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Passing (1929)

by Nella Larsen

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1,557478,163 (3.77)225
First published in 1929, Passing is a remarkable exploration of the shifting racial and sexual boundaries in America. Larsen, a premier writer of the Harlem Renaissance, captures the rewards and dangers faced by two negro women who pass for white in a deeply segregated world.

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English (46)  Italian (1)  All languages (47)
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
In Passing Larsen elegantly captures the ambivalence of the Irene's relationship to her former friend Clare who is passing as White. The condensed focus on specific scenes open up the detailed psychological perspectives of Irene's choices and interactions. The implication of many intense emotional states without their explication, particularly with the erotic overtones, captured my wonder and attention.
  b.masonjudy | Sep 5, 2020 |
An interesting novella about race identity and fidelity in the early 20th C. The premise is interesting, and it’s has historical significance, but I thought there was ample room for more character development and storyline to make it into a full length novel. The ending is nicely nebulous, very possibly nefarious. ( )
  Misprint | Aug 31, 2020 |
This novella was written in 1929 by Black author Nella Larsen, who was part of the Harlem Renaissance. It is a complex look at racial identity in the 1920s. The title refers to the idea of Black women "passing" in society as white women. First off, we need to realize that at this time in America, any amount of black heritage made you Black, or Negro, which was the common term at the time.

The novella focuses on two women who both could pass for white. One is Irene, who identifies as Black, is married to a Black man, and part of her Black community. She does, however, "take advantage" of her appearance sometimes. In the opening scene, she is visiting her hometown Chicago on a hot summer day. She feels faint and a taxi driver, presumably white, rescues her and takes her to a restaurant to get a glass of tea. We can also presume that she would not be allowed in this restaurant if she wasn't "passing" for white. There she meets a childhood friend, Clare, who is passing as white as well. Clare, however, has married a white man without telling him of her heritage. Clare misses her Black community though, and pushes Irene to reintroduce her to this society with disastrous consequences.

This brief novel is an interesting look at race in the 1920s. It was uncomfortable for me to read. Much has changed in the past 100 years, but obviously not enough. I've certainly never read a book that so honestly addressed this single issue. I would say that I enjoyed Larsen's [Quicksand] more than this, but this is an important book about race in the U.S. and I definitely recommend it.

Original publication date: 1929
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 94 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Format/where I acquired the book: kindle
Why I read this: 1001 books group read ( )
  japaul22 | Aug 8, 2020 |
Intriguing Portraits in Passing
Review of the Penguin Vitae hardcover edition (2017) of the 1929 original.

Nella Larsen (1891-1964) was a Harlem Renaissance author who published only two novels, Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929) before she completely disassociated from writing and spent the rest of her life working as a nurse. This superb new edition from Penguin Vitae includes a thorough 30 page introduction by Emily Bernard and 8 pages of excellent Explanatory Notes by Thaddeus M. Davis.

Passing is somewhat of a cat and mouse intrigue between two light-skinned African American women. Clare Kendry is passing for white, even though she is married to a virulently racist White American. Irene Redfield, although she could have passed, has stuck by her African American heritage and community. Kendry now regrets what she has left behind and begins to insinuate herself back into Redfield's life after a chance re-meeting (they had known each other as children) with eventual tragic consequences.

I read Passing as part of my subscription to the inaugural 2020 Shakespeare and Company Lost Treasures curated selection. 4 books of the expected 12 have been delivered as of March 2020. ( )
  alanteder | Mar 12, 2020 |
One of the great things about reading from the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die List is that I have been introduced to many writers that I had not experienced before. Such is the case with Passing by Nella Larsen. This is the story of two American women in the 1920s with a similar background who chose very different ways to live.

Both women are very light skinned black women and while Irene is a respected member of the Black community, married to a black doctor and allowing herself to “pass” for white only occasionally, Clare actually lives the life of a white woman, completely denying her black heritage and even hiding her race from her rich, white and bigoted husband. But Clare seemingly desires some contact with the black community and latches onto Irene in order to attend various black social functions. Irene has mixed feelings about Clare, she doesn’t approve of her life choices yet she does her best to protect her secret. Her feelings become even more challenged when she realizes that her husband and Clare are having an affair.

I found Passing to be a very interesting story. Nella Larsen herself was of mixed heritage, her mother was Danish and her father a black American. Racial segregation laws were in force until the 1960s and some light-skinned blacks used “passing” in order to obtain equal opportunities and rights, social standing and acceptance. It is unfortunate that Nella Larsen only wrote one other book, but I will be reading that in the near future. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Jan 9, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nella Larsenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bernard, EmilyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, Thadious M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Henderson, MaeForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rogers, T. N. R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shange, NtozakeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Torriglia, Anna MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?
-Countée Cullen
Carl Van Vechten
Fania Marinoff
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It was the last letter in Irene Redfield's little pile of morning mail.
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First published in 1929, Passing is a remarkable exploration of the shifting racial and sexual boundaries in America. Larsen, a premier writer of the Harlem Renaissance, captures the rewards and dangers faced by two negro women who pass for white in a deeply segregated world.

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