Cornell University Library

John Henrik Clarke Africana Library

Thesis Abstract


Beth Carol Aplin-Rollins


"The Muses Themselves Would Bear Witness To This": Jessie Redmon Fauset; A Biographical Portrait And Literary Analysis

Degree Date:

May 1995

Committee Chairperson:

Lois Brown

Call Number: Thesis DT 3 .5

1995 A642


vi, 317 leaves: ill.; 29 cm.


As a detailed biographical sketch of Jessie Fauset's life and in an analysis of her writings that is informed by her life, this thesis both confirms and challenges previous scholarly research on Fauset's life and writing. The first chapter provides a background on the historical and literary environment faced by Fauset and other African-American writers of her era. After briefly discussing the status of African Americans in the United States in the first few decades of the twentieth century, it provides an overview of the Harlem Renaissance. The second chapter examines the history of African American women's writing prior to the Harlem Renaissance and issues facing African American women writers during the decades that Fauset wrote with a focus on the status of women writers within the Renaissance group. The third chapter reviews Faucet's life through first an essentially chronological biographical sketch and then a reevaluation of select aspects of her personality, some of which, to varied extents, have been misconstrued by previous literary critics and scholars. The questions this chapter seeks to answer include the following: how do Fauset's family and educational backgrounds lend an understanding to her later life and writings, what was the extent and impact of her role as "midwife" of the Harlem Renaissance, what happened to Jessie Fauset after she left her position as literary editor of The Crisis, and was Fauset really the "prim and proper" bourgeois woman she has been so often described as? The fourth chapter presents a review of portions of Fauset's writing for periodicals and anthologies through a focus on her book reviews, articles, and essays with the purpose of determining how this work adds to the understanding of her life and her novels. Because this work did not have to be approved by the white male dominated publishing industry, in some ways it reveals Fauset's feelings and beliefs to a greater extent than her novels. Unfortunately, as a whole, it has been previously studied by very few scholars of Fauset's life and writings. The fifth chapter will analyze in light of her life and personality the racial and feminist stances in Fauset's four novels: There Is Confusion (1924), Plum Bun (1929), The Chinaberry Tree (1931), and Comedy: American Style (1933).

The detailed examination of Jessie Redmon Fauset's life, personal communications, and writing in this thesis reveals her to be a strong, passionate, and caring woman who along with encouraging fellow African Americans in their pursuit of artistically creating the New Negro dedicated much of her life to combating racism and its effects on African Americans and promoting Black culture and pride. My analysis reveals how Fauset challenged the proscribed status and roles of African American women through her independent lifestyle, position as literary editor for The Crisis, and success as a publisher author. Fauset's writing, which incorporates a multitude of genres, reveals both a vehement racial consciousness and a progressive, and at times, radical feminist consciousness. In both her life and writing, Jessie Redmon Fauset made significant literary, journalistic, and personal contributions to the history and culture of both African Americans and this nation. Through its reexamination of Fauset's life and personality and the relationships between Fauset's life and her writing, this thesis reasserts and redefines not only Fauset's central influence on the development of the Harlem Renaissance, but also her position as both a pioneer African American feminist writer and as a dedicated, passionate, and at times, angry, proponent of African American racial equality and pride.