Quicksand & Passing: Two Novels, by Nella Larsen
Quicksand & Passing (two novels)
Nella Larsen had a Danish mother and a black Caribbean father, but she was culturally a negro (a word she uses freely). As she was writing in the United States of the 1920s, her identity carried significant weight, so it is staggering to see how perverse attitudes were. Quicksand, which uses Larsen’s autobiographical details, follows mixed-race Helga Crane as she looks for a safe place to exist. It is to Larsen’s credit that the main character is petulant with an ignoble value system wherein she hankers after the comfortable option. Passing refers to people with black blood passing themselves off as white. The peculiarity is that it is set in a well-to-do black milieu that simulates the snobbish affectation of the white equivalent. Within this microculture they cultivate as much pretentiousness as the Park Avenue toffs whom they despise for their racist animosity. Fusions of romantic fiction and sociopolitical commentary, these are precious and unusual works.