Author Archives: Jody R. Rosen

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.

Quicksand and Project #2

roman a clef: look this up to understand more about biography read into fiction

Annotation: a separate document that can illuminate the novel in some way

Sources for Project #2: use at least 3 sources as you write your research annotation

Add a bibliography: in MLA format, we call it a Works Cited list

2 glossary annotations: like the ones you do for class already, but chosen wisely

Sample: I will link us to samples for a different class using a different text.

Copenhagen: racially homogeneous community, so what does this mean for Helga?

Helga’s 4 suitors

  1. James Vayle
  2. Dr. Anderson
  3. Axel Olsen
  4. Reverend Mr. Pleasant Green
  5. Or: what does Helga say about marriage?

Find a passage that represents their relationship, discuss it, and be prepared to share it with the class.

Brainstorming for Project #2

In class on Monday, we discussed possible topics for research for Project #2. You will do some research to be able to write an annotation about something that a reader (like you!) would want to know more about to better understand Quicksand.

For homework, comment here by 1-identifying what you might research to add information to the readers’ understanding, and 2- identify the passage or section of the text that would benefit from an annotation.

Some of the ideas we discussed in class:

  • one of the schools mentioned in the novel, or the whole system of schools mentioned
  • miscegenation laws in the early 20th century
  • any historical figure mentioned in the text
  • any literary references
  • any fashion elements from the text (we discussed decolettage, thanks to Brittney).
  • geography discussed in the text as it related then to the story (you couldn’t just explain where Harlem or Copenhagen are, but you would have to figure out a way that either is relevant and provide more than just a geography detail but instead understand how they relate to, for example, the issues with race that the novel addresses)
  • connections to other stories by Larsen. This is the reason that I ordered this edition of the novel, so that you could read other stories and connect them to Quicksand.
  • connections to information you found in the introductory materials in our book–biographical mostly.

Some of these broader ideas aren’t directly linked to a particular passage. As you develop your project, you will find particular passages to focus on as the appropriate points to which you can attach your annotation.

This is also a good place to ask (and answer) questions about Project #2, so please do use the comments to get input and feedback, ask for clarification, etc.

Ways of thinking about Helga Crane

How can we organize our discussion of Quicksand?

Geographical surroundings: The South (at Naxos); Chicago; New York; Denmark…

The Race Question: look at how Helga interacts with people of different races

Class surroundings: in New York with people of different socioeconomic status; Helga’s own relationship to money and class

Color (both race and not)

Family: as an orphan; as someone who has to tell her story; in relation to Uncle Peter; in relation to her mother and father; in relation to her Danish relatives

In relation to other characters: Mrs. Hayes-Rore; Anne Grey; Dr. Anderson (early and mid); James Vayle (early and mid); Uncle Peter.

Loves NY! Depressed and lonely!–no location can continue to make her happy until she reconciles what is troubling her. She’s trying to find joy in other things instead of finding joy in herself. She doesn’t want to be anything, not comfortable being anything.

Discussing Quicksand

In class on Monday, we discussed chapters 3 and 4 in Quicksand in depth but didn’t devote as much time to chapters 5, 6, and 7. For Wednesday, you are reading chapters 8-12. To drive our discussion forward, please find a passage we haven’t yet discussed from chapters 5-12 that stood out to you, quote it, and write about it–such as what stands out, what you want to understand better, how it connects to another passage in the novel or in something else we’ve read or that you’ve read, how specific details in the passage add to the general understanding of the passage, or anything else that you want to address. You can write this as a short comment (quotation plus 100-150 words), and comment back to another classmate’s passage as well. We’ll generate a great collection of passages to look at further.


Helga Crane leaving Naxos

What do we know about Helga Crane? About her surrounding environment and the people who populate it?

  • Dr. Anderson: the school’s new principal: she likes him; she doesn’t like him; he thinks she has good breeding and she reacts badly to this. He has grey eyes. (does this mean he is biracial as well?)

Are we sympathetic to Helga or angered by her? Can we relate to her?

  • her moods change so frequently
  • feels like an outsider, can’t connect
  • never satisfied–there’s excitement in her wanting something
  • lack of family support may be different than our experience

think about time: analepsis (flashback) and prolepsis (flash forward)

think about repetition: what gets repeated must be important somehow

Think about:

train scene (ch 4)

arriving in Chicago (ch 5)

looking for work (ch 6)

treats herself even though she’s low on cash, denies herself food

Mrs. Hayes-Rore (ch 7)

Posting Project #1

The day has finally come to post Project #1! Add a new post and do the following:

  1. Give your project a title in the field for title
  2. Add your Part 1 (retellingl, with a title at the top
  3. Then add Part 2 (comparative essay) including a title.
  4. Choose categories (not sticky categories): Project #1, plus the category for the original short story’s author’s name.
  5. Add tags. At a minimum add a tag for the narration style you used. Choose the narration style from the list of tags so we all use the same format.
  6. If you are not comfortable sharing your work openly, change Visibility from public to private.
  7. Publish!
  8. In class on Monday, I will ask for a reflective cover letter (instructions will be provided). Think about your process and accomplishments so we can be purposeful about our writing process and resulting product.