Passing

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Clare Kendry / Bellew Character Analysis

Clare Kendry is Irene’s childhood acquaintance and John Bellew’s wife. She is a beautiful, charming, wealthy woman who, although born to a black father in a black community, lives in public as a white woman. Clare has light skin, blond hair, and dark eyes. Clare describes herself as someone who will do anything to get what she wants. After her father’s death during her adolescence, Clare moved away from her mostly-black neighborhood in Chicago to live with her white aunts. Later, she eloped with John Bellew, a white man to whom she never revealed her black ancestry. Together they have one daughter, Margery, and travel frequently for John’s work. Despite the fact that Clare’s passing affords her many of the privileges afforded to white Americans, she is unhappy in her situation, and longs to return to the black community. To this end, Clare attempts to befriend Irene. This leads eventually to Irene’s suspicion that Clare is having an affair with Brian. Ultimately, Clare dies after either falling or being pushed out of a sixth story window—the narrative leaves Clare’s death ambiguous, and the reader unsure of whether Irene jealously pushed her, she jumped, or she simply lost her balance.

Clare Kendry / Bellew Quotes in Passing

The Passing quotes below are all either spoken by Clare Kendry / Bellew or refer to Clare Kendry / Bellew. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of Passing published in 2001.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

This, she reflected, was of a piece with all that she knew of Clare Kendry. Stepping always on the edge of danger. Always aware, but not drawing back or turning aside. Certainly not because of any alarms or feeling of outrage on the part of others.

Related Characters: Clare Kendry / Bellew, Irene Redfield
Related Symbols: Doorways, Windows, Thresholds
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote appears in the first few pages of the first chapter of the text. Irene has just received her second letter from Clare, which she recognizes because the type of paper and ink are exactly the same as the letter she received two years before. Irene’s thoughts on the letter help to establish for the reader the relationship between the two women—it’s clearly one of mixed feelings, and Irene’s ambivalence toward Clare will continue throughout the book.

Irene’s descriptions of Clare as “on the edge of danger” foreshadow Clare’s deadly fall from the window at the book’s end. Moreover, the idea that Clare is in danger because she is perched on a threshold between two spaces is a consistent theme throughout the book, since Larsen uses Clare to explore the liminal space of “passing” and being part of both black and white communities. As the book goes on, it becomes clear that the in-between-space Clare occupies, although beneficial in many ways, also takes an enormous toll on her emotionally.

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You can’t know how in this pale life of mine I am all the time seeing the bright pictures of that other that I once thought I was glad to be free of….It’s like an ache, a pain that never ceases.

Related Characters: Clare Kendry / Bellew (speaker), Irene Redfield
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

Clare writes this quote in her second letter to Irene, describing the pain she feels at her alienation from the black community. Clare has received many privileges through passing, including insulation from racial violence, financial security, and the ability to spend time in all-white spaces. However, despite these benefits, Clare is still clearly extremely unhappy and feels tremendously lonely. When Clare describes her life as “pale,” she plays on the idea of paleness as both a complexion and a lack of vibrancy. Through Clare, Larsen conveys the psychological toll that passing can take on black people.

Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

White people were so stupid about such things for all that they usually asserted that they were able to tell; and by the most ridiculous means: fingernails, palms of hands, shapes of ears, teeth, and other equally silly rot. They always took her for an Italian, a Spaniard, a Mexican, or a Gypsy. Never, when she was alone, had they even remotely seemed to suspect that she was a Negro. No, the woman sitting there staring at her couldn’t possibly know.

Related Characters: Clare Kendry / Bellew, Irene Redfield
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

A kind stranger has dropped Irene off at the Drayton (an all white hotel in Chicago) after Irene nearly fainted from heatstroke while souvenir shopping. Here, Irene is sitting at the Drayton sipping tea and reflecting on the fact that nobody there can tell that she is black.

Irene expresses her belief that the idea of being able to definitively determine someone’s race through a series of physical clues is stupid. Irene associates this folly with white people, whom she describes as being obsessed with decoding race through specific physical features or body parts. Irene takes pleasure it the fact that no white person ever succeeds in guessing her race when she is alone, and she revels in being the example that disproves the idea that, by scrutinizing physical features, someone can definitively determine another person’s race.

