Passing

Front Cover
Modern Library, 1997 - Fiction - 182 pages
16 Reviews
First published to critical acclaim in 1929, Passing firmly established Nella Larsen's prominence among women writers of the Harlem Renaissance. The Modern Library is proud to present Passing--an electrifying story of two women who cross the color line in 1920s New York--together with a new Introduction by the Obie Award- winning playwright and novelist Ntozake Shange.
Irene Redfield, the novel's protagonist, is a woman with an enviable life. She and her husband, Brian, a prominent physician, share a comfortable Harlem town house with their sons. Her work arranging charity balls that gather Harlem's elite creates a sense of purpose and respectability for Irene. But her hold on this world begins to slip the day she encounters Clare Kendry, a childhood friend with whom she had lost touch. Clare--light-skinned, beautiful, and charming--tells Irene how, after her father's death, she left behind the black neighborhood of her adolescence and began passing for white, hiding her true identity from everyone, including her racist husband. As Clare begins inserting herself into Irene's life, Irene is thrown into a panic, terrified of the consequences of Clare's dangerous behavior. And when Clare witnesses the vibrancy and energy of the community she left behind, her burning desire to come back threatens to shatter her careful deception.
Brilliantly plotted and elegantly written, Passing offers a gripping psychological portrait of emotional extremity. The New York Times Book Review called Larsen "adroit at tracing the involved processes of a mind divided against itself, that fights between the dictates of reason and desire." The Saturday Review of Literature said, "[Larsen] has produced awork so fine, sensitive, and distinguished that it rises above race categories and becomes that rare object, a good novel."

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
2
4 stars
12
3 stars
2
2 stars
0
1 star
0

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - eadieburke - LibraryThing

This was a very interesting, enjoyable read. Even though it was written in 1929, the book is very relevant to present day also. The characters are well developed and the author's writing is such that ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - gbill - LibraryThing

‘Passing’ is a novella on race relations, written and set during the period of the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ of the 1920’s, with some historical significance. 60 years after emancipation, 40 years before ... Read full review

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (1997)

Nella Larsen was associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She also worked as a librarian and a nurse in New York City, pursuing nursing after her brief, successful writing career until her death in 1964. Larsen's mother was Danish, and her father was West Indian; she used her experience as the child of middle-class parents in a mixed marriage to create characters in two novels who are stranded, caught between two cultures and unable to feel wholly at home in either. In each of Larsen's novels, the heroine suffers suffocating constrictions of her identity in both African American and white European culture. These crises in both Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929) are further complicated by the heroine's quest for sexual as well as social identity, and both novels end without hopeful resolution. Both contain autobiographical elements, but Quicksand, the more successful, reproduced in fictional form many of the circumstances of Larsen's own early life. Although her work had been out of print for many years, she has recently been rediscovered.

Bibliographic information