With In Search of Nella Larsen, George Hutchinson makes the third major attempt to provide a biography of the elusive Harlem Renaissance author Nella Larsen (1891-1964), the mulatto daughter of immigrants from Denmark and the Danish West Indies whose life and fiction were shaped largely by her mixed emotions about her racial heritage and her feelings of abandonment by her white mother, stepfather, and sister. In his introduction, Hutchinson makes much of the errors of prior Larsen biographers Charles R. Larson (Invisible Darkness: Jean Toomer and Nella Larsen ) and Thadious M. Davis (Nella Larsen, Novelist of the Harlem Renaissance: A Woman's Life Unveiled ), charging that they overlooked important information that he will provide and that they "pathologized" Larsen in "a pattern not atypical of the way children from interracial families had often been misunderstood" (3). At times he seems to actually gloat over his own discoveries, as he points to a "document previously unknown to scholars" (65). Conversely, he sometimes makes use of previous scholars' work without even mentioning their names in the text, though he does meticulously document all borrowings in footnotes. A gracious recognition of the contributions of Larson and Davis is, however, found at the end of the book, where Hutchinson generously acknowledges, "Had it not been for the two previous biographies of Nella Larsen, by Charles R. Larson and Thadious M. Davis, I would never have undertaken this project. I owe them a lot" (592).
Copyright © 2006, AMS Press. This article first appeared in Resources for American Literary Study: 31 (2006), 388-391.
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Dance, Daryl Cumber. "Review of In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Color Line by George Hutchinson." Resources for American Literary Study 31 (2006): 388-91.