The House Behind the Cedars, which many consider Charles Chesnutt’s ﬁnest novel, tells of John and Lena Walden, mulatto siblings who pass for white in the postbellum American South. The drama that unfolds as they travel between black and white worlds constitutes a riveting portrait of the shifting and intractable nature of race in American life. This edition revitalizes a much-neglected masterpiece by one of our most important African-American writers. As Werner Sollors writes, “William Dean Howells did not overstate his case when he compared Chesnutt’s works with those by Turgenev, Maupassant, and James . . . and [Chesnutt] has become one of the most important ‘crossover’ authors from the African-American tradition.”
Judith Jackson Fossett, associate professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, is the author of Illuminated Darkness: Slavery and Its Shadows in Nineteenth-Century America and the editor of Race Consciousness: African-American Studies for the New Century.