Passing

Passing

3.4 65
by Nella Larsen
     
 

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Married to a successful physician and prominently ensconced in Harlem's vibrant society of the 1920s, Irene Redfield leads a charmed existence-until she is shaken out of it by a chance encounter with a childhood friend. Clare Kendry has been "passing for white," hiding her true identity from everyone, including her racist husband. Clare and her dangerous secret pose

Overview

Married to a successful physician and prominently ensconced in Harlem's vibrant society of the 1920s, Irene Redfield leads a charmed existence-until she is shaken out of it by a chance encounter with a childhood friend. Clare Kendry has been "passing for white," hiding her true identity from everyone, including her racist husband. Clare and her dangerous secret pose an increasingly powerful threat to Irene's security, forcing both women to confront the hazards of public and private deception. An important figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Nella Larsen was the first African-American woman to be awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. Her fictional portraits of women seeking their identities through a fog of racial confusion were informed by her own Danish-West Indian parentage, and Passing offers fascinating psychological insights into issues of race and gender.

Editorial Reviews

Richard Bernstein
...the genius of this book is that its protagonists, especially its Anna Karenina-like central figure, Irene Redfield, are complex and fully realized and individually responsible as well. Larsen's treatment of race in this sense was both candid and tough-minded. She understood the power of its impact, but she never let her characters escape from the weight of their choices.
New York Times
From the Publisher
“A work so fine, sensitive, and distinguished that it rises above race categories and becomes that rare object, a good novel.” —Saturday Review of Literature

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781466399587
Publisher:
CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date:
10/04/2011
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
226
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.48(d)

Read an Excerpt

It was the last letter in Irene Redfield's little pile of morning mail. After her other ordinary and clearly directed letters the long envelope of thin Italian paper with its almost illegible scrawl seemed out of place and alien. And there was, too, something mysterious and slightly furtive about it. A thin sly thing which bore no return address to betray the sender. Not that she hadn't immediately known who its sender was. Some two years ago she had one very like it in outward appearance. Furtive, but yet in some peculiar, determined way a little flaunting. Purple ink. Foreign paper of extraordinary size.

It had been, Irene noted, postmarked in New York the day before. Her brows came together in a tiny frown. The frown, however, was more from perplexity than from annoyance; though there was in her thoughts an element of both. She was wholly unable to comprehend such an attitude towards danger as she was sure the letter's contents would reveal; and she disliked the idea of opening and reading it.

This, she reflected, was of a piece with all that she knew of Clare Kendry. Stepping always on the edge of danger. Always aware, but not drawing back or turning aside. Certainly not because of any alarms or feeling of outrage on the part of others.

And for a swift moment Irene Redfield seemed to see a pale small girl sitting on a ragged blue sofa, sewing pieces of bright red cloth together, while her drunken father, a tall, powerfully built man, raged threateningly up and down the shabby room, bellowing curses and making spasmodic lunges at her which were not the less frightening because they were, for the most part, ineffectual. Sometimes he did manage to reach her. Butonly the fact that the child had edged herself and her poor sewing over to the farthermost corner of the sofa suggested that she was in any way perturbed by this menace to herself and her work.

Clare had known well enough that it was unsafe to take a portion of the dollar that was her weekly wage for the doing of many errands for the dressmaker who lived on the top floor of the building of which Bob Kendry was janitor. But that knowledge had not deterred her. She wanted to go to her Sunday school's picnic, and she had made up her mind to wear a new dress. So, in spite of certain unpleasantness and possible danger, she had taken the money to buy the material for that pathetic little red frock.

There had been, even in those days, nothing sacrificial in Clare Kendry's idea of life, no allegiance beyond her own immediate desire. She was selfish, and cold, and hard. And yet she had, too, a strange capacity of transforming warmth and passion, verging sometimes almost on theatrical heroics.

Irene, who was a year or more older than Clare, remembered the day that Bob Kendry had been brought home dead, killed in a silly saloon-fight. Clare, who was at that time a scant fifteen years old, had just stood there with her lips pressed together, her thin arms folded across her narrow chest, staring down at the familiar pasty-white face of her parent with a sort of disdain in her slanting black eyes. For a very long time she had stood like that, silent and staring. Then, quite suddenly, she had given way to a torrent of weeping, swaying her thin body, tearing at her bright hair, and stamping her small feet. The outburst had ceased as suddenly as it had begun. She glanced quickly about the bare room, taking everyone in, even the two policemen, in a sharp look of flashing scorn. And, in the next instant, she had turned and vanished through the door.

Seen across the long stretch of years, the thing had more the appearance of an outpouring of pent-up fury than of an overflow of grief for her dead father; though she had been, Irene admitted, fond enough of him in her own rather catlike way.

