Monthly Archives: April 2018

Reacting to Axel Olsen

In the scene in Quicksand in which Axel Olsen proposes marriage to Helga Crane, she lets him know that she was aware of the less formal relationship he had hinted at. Re-read the following passages from Chapter 15 and respond here with a comment to one or more of the passages below:

P. 116:

She said coldly: “Because, Herr Olsen, in my country the men, of my race, at least, don’t make such suggestions to decent girls. And thinking that you were a gentleman, introduced to me by my aunt, I chose to think myself mistaken, to give you the benefit of the doubt.”

“Very commendable, my Helga–and wise. Now you have your reward. Now I offer you marriage.”

“Thanks,” she answered, “thanks awfully.”

“Yes…Yes, because I, poor artist that I am, cannot hold out against the deliberate lure of you. You disturb me. The longing for you does harm to my work. You creep into my brain and madden me,” and he kissed the small ivory hand. Quite decorously, Helga thought, for one so maddened that he was driven, against his inclination, to offer marriage.

P. 117:

“You know, Helga, you are a contradiction. You have been, I suspect, corrupted by the good Fru Dahl, which is perhaps as well. Who knows? You have the warm impulsive nature of the women of Africa, but, my lovely, you have, I fear, the soul of a prostitute. You sell yourself to the highest buyer. I should of course be happy that it is I. And I am.” He stopped, contemplating her, lost apparently, for the second, in pleasant thoughts of the future.

To Helga he seemed to be the most distant, the most unreal figure in the world. She suppressed a ridiculous impulse to laugh. The effort sobered her. Abruptly she was aware that in the end, in some way, she would pay for this hour. A quick brief fear ran through her, leaving in its wake a sense of impending calamity. She wondered if for this she would pay all that she’d had.

And, suddenly, she didn’t at all care. She said, lightly but firmly: “But you see, Herr Olsen, I’m not for sale. Not to you. Not to any white man. I don’t at all care to be owned. Even by you.

P. 118

But more gently, less indifferently, she said: “You see, I couldn’t marry a white man, I simply couldn’t. It isn’t just you, not just personal, you understand. It’s deeper, broader than that. It’s racial. Someday maybe you’ll be glad. We can’t tell, you know; if we were married, you might come to be ashamed of me, to hate me, to hate all dark people. My mother did that.”

“I have offered you marriage, Helga Crane, and you answer me with some strange talk kof race and shame. What nonsense is this?”

Helga let that pass because she couldn’t, she felt, explain. It would be too difficult, too mortifying. She had no words which could adequately, and without laceration to her pride, convey to him the pitfalls into which very easily they might step. “I might,” she said, “have considered it once–when I first came. But you, hoping for a more informal arrangement, waited too long, You missed the moment. I had time to think. now I couldn’t. Nothing is worth the risk. We might come to hate each other. I’ve been through it, or something like it. I know. I couldn’t do it. And I’m glad.”

Thinking further about annotations

As you work on your annotations, please share out topics you’re developing, sources you’re finding, inspiration, clarity, anything that can help. I know the project has been confusing, and I’m working to make it clearer because I think the reward is worth it (I don’t say that like Axel Olsen talks about the reward for Helga holding out for marriage!).

I found a book that’s writing about the depiction of the circus performance in Quicksand:

Afro-Nordic Landscapes: Equality and Race in Northern Europe edited by Michael McEachrane.

Edited to add: I requested this book from John Jay’s library and will bring it to class if it arrives by Wednesday!

Edited to add: interestingly, when I search through Google Scholar, I have access to more of the book! I was curious where the Hutchinson citation was, and found it in the footnote I didn’t have access to initially. Now I see that it’s the book In Search of Nella Larsen, which I have and can bring to campus tomorrow (Tuesday) and have in class on Wednesday.

I was struck by the language I saw when I looked at the song title, “Everybody Gives Me Good Advice”–it had the subtitle “comic coon song.” So I worked that into my Google search and found the book, which might give more info for anyone looking into the circus scene for their annotation.

I hope you’ll continue this discussion by sharing what you find with the class here in the comments.

Marriage in Quicksand

Last week, we discussed in groups each of Helga’s romantic interests.

James Vayle

Robert Anderson

Axel Olsen

Reverend Mr. Pleasant Green

What passages stand out in the novel as we think about each relationship?

What passages stand out about marriage in general?

What passages stand out about having children?

