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CHAD JEWETT University of Connecticut Deftly Mixed: Liminal Identity and the Problem of Knowing in J. McHenry Jones’s Hearts of Gold IN PARTLY COLORED: ASIAN AMERICANS AND RACIAL ANOMALY IN THE Segregated South, Leslie Bow describes the gap between “white” and “black” on the imagined Southern spectrum of identity as a racial “interstitial,” a liminal space where proximity to whiteness can be approximated and proximity to blackness attends questions of classed performance. Bow uses the interstitial concept to focus on non-white, non-black ethnicities (specifically Asian and Native American communities) and their experiences in the Jim Crow-era South. However, Bow’s concept of troubled racial epistemology is equally helpful in understanding Southern literary concerns of provisional whiteness and blackness. While Bow uses the sliding scale of race to examine Asian, Latino, and Native American proximity to the artificially stable poles of black and white, interstitiality can also apply to depictions of mixed-race (partially white and black) figures. A salient example of this Southern-literary liminality is found in the mixed-race character of Regenia Underwood in J. McHenry Jones’s 1896 novel Hearts of Gold, a work heretofore almost entirely ignored in American literary studies. While issues of racial performance and proximity are hardly unheard of in Southern (and American) literature, Jones’s novel is starkly unique in that his racial-regional formulations create a world in which Regenia Underwood, despite her unchanging performance, expression, and appearance, can be placed at the zenith of American aristocracy or in the confines of the Jim Crow car. Regenia “passes,”into themoneyedupper-classnoless,withouttryingtopassand is deemed “black” without ever fully understanding the situational rules she has broken by moving through the border between North and South. The extremeness of Regenia’s Northern and Southern experiences, combined with her inability to determine the forces at work in these external redefinitions, tells a story different from the codified “tragic mulatta” or passing narratives, making serious study of Jones’s novel all the more essential. Regenia’s novel-long conflict, a set of constant 180 Chad Jewett reevaluations of racial, regional, and socioeconomic identity, exists on a sliding scale of interstitiality, in which her race, like that of Bow’s subjects, is constantly subject to terms of proximity and performance, terms that Regenia is never able to master. In addition, the very era and region of the work’s genesis, the turn-of-the-century borderlands of West Virginia, provide an added layer of liminality, indivisible from that of Jones’s heroine. Regenia becomes a symbol for a three-decade struggle for national knowability that would only grow more vexed in the modernist twentieth century. The paucity of critical work on Jones’s novelisespeciallyoddconsideringtherichlycomplexracialandregional configurations that surround Regenia, a woman who seemingly manages to do the impossible in Reconstruction-era America: to exist simultaneously as both “white” and “black,” before seemingly becoming neither. Regenia’s interstiality and the ways in which her identity resists any form of perceived racial categorization or essentialness constitute two concepts vital to and interrogative of hierarchical senses of self in the post-Reconstruction era. Attendant to these issues of self-understanding and the multiplicity of identity are the modernist questions of epistemology at work in Jones’s novel, and how the seemingly unsettled nature of Regenia’s racial identity (and broader self-identity) reflect a modernist problem of knowing. Indeed, as Mark M. Smith has noted, racial identification became even more important to conservative white hegemony in the post-slavery era, just as “sight became ever less reliable as an authenticator of racial identity” (7), directly contributing to a defining facet of American modernist unsurety. WhileanequationofracialindeterminacywithAmericanmodernism is familiar in contemporary literary studies, the key difference in Hearts of Gold is that Regenia’s “problem of knowing” proves maddeningly regional.; the volley of outside classifications hurled at Regenia serve as a corrective to any essentialized knowability of the American nation-state itself, as well as of the subjects existing within it. Indeed, Regenia’s race seems to change as she moves from abolitionist northern Ohio, through the borderlands, and into the Tidewater South, before arriving in the Deep South. Such mobility, in what Smith calls “a modernizing, geographically...


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pp. 179-196
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