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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 January 2023

Chauncey J. Mellor
Affiliation:
University of Tennessee
Peter Höyng
Affiliation:
Emory University, Atlanta
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Summary

Arthur Rundt’s Engagement with African American Culture

At the end of her abbreviated life, Marylin, the main character in Arthur Rundt’s eponymous 1928 novel, writes down these lines from an African American spiritual in a note: “Oh, some a dese mornin’s bright an’ fair, / I’m goin’ to lay down dis heavy load. / Gwine to take my wings an’ cleave de air, / I’m goin’ to lay down dis heavy load.” These poetic words gain tragic poignancy when Marylin’s ex-husband, in the vain and remorseful hope of reuniting with her, finds them written on a slip of paper. These lines end the novel and stand in stark contrast to the novel’s spare, prosaic opening sentence: “Marylin had a twenty-five-dollar–a-week job in Chicago.” The path from sober beginning to somber ending is twofold: Marylin copes with the “heavy load” of racism, while we, as readers, first sense, then process a disillusioning tale of anti-Black racism in New York a century ago that persists to this day.

But, before we get to the intricacies of Marylin’s fateful story, let us pause and reflect on her last lines, which concluded Arthur Rundt’s prescient novel of 1928, predating even Nell Larsen’s much-heralded novel Passing (1929). Rundt translated these lyrical lines into his native German, recasting them in standardized language, departing from the colloquially tinged language of African American spirituals. As translators of Rundt’s novel, we would have lost something had we merely translated his rendering back into English. Instead, we draw on a kind of “urtext” of the spiritual “By an’ By,” grounded in the fluid oral tradition of the antebellum United States:

Oh, by an’ by, by an’ by

I’m goin’ to lay down dis heavy load.

Oh, by an’ by, by an’ by

I’m goin’ to lay down dis heavy load.

I know my robe’s goin’ to fit me well,

I’m goin’ to lay down my heavy load;

I tried it on at de gates ob Hell

I’m goin’ to lay down my heavy load.

Oh, by an’ by, by an’ by

I’m goin’ to lay down dis heavy load.

Oh, some a dese mornin’s bright an’ fair,

I’m goin’ to lay down dis heavy load.

Gwine to take my wings an’ cleave de air,

I’m goin’ to lay down dis heavy load.

Oh, by an’ by, by an’ by

I’m goin’ to lay down dis heavy load.

Type
Chapter
Information
Marylin
A Novel of Passing
, pp. xi - xxvi
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2022

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