Irene’s resistance to the idea that race can always be read through physical clues is radical because race, at least in the imagination of 1920s America, was understood to be a series of discreet categories rooted in physical and genetic difference. Passing as white challenges the very idea of race because it suggests that race is uncontainable in strict physical categories.

Her lips, painted a brilliant geranium red, were sweet and sensitive and a little obstinate. A tempting mouth. The face across the forehead and cheeks was a trifle too wide, but the ivory skin had a peculiar soft luster. And the eyes were magnificent! Dark, sometimes absolutely black, always luminous, and set in long, black lashes. Arresting eyes, slow and mesmeric, and with, for all their warmth, something withdrawn and secret about them. Ah! Surely! They were Negro eyes! Mysterious and concealing. And set in that ivory face under that bright hair, there was about them something exotic. Yes, Clare Kendry’s loveliness was absolute, beyond challenge, thanks to those eyes which her grandmother and later her mother and father had given her.

Related Characters: Clare Kendry / Bellew, Irene Redfield
Page Number: 190-191
Explanation and Analysis:

As Irene and Clare drink iced tea together and catch up at the Drayton after their chance meeting, Irene takes in Clare’s beauty, describing each part of her face in detail. This quote demonstrates one of the many instances in which Irene expounds upon Clare’s beauty, trying to make sense of her striking combination of features. Irene’s obsession with Clare’s beauty becomes quite noticeable as the book goes on, so much so that it transcends platonic aesthetic appreciation and approaches erotic desire.

Irene’s sexual attraction to Clare is even apparent in this quote. For example, Irene describes Clare’s mouth as “tempting,” suggesting that Irene is imagining kissing Clare. Meanwhile, Clare’s eyes “mesmerize” her, as they seem to contain something “withdrawn and secret” about them. By evoking language about enclosure and secrecy, Irene’s thoughts seem illicit, forbidden—like the possibility of Irene’s desire for Clare.

Moreover, although Irene has previously dismissed the idea of determining race through physical features, she entertains it here by referring to Clare’s “negro eyes.” Irene attributes Clare’s beauty to the interplay between her light hair and skin and her dark eyes, suggesting that Irene is attracted to the fact that Clare has an “exotic” look—Clare does not correspond to traditional beauty standards.

Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

Later, when she examined her feeling of annoyance, Irene admitted, a shade reluctantly, that it arose from a feeling of being outnumbered, a sense of aloneness, in her adherence to her own class and kind; not merely in the great thing of marriage, but in the whole pattern of her life as well.

Related Characters: Clare Kendry / Bellew, Irene Redfield, Gertrude Martin
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

Irene has reluctantly gone to have tea with Clare, and when she arrives, Clare brings her into a room where Irene finds one of their mutual childhood acquaintances, Gertrude. Here, the narrator is expressing Irene’s frustration with Gertrude and Clare, who both married white men and seem to think that their choice was superior to Irene’s choice to marry a black man.

Interestingly, Irene being the only one in the room to have married a black man makes her feel “a sense of aloneness.” Later, when Clare begins to spend more time with Irene, Clare expresses how deeply lonely she feels in her marriage to John, a white man. Irene feels judged and, in this instance, lonely for not having a part in white society, while Clare feels lonely for having lost her place in the black community. It’s notable that both Irene and Clare’s senses of alienation come because of their choices in marriage.

It’s awful the way it skips generations and then pops out. Why, he actually said he didn’t care what color it turned out, if I would only stop worrying about it. But, of course, nobody wants a dark child.

Related Characters: Gertrude Martin (speaker), Clare Kendry / Bellew, Irene Redfield
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

Gertrude says this as she, Irene, and Clare discuss their marriages and children over tea in Chicago. Both Gertrude and Clare are married to white men and have light-skinned children, while Irene is married to a black man and has one son who has light skin and one who is dark. Gertrude and Clare both admit to their anxiety during pregnancy about the possibility of having dark-skinned children.