Catlike. Certainly that was the word which best described Clare Kendry, if any single word could describe her. Sometimes she was hard and apparently without feeling at all; sometimes she was affectionate and rashly impulsive. And there was about her an amazing soft malice, hidden well away until provoked. Then she was capable of scratching, and very effectively too. Or, driven to anger, she would fight with a ferocity and impetuousness that disregarded or forgot any danger; superior strength, numbers, or other unfavorable circumstances. How savagely she had clawed those boys the day they had hooted her parent and sung a derisive rhyme, of their own composing, which pointed out certain eccentricities in his careening gait! And how deliberately she had—Irene brought her thoughts back to the present, to the letter from Clare Kendry that she still held unopened in her hand. With a little feeling of apprehension, she very slowly cut the envelope, drew out the folded sheets, spread them, and began to read.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“A work so fine, sensitive, and distinguished that it rises above race categories and becomes that rare object, a good novel.” —Saturday Review of Literature

Alice Walker
[Nella Larsen's novels] open up a whole world of experience and struggle that seemed to me, when I first read them years ago, absolutely absorbing, fascinating, and indispensable.

Meet the Author

One of the shining stars of the Harlem Renaissance, Nellallitea "Nella" Larsen (April 13, 1891-March 30, 1964) left behind only two novels and a handful of short stories — but Larsen's remarkable voice and vision has ensured her place in literary history.

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Passing 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 65 reviews.
Jo-Ellen Asbury More than 1 year ago
This classic novel takes on the age-old question of African-Americans passing for white, and the consequences of that decision. The two main characters make different decisions and expereince different ends.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's unfortunate that most people have never even heard of Nella Larsen let alone read her two indispensible novels, 'Quicksand' and 'Passing.' She was an incredibly talented writer and deserves to be compared with Virginia Woolf when it comes to complex characterizations. 'Passing' is a short novel but contains great thematic depth. This is a novel concerned not only with racial identity but also issues dealing with gender and sexuality. 'Passing' is a novel that left me spellbound with its vivid descriptions and provocative ideas. The two central characters, Irene and Clare, are very strongly written as they offer a keen insight into what it meant to be 'black' in 1920's America. The ending, in particular, is masterful because of its ambiguity. Highly recommended.
UHD-Student More than 1 year ago
He takes his classes seriously and recommends things that we can discuss. this book was good. I'm not really an avid book reader, but this might just do the trick
readalot123 More than 1 year ago
This was really hard to get through. It seemed to me to jump from place to place
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is required reading for anyone who is interested in black literary history or who wants to read work by women writers from the Harlem Renaissance. It's a fairly easy read, in that it's only around 100 pages, but it's quite a page turner and really pushes the reader to think about complicated issues of race and gender.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Unique Story About Racism  Nella Larsen was an American writer during the Harlem Renaissance, which was a period with high racial tensions. Nella made it possible to connect with the issues of racism and sexism through her unique characters and plot. The idea of "passing" over as a white person and hiding one’s true identity is the main focus of this novel.  In the fictional novel, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry are childhood friends, who are both half- black but are able to pass as  white, split up after the death of Clare's father. They meet later in life in Chicago and learn about each other's lives'. Clare has completely passed as a white and even married a white racist and Irene lives in Harlem and is married to a black doctor. Irene wants nothing to do with Clare but with her charms she is able to convince Irene for them to be friends again. The two become fascinated with each other’s lives’ and this all leads to a very tragic ending.  The novel is very memorable and thought-provoking. It provides digs deeps into the issues and effects of racism on an individual, a family and society as a whole. I was able to understand Irene as well as Clare, their behavior, and the fascination and jealously they had towards each other. I felt sympathy but also respect towards Irene because of the struggles that come with embracing her black heritage. The novel overall is a quick read that left me shocked and surprised as tragedy unfolded in the end.
Kelsey Foster More than 1 year ago
this book was way to wordy and it ended in what seemed like the middle of the story. overall it had a good concept though.
ProWriterDS More than 1 year ago
I am working on a novel in which one of the characters is passing. My character begins his duplicitous life in the late 1920s, the era Larsen wrote about in Passing. I read Passing for background on what my character might have encountered in this era in America. I found Nella Larsen's prose insightful and engaging. The intoduction and notes by Thadious M. Davis provided more insight and context for today's reader. I recommend the book to anyone who is intested in African American culture from the African American perspective. Again, Larsen and Davis offer an insightful and engaging persepective of this complicated life choice that is also entertaining.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading this book is like driving on a road with speed bumps. There is always something that kills the story line. There was definately something missing. If you don't like endings that don't have an ending this is not the book for you. However, I found that the ending was appropriate. Irene and Clare are the extreme cases of what is inside all people. I really thought it was going to be better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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A subtle account of some of the choices blacks made to survive in America.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
By a woman author from the Harlem Renaissance, Passing is a story about the importance and risk inherent in transcending social constructs (what you should be depending on your sex, race, marital status, etc.). Although the era in the story has passed, many of the conflicts affecting the characters are issues we continue to face today but dont usually discuss. Nelsons takes these on in an honest voice that conveys urgency but lets you reach your own conclusion, when you are ready.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not a long story but one that will live in your mind long after asking, "why?" I felt like the ending was abrupt. I still don't think I know what happened officially.....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book explores a world that most of us are so far removed from. Its a quick read but a story you will never forget. All women should read this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was ok. It was very descriptive although a little too wordy at times. The story line was creative. Good, quick read.
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