The Complete and Unabridged Fiction of Nella Larsen
(Nella Larsen was an important writer associated with the ...)
Nella Larsen was an important writer associated with the Harlem Renaissance. While she was not prolific her work was powerful and critically acclaimed. Collected here are both of her novels, Passing and Quicksand, as well as all three of her published short stories; "Freedom," "The Wrong Man, "and "Sanctuary." Quicksand, was autobiographical in nature and examined a woman's need for sexual fulfilment balanced against respectability and acceptance amid a deeply religious society. The novel is deeply pessimistic and ends as the protagonist is sucked into a life that is at odds with all that she desired. Passing confronts the reality of racial passing. The novel focuses on two childhood friends Clare and Irene, both of whom are light skinned enough to pass as white, who have reconnected with one another after many years apart. Clare has chosen to pass while Irene has embraced her racial heritage and become an important member of her community. The Novel examines how people pass on many different levels and in many different ways. Some forms of passing are perfectly acceptable while others can lead to disaster.
(2011 Reprint of 1928 Edition not reproduced with Optical ...)
2011 Reprint of 1928 Edition not reproduced with Optical Recognition Software. Nella Larsen's first novel tells the story of Helga Crane, a fictional character loosely based on Larsen's own early life. Crane is the lovely and refined daughter of a Danish mother and a West Indian black father who abandons Helga and her mother soon after Helga is born. Unable to feel comfortable with any of her white-skinned relatives, Helga lives in various places in America and visits Denmark in search of people among whom she feels at home. The work is a superb psychological study of a complicated and appealing woman, Helga Crane, who, like Larsen herself, is the product of a liaison between a black man and a white woman. In one sense, Quicksand might be called an odyssey; however, instead of overcoming a series of obstacles and finally arriving at her native land, Larsen's protagonist has a series of adventures, each of which ends in disappointment.
Nellallitea "Nella" Larsen, born Nellie Walker, was an American novelist of the Harlem Renaissance. Working as a nurse and a librarian, she published two novels, Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929), and a few short stories.
Nella Larsen was born in Chicago in 1893 to a Danish mother and a Danish West Indian father, both of whose names have been obscured by history. Nella's father died when she was two, and her mother remarried a man of Danish origin while Nella was still quite young. All biographical references indicate that Nella's step-father was a source of racial tension in Nella's childhood home, which resulted in her alienation from him as well as her mother.
At 16 Nella went to Denmark for three years to visit her mother's relatives. When she returned to the United States she went to Fisk University, but her stay only lasted one year. Evidently she was dissatisfied with both Fisk and the United States, because when she left Fisk, she left the country as well, going to Copenhagen, where she audited classes at the University of Copenhagen for two years. She returned to the United States late in 1914, but this time she went to New York City, where she earned a nursing degree in 1915 from Lincoln Hospital Training School for Nurses. Immediately after receiving her nursing degree, she went to Tuskegee Institute, where she was employed as superintendent of nurses. She must have been dissatisfied with Tuskegee, because within one year she left the institute and returned to Lincoln Hospital.
She abandoned nursing in 1918 and began studying to become a librarian. In 1921 she became the children's librarian at the 135th Street branch (Harlem) of the New York Public Library, where she remained until 1929.
In 1919 Larsen had won the Harmon Award for distinguished achievement among African Americans, and in 1930 she became the first black woman—and probably the first person of color—to win the Guggenheim Award. The prize money was to permit her to study in Europe and free her time to write a third novel, but she never did. When she returned, she and her husband were divorced, and she disappeared from public life. She did no more writing, devoting herself exclusively to nursing at Bethel Hospital in Brooklyn. In 1963 she died in Brooklyn, virtually unknown.
Larsen's novels, Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929), depict the mulatto theme which had become popular in American literature. In such works the male or female protagonist, who is light enough to pass for white, finds that all personal ambitions (education, employment, social mobility in general) are severely limited when one is held to the racial restrictions which typified the early 20th century in the North as well as in the South. To remedy the problem, the protagonist chooses to pass for white and move into the white world, only to find even greater dissatisfaction. Torn between two worlds, one white and the other black, and alienated from them both, the protagonist becomes a tragic figure.
Quicksand, Larsen's first novel, dramatizes Helga Crane's constant dissatisfaction and longing, which seemed to reflect the details of Larsen's own life. Helga, a sensuous mulatto woman of questionable birth, feels contempt for the pretentiousness of African American middle class society, while at the same time feeling her inability to release her own sensuality (a symbol for sexual repression). The story begins with Helga resigning a teaching job at a Southern African American institution. She leaves the United States to visit her mother's relatives in Denmark, where she becomes involved with a Danish painter. Longing to return to African American culture, she moves to Harlem, where she becomes involved with a travelling minister whose religion and passion release her sexual repression. The novel concludes with Helga's strength and spirit taxed to the point of exhaustion by a rapid succession of pregnancies and childbirths.
Larsen's work appeared during an African American literary flowering known as the Harlem Renaissance, 1919-1929. The artists of this period, such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Zora Neal Hurston, Countee Cullen, and Wallace Thurman, reflected affirmation of African American culture in their writing. But they also depicted intense personal and social conflicts, many of which originated in their attempts to be both black and American.
(Nella Larsen was an important writer associated with the ...)
In 1919, Larsen married Elmer Imes, a prominent physicist; he was the second African American to receive a PhD in physics. After her marriage, she sometimes used the name Nella Larsen Imes in her writing. A year after her marriage, she published her first short stories.
The Imes couple had difficulties by the late 1920s and divorced in 1933.