Gertrude’s husband, unlike Clare’s husband, knows that she is black, and so Gertrude does not need her children to be light skinned in order to keep her own race a secret. Moreover, Gertrude clearly states that her husband did not care what their children looked like. Still, Gertrude clearly expresses a preference for light-skinned children, and she even actively disparages dark children, calling the way skin pigmentation can skip generations “awful” and saying harshly “nobody wants a dark child.”

Although it’s possible that Gertrude simply wants light-skinned children so that they may experience more privileges by passing as white, Gertrude’s negative language suggests that her preference comes from deeply internalized racism. The racist beauty standards of American society have so influenced Gertrude’s thinking that she thinks of blackness as aesthetically unappealing.

He roared with laughter. Clare’s ringing bell-like laugh joined his. Gertrude, after another uneasy shift in her seat, added her shrill one. Irene, who had been sitting with lips tightly compressed, cried out: “That’s good!” and gave way to gales of laughter. She laughed and laughed and laughed. Tears ran down her cheeks. Her sides ached. Her throat hurt. She laughed on and on and on, long after the others had subsided.

Related Characters: Clare Kendry / Bellew, Irene Redfield, John/Jack Bellew, Gertrude Martin
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene takes place after John has come home and, not knowing that Irene, Gertrude, and his own wife are all black, he called Clare a racist slur in front of them. John then explains that it is an inside joke between them. John laughs at his own joke, and the rest of the women begin to laugh, as well, for a variety of different reasons. Clare and Gertrude seem to be laughing to keep John from finding their silence or disapproval suspicious. Irene, meanwhile, bursts out with genuine laughter, but not because she thinks that John’s joke was funny. Rather, Irene laughs because of the irony of the moment—John, who hates black people, has no idea that he is drinking tea with black women, and, in fact, has married one.

The irony of the moment could certainly be perceived as funny, but it is also extremely dark. This scene shows how humor, rather than creating commonalities between people, can be disturbing and divisive and can expose gaps in empathy and understanding. At the same time, though, the humor is necessary—both practically, so the women do not reveal Clare’s secret, and emotionally, because there are few other options for dealing with the bleak situation.

Oh no Nig…nothing like that with me. I know you’re no nigger, so it’s all right. You can get as black as you please as far as I’m concerned, since I know you’re no nigger. I draw the line at that. No niggers in my family. Never have been and never will be.

Related Characters: John/Jack Bellew (speaker), Clare Kendry / Bellew
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:

John Bellew speaks this quote just after the uncomfortable laughing incident, as Irene, Gertrude, and Clare struggle to deal with John’s racism. Clare has just asked John if, after all their years of marriage, it would matter to him if it turned out that she had even a little black ancestry.

John insists that it would matter, repeating variations of the slur “nigger” four times as he does so. He insists that he will have “no niggers in [his family].” Of course, this is incredibly ironic because John is unwittingly married to a black woman, and the father to a child who is part black. At the same time, John makes it very clear that he would not tolerate finding out the truth about Clare, which reveals the danger of Clare’s situation. Interestingly, John separates skin color from race (he tells Clare he doesn’t care what her skin color is, as long as she’s not a “nigger”), and in doing so he undermines the very idea of race being based in a difference in skin-color. While John’s racism is clearly dangerous, it is also highly mockable and almost amusingly hypocritical, reflecting Larsen’s sense that even the darkest, most dire subjects can be jokes.

Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

Clare had come softly into the room without knocking and, before Irene could greet her, had dropped a kiss on her dark curls… Redfield had a sudden inexplicable onrush of affectionate feeling. Reaching out, she grasped Clare’s two hands in her own and cried with something like awe in her voice: “Dear God! But aren’t you lovely Clare!”

Related Characters: Irene Redfield (speaker), Clare Kendry / Bellew
Page Number: 224-225
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Irene is upstairs in her room when Clare drops by. Clare enters the room and, as described in this quote, kisses Irene on the head. Irene reacts to Clare’s kiss with “a sudden inexplicable onrush of affectionate feeling,” then holds Clare’s face and tells Clare that she is “lovely.”

Irene’s reaction to Clare’s physical touch is extremely emotional, especially considering that nothing similar ever occurs in the book between Irene and Brian (in fact, they never kiss, while Clare kisses Irene several times). Irene feels an “onrush of [affection]” and has “awe” in her voice as she compliments Clare, despite the fact that Irene professes to dislike Clare. This intimate moment serves as more evidence of the possibility that Irene harbors erotic and romantic feelings for Clare.

