WEB Du Bois’ Forgotten Romance Novel

After my father passed away, I did not write for two years. Even reading novels no longer interests me. But when a friend mentioned WEB Du Bois Princess of Darkness, a romance novel published in 1928, I was curious. The novel was underrated and ignored by critics. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to her. Will Du Bois, the famous social scientist and activist – whose seminal book of essays, black souls, remains one of the most influential works in African-American literature – are you really writing a love story? I had never been a reader of this kind of music before, but death reset so much of my relationship with the world that it was hard for me to be definitive about anything, even my own taste.

Princess of Darkness It begins in New York City with Matthew Townes, an aspiring obstetrician who is prevented from continuing his medical studies because he is black. After leaving school, he travels to Berlin, where he meets Kotelia – a purple-haired Indian princess who invites him to join a secret alliance working to overthrow white imperialism and achieve self-rule of the dark races. In the end, the book is a love story between Princess Cutilia and Matthew that spans years: Matthew ends up in prison in Chicago and later gets involved in local politics, while Princess Cutilia works in factories and unions across the United States. When they finally met after years of separation, Matthew said to Princess Cutilia, “And on that night when my body accepted yours, he lived a billion years in one heartbeat. What more could I ask?”

It’s surprisingly a drink line for someone who wrote as seriously as Du Bois. But to me, it reveals a writer who is not afraid to embrace feelings. Near the beginning of the novel, Du Bois describes Matthew’s arrival in Berlin as an awakening—a reminder of everything he left behind in America, but also a hint of the possibility that awaits him: “Oh, he was lonely; loneliness and homesickness with a horrific homesickness. After all. Something, by leaving white, he had also left black America – all he loved and knew… What wouldn’t it give him to hold a dark hand now, to hear a soft southern word, to kiss a brown cheek?… God – he was lonely. So totally, Terribly lonely. And then – he saw the princess!” During the period after my father’s death, writing was difficult because my imagination was dull, and I was trying not to feel anything at all. But here was a book full of unapologetic desires, with optimism for what the world might be like. I used to think romance was a refreshing daydream on a hot afternoon, but after reading Princess of DarknessI realized that this genre can help us see beyond the boundaries of our reality, and open our minds to wonderful possibilities.

The novel contains a variety of story lines that one might not expect to live together – Princess Cutilia and Matthew meeting in Berlin, the minute details of the political center in Chicago in the 1920s, anti-imperialist efforts in the Global South, and racial liberation struggles in America. New York times He described it as “inflamed and unconvincing,” with “enough substance in it for many narratives.” The novel does not feel uncontainable. But what excited me was her radical understanding of romance as a potential force for change. In her preface to the 1995 edition, critic Claudia Tate wrote that if critics had judged the novel according to the values ​​of revolutionary erotic art rather than the traditions of social realism, they likely would have celebrated. Princess of Darkness as a visual work.” Romanticism, with its inclination towards coincidence and melodrama, gave Du Bois’ characters the freedom to live and dream in a way that realistic writing could not.

As a sociologist and historian, Du Bois wrote mostly in a position to try to portray the world as it is. But he was also a uniquely brave and creative writer. His books resist and reject the boundaries of genre. He realized that each form had the power to shed light on the human psyche. Writers are sometimes reluctant to step outside their comfort zone for fear of how their work will be understood. The “genre” novel is often dismissed in favor of realistic literature. While accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 National Book Awards, Ursula K. realistic. Hard times come when we want the voices of writers who can see alternatives to the way we live now, can see through our fear-ridden society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real foundations for hope. “

As Du Bois explains, genres such as science fiction and fantasy can be broad tools for the imagination. in Princess of DarknessThe romance between Matthew and Princess Cutilia is also emblematic of the alliance’s vision of interracial solidarity. The birth of their son denotes a future utopia, in which the boy leads the people of the “dark realms” as a kind of Christ, showing them a way “out of their pain, slavery, and humiliation, and a beacon to guide them manhood to health, happiness, life and away from the quagmire of hatred, poverty, crime, disease, monopoly and mass murder that they It’s called war.” Although some aspects Princess of Darkness, like the Orientalist representation of India and the one-dimensional nature of some of the female characters, did not resonate with me, I recognized the force in this imaginative act—even if, in the novel, the alliance wasn’t ultimately the realization of a utopia. In the act of writing and imagining, there is no failure.

over the years, Princess of Darkness It stayed in my mind and encouraged me to be more experimental in my writing. Before the pandemic, she held a fellowship at the Schaumburg Center for Research on Black Culture, where she conducted research for a novel set in a futuristic New York City where artificial intelligence governs many aspects of life. in that novel, Meet us on the raging seaA young woman translating a manuscript follows a group of medical students trying to create a compassionate, communal lifestyle amid drought and violence. It is in part a love story that indulges in many forms and genres, transcending boundaries, time periods, and gender norms. Writing in a genre like science fiction allowed me to see our world anew. What does it really mean to care about the suffering of others? How do we show this care? When the coronavirus pandemic hit, these questions seemed even more pressing; It became clear how interconnected our lives really are. While writing, I found myself constantly slipping into first person and first person plural, wanting to engage the reader and evoke the plural.

In his 1940 book, Twilight of Dawn: An Autobiographical Essay on the Concept of RaceDu Bois called Princess of Darkness His favorite work. He kept his forgotten and unloved novel closest to his heart, and I can understand why. Shakespeare’s novel dedicated to Titania, the Queen of the Fairies A Midsummer Night’s DreamIt ends with a question addressed to her: “What is the truth really – fact or fiction? Dream of the soul or bone pain?” with Princess of DarknessDu Bois has come up with this dream and is asking us to make it a reality.


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