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White Lies

James Campbell: Nella Larsen, 5 October 2006

In Search of Nella LarsenA Biography of the Colour Line 
by George Hutchinson.
Harvard, 611 pp., £25.95, June 2006, 0 674 02180 0
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... if there is a hint of Africa in his or her make-up. John Bellew, the husband of Clare Kendry in Nella Larsen’s exquisite novel Passing (1929), responds violently when he finds out that Clare, who has cheeks of ‘ivory’ and hair the colour of ‘pale gold’, is ‘black’. All those years, John had been deceived into thinking Clare was something ...

They roared with laughter

Amber Medland: Nella Larsen, 6 May 2021

by Nella Larsen.
Macmillan, 160 pp., £10.99, June 2020, 978 1 5290 4028 9
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... Could​ Nella Larsen pass? Looking at a photograph of her by Carl Van Vechten, I doubt she could. Her skin was described by one interviewer as the colour of ‘brown honey’, by another as ‘maple syrup’, but the darkness of her complexion was never enough to quash rumours that she was passing in Harlem ...

What she wasn’t

Joanna Biggs: ‘The Vanishing Half’, 13 August 2020

The Vanishing Half 
by Brit Bennett.
Dialogue, 343 pp., £14.99, June, 978 0 349 70146 2
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... in the town as a free woman. And between my first and second reading of The Vanishing Half, I read Nella Larsen’s Passing, published in 1929, which takes two childhood friends, one who passes permanently for white and one who sometimes lets people think what they want to about her race, and pulls them into conflict. In the novella, the woman who ...

Fifteen years on

Elaine Showalter, 20 October 1994

No Man’s Land. Vol. III: Letters from the Front 
by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar.
Yale, 476 pp., £25, October 1994, 0 300 05631 1
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... Marianne Moore, H.D. and Sylvia Plath. The Harlem Renaissance novelists, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Nella Larsen and Zora Neale Hurston, have a collective chapter as well; and elsewhere the authors manage to work in a reference to nearly every famous, fleeting, highbrow or popular woman writer of the century. Gilbert and Gubar define the overall theme of ...

An UnAmerican in New York

Lewis Nkosi: The Harlem Renaissance, 24 August 2000

Winds Can Wake Up the Dead: An Eric Walrond Reader 
edited by Louis Parascandola.
Wayne State, 350 pp., $24.95, December 1998, 0 8143 2709 5
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... McKay, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Sterling Brown, Gwendolyn Bennett, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Wallace Thurman and Rudolph Fisher. ‘The array of personalities in the literary area is startling,’ one of them wrote. ‘Few were born in New York, although we speak of the Harlem Renaissance. Claude McKay, one of the movement’s ...

On the Secret Joke at the Centre of American Identity

Michael Rogin: Ralph Ellison, 2 March 2000

by Ralph Ellison, edited by John Callaghan.
Hamish Hamilton, 368 pp., £16.99, December 1999, 0 241 14084 6
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... of an Ex-Colored Man), William Faulkner (Light in August, Absalom! Absalom!, Go down, Moses) and Nella Larsen (Passing) – all of whom examined the meaning of American freedom as flight across the colour line. Like his predecessors, Ellison was entering the culturally charged territory of ‘racial passing’ – the attempt of non-whites to pass as ...

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