Irene…had the same thought that she had had two years ago on the roof of the Drayton, that Clare Kendry was just a shade too good-looking. Her tone was on the edge of irony as she said: “You mean because so many other white people go?”

Related Characters: Irene Redfield (speaker), Clare Kendry / Bellew
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Clare is asking Irene about the Negro Welfare League dance, which Irene is helping to organize. Clare has just remarked with surprise that white people attend the Negro Welfare League dance, and she has asked if she can go, too. Irene clearly feels threatened by and jealous of Clare’s beauty, and in an attempt to slight her, Irene asks if Clare wants to go “because so many other white people go.”

Although Irene knows that Clare has black ancestry and grew up in a black community, Irene is essentially implying that Clare is a white person. This question, clearly intended to be hurtful, shows the precariousness of racial identity for someone like Clare who is white-passing. Clare is not “black enough” according to Irene, and this could be for a multitude of reasons: the fact that Clare is so light-skinned, that she pretends she has no black ancestry in public, or that she benefits from white privilege. Meanwhile, to Clare’s racist husband, any black ancestry would make Clare wholly black in his eyes and would cause him to reject her. This scene between Irene and Clare showcases the difficulty of navigating society as someone who is straddling two racial identities, and who, as a result, is not totally welcome among either black or white people.

You didn’t tell him you were colored, so he’s got no way of knowing about this hankering of yours after Negroes, or that it galls you to fury to hear them called niggers and black devils. As far as I can see, you’ll just have to endure some things and give up others. As we’ve said before, everything must be paid for.

Related Characters: Irene Redfield (speaker), Clare Kendry / Bellew, John/Jack Bellew
Page Number: 231
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Irene and Clare are talking about Clare’s marriage to John Bellew. Clare has just expressed her martial frustration and despair, saying that she would like to kill John. Irene dryly responds that capital punishment is still the penalty for murder, and then lectures Clare about her own culpability in her situation.

Irene’s condescending response puts the blame for Clare’s situation on Clare, as Irene reminds Clare that she has subjected herself to John’s racism since she never told him about her race. Irene’s belief that “everything must be paid for” reflects Irene’s sense that by living as a white person and benefitting from white privilege, Clare must sacrifice her black identity and community—to Irene, it’s ridiculous for Clare to expect to hold onto both. Larsen shows the reader how passing can be both beneficial and damaging to the individuals that choose to pass as white, helping them financially and socially but damaging them psychologically.

Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

I think what they feel is—well, a kind of emotional excitement. You know, the sort of thing you feel in the presence of something strange, and even, perhaps, a bit repugnant to you; something so different that it’s really at the opposite end of the pole from all your accustomed notions of beauty.

Related Characters: Irene Redfield (speaker), Clare Kendry / Bellew, Hugh Wentworth
Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:

Irene says this to Hugh as they discuss the connection between race and beauty. Hugh remarked that he thinks that white women prefer to dance with dark-skinned black men instead of with white men. Irene counters Hugh’s thesis with this thought, reframing what Hugh described as attraction as “emotional excitement.”

Irene’s view of the social phenomenon that Hugh describes suggests that white women are attracted to dark-skinned black men because of an attraction to what is “strange,” forbidden, and even a little bit “repugnant” to them. Irene notes how beauty standards, rather than being purely aesthetic, are inflected through the societal view of race. White women’s attraction to black men, Irene hypothesizes, comes from their sense that these men are the opposite of what they are “supposed” to want.

Since Irene and Hugh were just talking about Clare, the reader might imagine that Irene is still thinking of Clare as she describes this attraction. Irene could easily be describing her own queer attraction to Clare as she talks about feeling the object of her desire is the opposite of what she should be expected to want. Moreover, if Irene is using her own attraction to Clare to analyze this phenomenon, her sense of attraction paired with “repugnance” could be due to her own internalized homophobia.

Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

“Children aren’t everything…There are other things in the world, though I admit some people don’t seem to suspect it.” And she laughed, more, it seemed, at some secret joke of her own that at her words.

