Our Book Shelf (1926)

Our Book Shelf (1926)

Porgy. By DuBose Heyward. George H. Doran Company. New York. 1925. 196 pages.

DuBose Heyward’s little novel of colored Charleston life, “Porgy,” is a beautiful piece of work. It is the Iliad of a small black beggar in the underworld of labor and crime surrounded by whiskey and lust and sanctified with music, a queer and quaint religion and a great yearning flood of love.

Seldom before has a white Southern writer done black folk with so much of sympathy and subtle understanding. Heyward knows Porgy and his fellows; but his very knowledge brings forward the old and ever young criticism: Charleston has 35,000 persons of Negro descent. They include not only pitiful and terrible figures—beggars, drunkards and prostitutes—but self-supporting and self-respecting laborers and servants, artisans and merchants, professional men and housewives. There is a group of educated and well-to-do folk, beautiful in character and face, who look back on generations of freedom and comfort and accomplishment. Out of Charleston for a hundred years has flowed leadership of the colored folk of America and in Charleston still rest men and women who would be a credit to any modern nation.

And yet if Charleston were swept by a cataclysm tomorrow, and the archaeologists of the 40th century searched white men’s writings to learn of its inhabitants in the 20th century, “Porgy” would remain as the best, almost the only picture. It would be a fine picture of the best type of Negro which DuBose Heyward could really know. Into the black underworld he can go almost unhindered save by that subtle veil he so delicately paints. But between him and the main mass of Charleston Negroes there is an unpassable gulf. Whose ever the fault is, the loss to art is irreparable.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1926. “Our Book Shelf.” The Crisis. 31(5):240.