDowell xvi)
Sexless marriages for both characters
fear of dark child; protecting sons from it; sex as joke; separate bedrooms
Irene as unreliable narrator, as central consciousness, her fears
Irene’s emerging sexuality—from rooftop to tea party to own bedroom
Concealment and burial
Letter inciting desire
Clare—as symbol of desire, dressed in red
Projection of Irene’s desire onto Brian—question if there is an affair
Cheryl Wall’s description of a “Psychological suicide, if not a murder” (qtd. in McDowell xxix)
Cigarettes—snuffing them out
Text as concealment as well—veiled references, what is permitted
“Implying false, forged, and mistaken identities, the title functions on multiple levels: thematically, in terms of the racial and sexual plots; and strategically, in terms of the narrative's disguise. . . The novel performs a double burial: the erotic subplot is hidden beneath its safe and orderly cover and the radical implications of that plot are put away by the disposal of Clare” (xxx).
“In ending the novel with Clare’s death, Larsen repeats the narrative choice which Quicksand makes: to punish the very values the novel implicitly affirms, to honor the very value system the text implicitly satirizes” (McDowell xxxvi).
Dichotomies—lady/Jezebel; virgin/whore (McDowell xxxi)
Social institutions of education, marriage, religion, all strangling and controlling sexual expression of women