Related Characters: Clare Kendry / Bellew (speaker), Irene Redfield, Margery
Page Number: 240
Explanation and Analysis:

Clare says this to Irene as she and Irene discuss the fact that Clare is leaving New York in March. Clare laments her impending departure and wonders if she can find a way to stay. Irene, not wanting Clare to stick around, reminds Clare that she will finally be able to see her daughter Margery, who has been at school in Switzerland for a long time. Clare, however, who has very different views of motherhood than Irene does, waves off this notion, telling Irene “children aren’t everything” and then laughing. Irene bristles after hearing this, believing that Clare is making fun of her.

This scene highlights the two women’s extremely different experience of parenting—Clare does not especially enjoy motherhood, and thinks of her identity as separate from her role as a parent. For Irene, on the other hand, her children are her entire world. Clare’s laughter and Irene’s woundedness at Clare’s mocking tone show how differently the two women view parenthood. While Clare feels that she can joke about it, Irene thinks parenting is serious, and therefore cannot be made humorous.

Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

Did you notice that cup…It was the ugliest thing that your ancestors, the charming Confederates, ever owned…What I’m coming to is the fact that I’ve never figured out a way of getting rid of it until about five minutes ago. I had an inspiration. I had only to break it, and I was rid of it forever. So simple!

Related Characters: Irene Redfield (speaker), Clare Kendry / Bellew, Brian Redfield, Hugh Wentworth
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

Irene says this to Hugh Wentworth during the tea party at her house. Irene has just begun to suspect that Brian and Clare are having an affair, and as she watches them talk, she becomes so upset that she drops her teacup, which smashes on the floor. When Hugh takes the blame for the cup breaking, Irene assumes—in a somewhat convoluted way—that he does so because he knows that Irene suspects Brian’s infidelity. To try to regain her dignity, Irene makes up the story above.

Irene uses race to cover up her suspicions, saying that the cup was Confederate and implying that that is part of the reason that she thinks that it’s ugly. In this moment Irene, as she often does, is displacing her own emotional reactions by using charged concepts (like race and motherhood) to distract from them or explain them. Although Irene does care a lot about race, as with motherhood, she is clearly willing to use it for her own means, in order to shape how others see her.

Moreover, the cup’s fall, and Irene’s comment that “I had only to break it, and I was rid of it forever,” foreshadow Clare’s fall to death later in the book, and Irene’s possible culpability in it. If there is a parallel between the two, then Larsen may be suggesting that, as with the cup, Irene uses race and motherhood as larger excuses to obscure her personal dislike of Clare. In this moment, the reader sees Irene explicitly narrating her own life in a way that is unreliable, emphasizing the unreliability of the narrative according to Irene’s perspective in general.

Part 3, Chapter 2 Quotes

She was caught between two allegiances, different, yet the same. Herself. Her race. Race! The thing that bound and suffocated her…Irene Redfield wished, for the first time in her life, that she had not been born a Negro. For the first time she suffered and rebelled because she was unable to disregard the burden of race. It was, she cried silently, enough to suffer as a woman, an individual, on one’s own account, without having to suffer for the race as well.

Related Characters: Clare Kendry / Bellew, Irene Redfield
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Irene is contemplating her complex, conflicting feelings towards Clare, who she believes is having an affair with Brian. Irene feels conflicted because she is ideologically and emotionally committed to solidarity among black people, and so she feels that she cannot expose Clare’s lie about her race. While Irene has often found purpose and community in this solidarity, she now feels that her obligation to protect other black people is “suffocating,” which makes Irene wish for the first time that she weren’t black and therefore didn’t have a responsibility to her race. Larsen draws attention to the frustration that black people might feel in being caught between a commitment to advancing and supporting other black people and a commitment to their own desires.

Irene also brings up her suffering as a woman, which she rarely emphasizes during the rest of the book. It is unclear whether Irene is simply bringing up womanhood as a way to make her self-pitying more convincing, since Irene often uses larger social roles or issues to obscure her individual emotions and responsibilities. It’s also possible that the aspects of womanhood that Irene has up until this point narrated without complaint are, in fact, oppressive to her. For example, while Irene consistently asserts that she loves motherhood, she also clearly feels an intense pressure to be a perfect mother (think of how she risks heatstroke to find the right coloring book for Ted). When Clare describes mothering as “the cruelest thing,” Irene actually agrees with her, suggesting that, despite her insistence that she loves mothering, Irene might also find motherhood constraining.

