Comedy, American Style

Comedy, American Style

Comedy, American Style

Comedy, American Style


Comedy: American Style, Jessie Redmon Fauset's fourth and final novel, recounts the tragic tale of a family's destruction- the story of a mother who denies her clan its heritage. Originally published in 1933, this intense narrative stands the test of time and continues to raise compelling, disturbing, and still contemporary themes of color prejudice and racial self-hatred. Several of today's bestselling novelists echo subject matter first visited in Fauset's commanding work, which overflows with rich, vivid, and complex characters who explore questions of color, passing, and black identity.

Cherene Sherrard-Johnson's introduction places this literary classic in both the new modernist and transatlantic contexts and will be embraced by those interested in earlytwentieth-century women writers, novels about passing, the Harlem Renaissance, the black/white divide, and diaspora studies. Selected essays and poems penned by Fauset are also included, among them "Yarrow Revisited" and "Oriflamme," which help highlight the full canon of her extraordinary contribution to literature and provide contextual background to the novel.


What colored writer of fiction is most popular among Negro readers?
My answer is always Jessie Fauset.

—Theopilus Lewis

Jessie Fauset’s role as the most influential literary editor of the Harlem Renaissance has long overshadowed serious consideration of her fiction. Once categorized as the “midwife” who introduced the world to the poet Langsten Hughes, Fauset was frequently relegated to the socalled rear guard of the New Negro movement. Fortunately, black feminist scholars began to recast the writing of female authors that had been excluded from or marginalized within period-defining studies that privileged the work of male intellectuals and artists. Thanks to their efforts authors like Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larsen are now readily taught alongside Claude McKay and James Weldon Johnson. Yet if Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929) were to be singled out as sophisticated, psychologically complex, modernist novels and if Hurston was applauded for her authentic representation of folk culture and early feminism, Fauset has been accused of writing pedantic, conventional fiction saturated with melodrama and didactism. Her last novel, Comedy: American Style (1933), continues to be received with critical skepticism. Plum Bun (1928), certainly her most straightforward novel, is her most applauded work of fiction. However, the merging of black feminist studies with a more complex understanding of how class functions intraracially, the acknowledgment of multiple, intersecting modernist traditions, and the recognition of a vibrant, black internationalist culture all provide a new frame for appreciating the themes, satirical structure, and ambitious scope of Comedy: American Style.

Comedy: American Style now finds its place at the interstices of several interdisciplinary fields and relevant discourses. Emerging areas like performance studies, feminist geography, transatlanticism, transnationalism, and diaspora studies enable new readings. When Comedy was last reprinted in 1995, critics had just begun to challenge New Negro intellectual Alain Locke’s assessment of Fauset’s writing as “mid-Victorian” by situating her fiction within the context of middlebrow and high modernism, and in the company of avant-garde narratives of passing. In her . . .

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