New Voices on the Harlem Renaissance: Essays on Race, Gender, and Literary Discourse

By Australia Tarver; Barnes C. Paula | Go to book overview

“My House and a Glimpse of My Life
Therein”: Migrating Lives in
the Short Fiction of Jessie Fauset

Australia Tarver

JESSIE FAUSET’S WHIMSICAL, DREAMLIKE STORY, “MY HOUSE AND A Glimpse of My Life Therein,” is suggestive of Phillis Wheatley’s poem, “On Imagination,” and Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” because it celebrates the power of the imagination while it insists that the space created for such purposes is personal and individual to its maker. Woolf and Fauset wrote during the Modernist Age, a period of transatlantic industrial and artistic development largely defined by masculine voices such as Henry James. While Woolf, not quite three months older than Fauset, struggled to provide a feminine space beyond Henry James’s “house of fiction,” constructed in Portrait of a Lady (1881), Fauset labored to portray the New Negro Woman as an agent in a turn-of-the-century, fluctuating black world. In her portrayal of a feminine consciousness, Fauset is certainly closer to Woolf than James, who is critiqued as being manifestly patriarchal, but the literary room she envisions is on the other side of the class and racial divide from Woolf’s. In “A Room of One’s Own,” Woolf insists that money is a necessity to challenge patriarchy; Fauset might agree, but her New Women characters ultimately seem to value race and spiritual resilience more.1 In a broader sense, in this imaginative house, Fauset introduces the reader to the literary rooms that are inhabited by the variety of African American lives in her short stories from the post-Reconstruction era through the Harlem Renaissance. Fauset, recognized as a “mid-wife” (Langston Hughes’s term in The Big Sea) of the Harlem Renaissance, embraced the literary, social, and economic flux of the period in her short fiction, which, taken together, can be viewed as the initial staging for her novels. In one sense, Fauset’s literary apprenticeship resembled that of her

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