Passing (Penguin Classics)

Passing (Penguin Classics)


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142437278
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/14/2003
Series: Penguin Classics Series
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 24,968
Product dimensions: 5.05(w) x 7.76(h) x 0.43(d)

About the Author

Nella Larsen, one of the most acclaimed and influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance, was born Nellie Walker on April 13, 1891, in Chicago. In the 1910s she came to New York, where she worked as a nurse and a librarian, and in 1919 she married a research physicist. She began publishing stories in the mid-1920s and published her first novel, Quicksand, in 1928. Passing came out the following year. Larsen was awarded a William E. Harmon Bronze Award for Distinguished Achievement Among Negroes and a Guggenheim fellowship. Encountering personal and professional struggles, she was unable to have her third novel accepted for publication and by the end of the 1930s had stopped writing altogether. She worked full time as a nurse until her death in 1964.
Emily Bernard is the author of Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance: A Portrait in Black and White. Her other books include Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten (2001), which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Some of My Best Friends: Writers on Interracial Friendships (2004), chosen by the New York Public Library as a Book for the Teen Age; and Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs (2009), a book she coauthored with Deborah Willis, which received a 2010 NAACP Image Award. Her essays have been published in several anthologies and journals, such as The American Scholar, Oxford American magazine, The Best American Essays, Best African American Essays, and The Best Creative Nonfiction. She is a professor of English and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of Vermont.
Thadious M. Davis is Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Nella Larsen: Novelist of the Harlem Renaissance. She previously taught at Vanderbilt University, Brown University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has been a fellow at the Newberry Library in Chicago, the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. She is the editor of the Penguin Classics edition of Nella Larsen’s Quicksand.

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.

Excerpted from "Passing"
by .
Copyright © 2003 Nella Larsen.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Suggestions for Further Reading

A Note on the Text 

Part One: Encounter 
Part Two: Re-Encounter 
Part Three: Finale

Explanatory Notes

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.


[Nella Larsen] offers characters so honest and desperate to be whole that we cannot help but champion their humanity.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Passing (African American Heritage Classics) 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
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.
rainpebble on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I found this to be a beautifully drawn character study. It is the story of two girls who were childhood friends but lose touch with each other as they grow up. Both of them biracial, they end up settled in New York. One married to a man of color with 2 children, 1 light skinned and 1 dark skinned and the other married to a very prejudicial white skinned man with 1 light skinned child. This is a very fortunate turn of events for her as she has not informed her husband she is part black. She has been "passing" all this time.The two ladies meet accidentally one day while having tea at a rooftop cafe. They reacquaint themselves with each other and begin to meet socially. As time goes on the one "passing" becomes more and more brave about her lifestyle and begins to yearn for the life of the Harlem Renaissance. She gets careless about where she goes and the company she keeps. What occurs next this is a shocking turn of events.I found this book to be very intelligently and subtly written. It is sad that [[Nella Larsen]] didn't write more than she did for she was a brilliant writer. I highly recommend this book and I think it is one that will stay with me long past my reading of it.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing 8 months ago
In 1929, she published Passing, her second novel, which was also critically successful. It is the story of two childhood friends, Clare and Irene. They lost touch when Clare's father died and she moved in with two white aunts. By hiding that Clare was part-black, she was able to 'pass' as a white woman and married a white bigot. Irene by contrast lives in Harlem, commits herself to racial uplift, and marries a black doctor. The novel centers on the meeting of the two childhood friends later in life, and the unfolding of events as each woman is fascinated and seduced by the other's daring lifestyle. The novel traces a tragic path as Irene believes, without concrete evidence, that her husband is having an affair with Clare. Her fears are never clearly justified as incidents seemingly innocent are not probative. Clare's race is revealed to her husband and the novel ends with a 'shocking' finale.The novel is complicated but elegantly plotted. The dual figures of Irene and Clare in many ways mirror each other and allow the author to explore the the complexities of their relationship. While there may be erotic undertones in the two women's relationship, it is their repressed lives that clearly predominates. With Clare in a terrible marriage to a bigot and Irene subject to increasing doubts about her own marriage and family, the novel quickly progresses towards its denouement. I found this a lucidly written depiction of a world that is not limited to blacks, but occurs wherever secrets are allowed to take control of people's lives.
stipe168 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
"passing" refers to light-skinned african americans passing as white-skinned americans. it's a very interesting dynamic and this novel handles the confusion and fear associated with it. very well done.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WTVCrimeDawg More than 1 year ago
Nella Larson's Passing is a must-read if you're interested in studying African American Literature, or if you're interested in reading about a fascinating and controversial subject (light skinned African Americans passing for white), especially considering the context of the roaring 20s, the Harlem Renaissance, and some of the timely debates between well known African American authors like W.E.B. Du Bois, George Schuyler, and Langston Hughes. I didn't know what the term "passing" meant until I read this book, and I thought Larson did a good job of creating a realistic setting, with vivid characters and constant conflict, to show the reader this controversial topic. Moreover, Larson created a lot of sexual tension and symbolism with words like "coffee," "cream," and "spreading," and she incorporated concepts like an "ivory mask" and a "having" way. Yet, there was something about Larson's writing style that annoyed me. Perhaps it was her wordiness and all her little asides. For example, "[t]he letter which she just put out of her hand was, to her taste, a bit too lavish in its wordiness, a shade too unreserved in the manner of its expression. It roused again that old suspicion that Clare was acting, not consciously, perhaps--that is, not too consciously--but, none the less, acting" (52). Thus, Larson gets a "passing" rating.
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