Love and Theft: Plagiarism, Blackface, and Nella Larsen's "Sanctuary"

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4 Scopus citations


When Nella Larsen's story "Sanctuary" appeared in the Forum in 1930, readers noted its similarity to "MRS. Adis," a tale by the popular British writer Sheila Kaye-Smith. Scholars concur that "Sanctuary" turns a story about British class-consciousness into a story of African American race loyalty. This essay suggests that the intertextuality of Larsen's "Sanctuary" extends beyond "MRS. Adis" to a neglected 1903 novella by Edith Wharton, also titled Sanctuary, and that in writing her last story Larsen "blackens up"-imitating, mocking, and distortedly mirroring both sources. Larsen's "Sanctuary" bitterly critiques the triumph of culture, education, and moral agency in Wharton's tale, while reworking "MRS. Adis" to expose group solidarity as a poor substitute for autonomy, segregation in another guise. Larsen's "Sanctuary" reveals the false promises held out to African Americans by a series of values that were much recommended to them: literacy, filial devotion, Christian charity, and group allegiance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-540
Number of pages32
JournalAmerican literature; a journal of literary history, criticism and bibliography
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016


  • Edith wharton
  • Intertextuality
  • Literacy
  • Nella Larsen
  • Racialization
  • Signifyin(g)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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