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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Self-made women in a (racist) man's world: the 'tragic' lives of Nella Larsen and Bessie Head
Author:Mafe, DianaISNI
Periodical:The English Academy Review
Geographic terms:South Africa
United States
racially mixed persons
women writers
About persons:Bessie Amelia Head (1937-1986)ISNI
Nella Larsen (1891-1964)
External link:https://doi.org/10.1080/10131750802099490
Abstract:Nella Larsen, the 'mystery woman of the Harlem Renaissance', and Bessie Head, the coloured South African writer,' are known for their ambiguous origins and their fabrication of personal 'facts'. This article argues that these mixed race female writers, born under Jim Crow and apartheid respectively, carved out niches in these segregationist societies through the art of self-invention. Because of their precarious positions as 'mulattas' in anti-miscegenation worlds, clear parallels are identifiable between Larsen and Head, such as the creation of multiple selves and the realization of the 'tragic mulatto' stereotype through such characters as Helga Crane in Larsen's 'Quicksand' (1928) and Elizabeth in Head's 'A Question of Power' (1973). The representation of the 'mulatto' as a tragic figure caught between races is primarily an American literary trope, but both Larsen and the African-born Head evoke this stereotype in their personal and written stories. These two writers also resist labelling, however, by inventing new identities through pseudonyms, autobiographical heroines, and imagined 'truths'. This article examines the overt parallels between two mixed race women writers from different generations and continents, initiating crucial dialogue about the development of racial stigmas across cultures and temporalities. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]