"REMOVES THE MASK FROM HISTORY": FIRST EDITION OF PIONEERING BLACK FILMMAKER AND NOVELIST OSCAR MICHEAUX'S FINAL NOVEL, MASQUERADE
MICHEAUX, Oscar. The Masquerade. An Historical Novel. New York: Book Supply, 1947. Octavo, original gilt-stamped maroon cloth, pictorial endpapers, original dust jacket. $1000.
First edition of Micheaux's last novel that draws on Charles Chesnutt's House Behind the Cedars (1900) and "calls into question the mechanisms of history itself" with inclusions of "extended passages from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln's first inaugural address [and] the story of John Brown," very scarce in the elusive colorful dust jacket.
The son of former slaves, "Micheaux successfully fashioned almost single-handedly… a prototype for African American independent cinema" and upended conventions of the novel (Oxford Companion to African American Literature, 495). His seven novels and nearly 40 films were "innovative in ways that philosophically and politically challenged the contemporary standards" (Green, Reemergence of Oscar Micheaux, 227). Influenced by Booker T. Washington's philosophy, "not of destruction but of construction," Micheaux "wanted to claim for Black people the right to status as the new Adams and Eves… [and] created a textured and layered response to the social crises that circumscribed African American life" (Bowser & Spence, Oscar Micheaux's Symbol of the Unconquered, 81).
Masquerade, his final novel, drew on Charles Chesnutt's 1900 novel, House Behind the Cedars, which Micheaux also used as the basis for his lost 1924-25 silent film, as well as his 1932 sound film, Veiled Aristocrats. Here, by juxtaposing his version of Chesnutt's work with "historical documents and narratives, including extended passages from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln's first inaugural address [and] the story of John Brown," Micheaux was, in effect, a film editor splicing "together pieces of film in order to create a coherent, unified and, from his perspective, historically accurate and stirring narrative." To scholar Brian Cremins, "what is most fascinating about Micheaux's largely ignored final novel is not so much the history lesson… but the way in which he calls into question the mechanisms of history itself… [he] removes the mask from history itself and… subverts white master narratives of race and class by appropriating and manipulating the basic components of those narratives. In Micheaux's hands, Chesnutt's grim story of the beautiful but damned Rena Walden is transformed" (Oscar Micheaux… and the "Historical Novel," 155). Blockson 5843.
Book fine; light edge-wear to price-clipped near-fine dust jacket.