The New York Times published an article last month for Women’s History Month about women whose obituaries they did not publish at the time of their death but who now they would have memorialized; Nella Larsen was one of the women. Read the section of the article about her.

Quicksand, Project #2, and Nella Larsen

About Project #2:

Annotations from a previous similar assignment

Here are additional thoughts to help explain Project #2 better:

Imagine you’re reading a novel for class. You’re reading it on a tablet, on your phone, on your computer, and when you tap on a word or a highlighted section, information appears. That information could define a word you might not have known, or could explain who a person referred to is/was, or could provide data about something that would help you understand what the author is referring to. Or it could link you to passages in other texts that relate, or to information about the author’s biography, or to important literary criticism written about that novel.

What would reading in that format be like?

What if you could contribute to a project that asks readers to do this work? How would that digital annotated text help you understand the text better than reading it in its original format?

Project #2 asks you to make an argument about how a digital annotated edition of Quicksand by Nella Larsen could help readers understand different aspects of the novel better.

To complete Project #2, you have several different pieces to bring together:

  • A post that includes a research annotation, approximately a paragraph long, using three outside sources that you refer to in a Works Cited list
  • Two posts that each include a glossary entry that connects in some way to the topic you have chosen to write about
  • A post that includes the business letter to an editor at the Hathi Trust project (the organization that made the digital image of Quicksand available online) in which you argue for the benefits of a digital edition by making specific reference (by paraphrasing, quoting, and/or summarizing) not only to Quicksand but also to your research annotation and two glossary annotations.

Questions? Please keep asking them! This is the best way for me to know that I need to provide more or clearer information!

Important upcoming dates:

  • Annotations due today, M 4/23. Please post them on our site by the end of the day. Choose the category “Research Annotation” and use any tags you think are appropriate.
  • W 4/25: Please bring a draft of Project #2 to class on Wednesday for peer review.
  • We will begin the next section of our readings, focusing on contemporary fiction. Get ready to share your ideas about what you enjoy reading as we read the short fiction and accompanying materials I will share with you.


Pretentious (adjective) – making demands on one’s skill, ability, or means

Source –

From “The Complete Fiction of Nella Larson” by Nella Larsen, “Quicksand” Chapter 17 Page 125

“The easement which it’s heedless abandon brought to her was a real, a very definite thing. She liked the sharp contrast to her pretentious stately life in Copenhagen.”

Here, the word pretentious is used to describe how Helga has established a life full of comfort and extravagant living in Copenhagen.


Tumult (noun) – disorderly agitation or milling about of a crowd usually with uproar and confusion of voices.


From “The Complete Fiction of Nella Larson” by Nella Larsen, “Quicksand” Chapter 20 Page 142

“About her the tumult and the shouting continued, but in a lesser degree.”

The word tumult is used to describe how the disturbing loud commotion gradually became lower.



“practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline”

This word was encountered on pg 211

“Robert Anderson’s inexorable conscience that
had been the chief factor in bringing about her
second marriage—his ascetic protest against

the sensuous, the physical. ”

I have never seen this word before so I had zero clue what it meant. However since protest came after it I thought it meant either violent or non violent. Now that I know what it means I realized that it could mean either or,plus neither.



“Affected by timidity”

this word was encountered on page 203

“Just what is it, Helga?” he asked
again, because the pause had grown awkward,
for him.
“I can’t explain any better than I have,”
she had begun tremulously, “it’s just some-
thing—something deep down inside of me,”
and had turned away to hide a face convulsed
by threatening tears.”

This word when I first saw it reminded me of tremor.I thought that since they were touching a touchy subject that she got upset.Now that I have looked up this word i realize that she is upset however she isn’t just upset she’s slightly embarrassed and is feeling other things too.



indignant – feeling or showing anger because of something unjust or unworthy

I came across this word while reading “Quicksand” by Nella Larsen. It can be found in chapter 17, page 210.

“She might at least, thought Helga indignantly, have acted a little bit as if she…”

After understanding what this word means, I believe that Anne was thinking that Helga might be upset, and feeling angry on the inside. Another word she was assuming how Helga might have felted.



Image result for feeling angry



refuse to accept or be associated with. Reject.


word is found in chapter 14 “Quicksand”

”In America Negroes sometimes talked loudly of this, but in their hearts they repudiated it.”

here Helga Crane is justifying her new life was now pleasing to her as it satisfied her “self-importance”, but to her the Negroes embrace the idea of being themselves on the surface not within their hearts as she believed they wanted to be more like the “whites” rather than black.