Additionally, Irene’s obsession with security, and consequential need to maintain her marriage, imply the fact that, for women in the 1920s, being unmarried could be dangerous or at the very least extremely difficult. Irene lacks income of her own, she finds herself tied to Brian without any romance because, without him, Irene would find herself completely financially insecure.

Part 3, Chapter 3 Quotes

Above everything else she had wanted, had striven, to keep undisturbed the pleasant routine of her life. And now Clare Kendry had come into it, and with her the menace of impermanence.

Related Characters: Clare Kendry / Bellew, Irene Redfield
Page Number: 262
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Irene thinks about the potential consequences that Clare and Brian’s alleged affair could have on her carefully curated life and routine. Irene clearly blames this supposed affair on Clare, rather than splitting the blame between Clare and Brian (or even on herself for her lack of communication and care for her husband). Moreover, Irene is not upset about the idea that Brian’s infidelity might mean that he doesn’t love her, or that it might indicate the hollowness of their marriage. Rather, Irene is worried about maintaining the structure of her life, even if the content of it is a sham. It’s also worth noting that Clare’s potential threat to Irene’s relationship is not only because of the alleged affair; Clare has also upended Irene’s world because of Irene’s attraction to her.

To Irene, Clare is a “menace of impermanence,” and she represents a disruption to the architecture of Irene’s world. In the novel, Clare generally is a figure who disturbs preexisting notions of the limits and conditions of reality (including as they pertain to sex and race). As Clare undermines black-and-white views of race and sex, she challenges not only Irene’s marriage, but also the very structure of society.

Part 3, Chapter 4 Quotes

Drearily she rose from her chair and went upstairs to set about the business of dressing to go out when she would far rather have remained at home. During the process she wondered, for the hundredth time, why she hadn’t told Brian about herself and Felise running into Bellew the day before, and for the hundredth time she turned away from acknowledging to herself the real reason for keeping back the information.

Related Characters: Clare Kendry / Bellew, Irene Redfield, Brian Redfield, Felise Freeland
Page Number: 265
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote describes how Irene’s mind wanders after her fight with Brian over their parenting choices. Irene’s thoughts stray into ruminating, again, about running into John Bellew with Felise. Irene’s mental state is clearly deteriorating by this point in the book. Whereas before Irene loved to socialize, she now dreads getting dressed and leaving the house.

This description of Irene’s thought process also highlights how deeply unreliable Irene’s perspective is; here, Irene admits to the reader her own tendency to omit thoughts that make her uncomfortable. While the narrator notes that Irene “turned away from acknowledging to herself the real reason” that she didn’t tell Brian about her run-in with John, the book—like Irene—never specifies what those reasons are. However, the reader can probably guess what those reasons might be (complex feelings of contempt and jealousy for Clare, and possibly attraction as well), Irene cannot face her own emotions. This quote reveals Irene to be someone who is deeply repressive of her own impulses and desires.

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Clare Kendry / Bellew Character Timeline in Passing

