Restless Classics presents the ninetieth anniversary edition of an undersung gem of the Harlem Renaissance: Nella Larsen’s Passing, a captivating and prescient exploration of identity, sexuality, self-invention, class, and race set amidst the pealing boisterousness of the Jazz Age.
When childhood friends Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry cross paths at a whites-only restaurant, it’s been decades since they last met. Married to a bigoted white man who has no idea that she is African American, Clare has fully embraced her ability to “pass” as a white woman. Irene, also light-skinned and living in Harlem, is shocked by Clare’s rejection of her heritage, though she too passes when it suits her needs. This encounter sparks an intense relationship between the two women who, as acclaimed critic and novelist Darryl Pinckney writes in his insightful introduction, reflect Larsen’s own experience of being “between black and white, and culturally at home nowhere.”
In a culture intent on setting boundaries, Clare and Irene refuse to adhere to expectations of gender, race, or class, culminating in a tragic clash of identities, as their relationship swings between emotional hostility and intense attraction.