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The Complete And Unabridged Fiction Of Nella Larsen by Nella Larsen
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Mar 03, 11


Anthology Entry: Nella Larsen

Nella Larson was an American novelist and short story writer that is mostly associated with the Harlem Renaissance era. She was born on April 13, 1891 in Chicago, Illinois. Her mother was Danish and her father was West Indian and she is described as being a “light skinned black women with limp hair and white facial features” (Figueroa). Her father died when she was two years old and her mother remarried to “a man of her own race and nationality” (Figueroa). Her stepfather seemed to view Nella as an embarrassment and in turn she did not see her family very often. Larsen studied at Fisk University from 1909-1910 and then moved to Copenhagen from 1910-1912 where she attended classes at the University of Copenhagen. She also studied nursing and spent many years working as a nurse in New York City.
Larsen married a physicist named Elmer S. Imes on May 3, 1919 and she eventually took a job as a librarian in Harlem. Being married to Imes she was considered a “socialite wife,” and because of this she was introduced to many black authors of the Harlem Renaissance such as Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, and James Weldon Johnson. Her first novel Quicksand was published in 1928 and her second novel Passing in 1929. In 1930 she was accused of plagiarism. Her short story Sanctuary seemed to be very similar to another story that was published a few years prior. She eventually proved that she had not plagiarized but she was never published again. Larsen was also experiencing marital problems during this time and which eventually led to a divorce in 1933. Crushed by the accusation of plagiarism and her subsequent divorce she withdrew from the literary world and worked as a nurse for the remainder of her life. Nella Larsen died in March of 1964.
During the time that Nella Larsen was living in New York City the Harlem Renaissance was taking place. This had a huge impact on Larsen and her introduction to many black authors of that time period was very influential on her writing. Writers such as James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, Jean Toomer, and Langston Hughes. Larsen was also very influenced by her own upbringing and background with many of her stories focusing on her “own personal experiences, ideas, thoughts and beliefs” (Figueroa). She has influenced many contemporary authors, including Heidi Durrow.

Passing by Nella Larsen

Larsen’s second novel is the story of a mulatto woman whose skin is so fair that she decided to “pass” as a white woman. Clare Kendry has married a bigoted white man and has lived a life of wealth and privilege but she longs to be back among African Americans. When she meets an old childhood friend, Irene Redfield, Clare begins to start associating with African Americans again. Irene does not fully trust Clare but she begins to socialize with Irene’s group of friends and eventually has an affair with Irene’s husband. When Clare’s husband finds out that she is black, he storms into a party and confronts her. During the confusion Clare mysteriously falls from a window and dies. It is not clear whether Irene pushed her or it was just an accident. Passing is similar to Larsen’s first novel Quicksand in that they both deal with women who attempt to “pass” as white during a time when there was a great deal of violence and discrimination against African Americans, especially African American women. There is also a strong theme of racism throughout both novels. This novel is important because it can easily be related to Nella Larsen’s life. She was a light-skinned African American woman who could have easily passed for white. She felt that she deserved equality because she was partially white but she also wanted blacks and whites to be equal as well.

Timeline:

April 13, 1891: Nella Larsen born

1909-1910: Attended Fisk University

1910-1912: Moves to Copenhagen, attends University of Copenhagen

1912-1915: Studies nursing in NYC

May 3, 1919: Marries Elmer S. Imes

1928: Quicksand published

1929: Passing published

1930: Accused of plagiarism

1933: Divorce from Elmer S. Imes

1933-1964: Withdraws from literary world and continues nursing

March 1964: Nella Larsen dies


Figueroa, Priscilla. "Nella Larsen." True Women, New Women: Women in New York City, 1890-1940. The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York, 14 Dec. 1998. Web. 3 Mar. 2011.
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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Engl 328 Good job with the details on both her life and her other book. I need to read it this summer now that I have read Quicksand, too. Sounds good.


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