The timeline below shows where the character Clare Kendry / Bellew appears in Passing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...letter is postmarked from New York City. Irene, knowing it is from a woman named Clare Kendry, thinks the letter is just like Clare — “always on the edge of danger.” (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
As Irene looks at the letter, she imagines Clare as she knew her when she was a child, calmly and defiantly sewing a dress... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Irene then remembers the day Bob died in a saloon fight, when Clare was fifteen years old. She thinks of Clare standing and looking with “disdain” at his... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...her attention to the letter, opens the envelope and begins to read. The letter expresses Clare’s desire to see Irene again and to join Irene’s community—requests that Irene immediately wants to... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...Irene continues to struggle, and then the woman laughs. Immediately, Irene identifies the woman as Clare Kendry. Irene is shocked. Clare orders two teas and cigarettes as Irene calculates that it... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Irene then remembers that, after her father died, Clare went to live with family in a different part of Chicago. Clare used to visit... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...Irene suspects that there was more to the story. She later heard many rumors about Clare’s whereabouts. Among the stories was the tale that Clare had been seen dining in a... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Irene expresses her surprise at seeing Clare, who says she is not, in fact, surprised to see Irene. Clare says that she... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Humor Theme Icon
Irene defends herself for having not thought of Clare, telling Clare that, like everyone, she is very busy with her present life. Clare says... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Humor Theme Icon
Clare tells Irene that it was these rejections that made her decide not to go back... (full context)
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Clare then asks Irene to tell her about her life, and if she is married. They... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...Irene jumps up and says she must go. Irene remembers that she has not asked Clare anything about herself, but realizes she does not really want to know. Irene debates whether... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Motherhood, Security, and Freedom Theme Icon
Clare begs Irene not to go, and asks to see her again, saying she will be... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Irene then impulsively invites Clare to go to Idlewild (a lake resort that, unlike most 1920s resorts, allows black visitors)... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Irene has the feeling that Clare is mocking her, but is not sure why. But she admits to herself that she... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Still, Irene does not leave. She is curious about Clare’s life, and her choice to pass in white society, but unsure how to ask about... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Irene is shocked that Clare has not had to explain her background, and Clare seems amused by her surprise. Clare... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Clare goes on to describe her aunts, who were poor and religious, and felt morally obligated... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Clare describes her determination to get away from her aunts. Clare then tells Irene that when... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Clare then talks about meeting her rich white husband, John, and how her aunt’s shame about... (full context)
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
Clare gets teary at the idea of Irene’s father asking about her, and explains that she... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Clare returns to the subject of passing, asking Irene if she ever thought about trying to... (full context)
Beauty and Race Theme Icon
Sex, Sexuality, and Jealousy Theme Icon
As Irene observes Clare, fascinated by her choices, she thinks that Clare has always had a somewhat arrogant manner,... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
Clare asks if Irene can see her on Monday or Tuesday, and Irene tells Clare that... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...and on her way back to her father’s house, she thinks over her encounter with Clare, harboring mixed feelings of irritation and pleasure. Irene is annoyed that she promised to make... (full context)
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...house, thinking about what her father’s reaction will be when she tells him about seeing Clare. Irene then realizes that Clare did not tell Irene her married name, and that Clare... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Passing, Black Identity, and Race Theme Icon
...cloudy and foggy, which Irene sees as another reason why she should not go see Clare. Clare rings Irene’s telephone incessantly all morning. Each time, Irene tells her father’s housekeeper Liza... (full context)
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Irene tries to tell Clare she cannot see her, but Clare begs Irene to come have tea, reminding her that... (full context)
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When Irene arrives at Clare’s place, Clare greets her with a kiss, and smilingly tells her how glad she is... (full context)
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Gertrude, a mutual childhood acquaintance, greets Irene. Irene thinks about how Gertrude, like Clare, married a white man. Unlike Clare, however, Gertrude’s husband knows that she is black. Irene... (full context)
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...the tea party, she will admit to herself that she felt outnumbered. Both Gertrude and Clare have married white men, while Irene married a black man, and thus stayed in the... (full context)
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Irene agrees, and asks how Clare found Gertrude. Clare says she looked up the contact information for Gertrude’s father’s store—a butcher... (full context)
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Clare tells Irene that Gertrude told her before Irene arrived about her two twin boys, and... (full context)
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Clare tells them she will not have any more children because she was so terrified during... (full context)
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Clare tries to smooth things over, saying that black people think too much about skin pigment,... (full context)
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Gertrude tells Clare that Claude Jones converted to Judaism, and says she would “die laughing” if she saw... (full context)
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Clare is embarrassed, and backpedals, but then says she is surprised Irene would have expected them... (full context)
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Irene is about to leave when Clare’s husband John arrives. Irene observes his appearance as he walks in, noticing he is not... (full context)
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Clare introduces John to Gertrude and Irene, and then asks if Irene and Gertrude heard her... (full context)
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Clare pours tea for John and asks him if it would matter to him, after their... (full context)
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Irene asks John if he dislikes black people, and John responds that he and Clare both hate them, so much so that Clare will not even allow them to have... (full context)
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...mounts, but she does not say anything because she knows it would be dangerous for Clare. Clare gently tries to steer John away from the subject, saying it will bore them,... (full context)
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Irene is still furious, but out of allegiance to Clare, she tries to collect herself, and they calmly discuss Irene’s life in New York, and... (full context)
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...nastily on the fact that there are lots of black people in South America before Clare cuts him off. John backs off and asks Gertrude about her life in Chicago. As... (full context)
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Clare offers Irene more tea, but Irene refuses and says she must go. Everyone stands up,... (full context)
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On the street, Gertrude exclaims that Clare must be crazy to be living in that situation, and Irene agrees that it seems... (full context)
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...the tea party, and her own contemptuous anger. She tries to decode the look on Clare’s face as she said goodbye, which seemed ambiguously threatening. Later than night, Irene continues to... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
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...day Irene is to leave from Chicago for New York, she receives a letter from Clare. She tells herself she will not read it, as she is busy and does not... (full context)
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...The letter thanks Irene for her visit, and acknowledges that Irene must be thinking that Clare should never have asked her to come. Clare says, though, that the visit made her... (full context)
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Afterward, Irene thinks she will never see Clare again, and that if she does, she will ignore her. Irene turns her thoughts back... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
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...present, in her home in New York, holding the second letter she has received from Clare, several years after their meeting in Chicago. In this letter, Clare expresses her desire to... (full context)
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...day in Chicago, which was so humiliating and hurtful to her. Irene thinks that, if Clare had wanted to retain her connections to the black community, she should have thought of... (full context)
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...the face of John’s racism. However, Irene knows that she did not want to betray Clare, and feels a loyalty to her as member of her race. Irene acknowledges that Clare... (full context)
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As she pulls on her stockings, Irene swears to herself not to indulge Clare. Irene’s husband Brian walks into the room, jokingly says that he has caught her swearing,... (full context)
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Brian looks up from the letter and asks if Clare is the same girl that Irene saw in Chicago last time she was there (clearly,... (full context)
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...didn’t, but Irene says she “can’t see it.” She tells Brian she will write to Clare that day and put an end to the matter. (full context)
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Irene then expresses surprise that Clare wants to spend time with her at all, given John’s terrifying racism. Brian cuts her... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
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Five days after Irene has received Clare’s second letter, she still has not replied. Irene notices that Clare has asked for Irene’s... (full context)
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Irene later decides that it is better anyway to not answer Clare’s letter, thinking that Clare will get the message that way. Irene imagines Clare might write... (full context)
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...then knocking on her bedroom door. Zulena stands in the doorway and tells Irene that Clare is there to see her. Irene hesitates, and then tells Zulena to bring Clare upstairs.... (full context)
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Clare enters the room without knocking and kisses Irene on the head. Irene feels a sudden... (full context)
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Irene tells Clare that she did not respond because she does not think Clare should risk being caught... (full context)
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Clare becomes irritated, and tells Irene emphatically that she does not care about being safe. Irene... (full context)
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...out her cigarette, feeling resentful, but her voice sounds pitying as she expresses sympathy for Clare, saying she did not realize that was how she felt. Clare begins to cry, and... (full context)
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Irene tells Clare that no one is completely safe, happy, or free, and Clare points out that that’s... (full context)
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...is for her, and that Hugh Wentworth is on the other end. Irene apologizes to Clare and picks up the phone in her room. Irene talks to Hugh for a few... (full context)
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Clare asks why they come, and Irene says that some come for the reason Clare is... (full context)
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Clare becomes upset and curses John, saying that she expects she will kill him one day.... (full context)
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Irene then invites Clare to meet her sons, and together they go upstairs. Clare stands in the doorway and... (full context)
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Clare leaves, and Brian calls Irene to tell her he will be home late. Irene is... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
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...lists events that Irene remembers, starting with when Irene tells Brian about the fact that Clare is coming to the Negro Welfare League dance. Brian smiles contemptuously to mask his annoyance. (full context)
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The next memory is Irene coming downstairs just before the dance to find Clare standing in the living room with Brian. Clare wears a black taffeta dress and looks... (full context)
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In the car, Clare expresses her excitement, which annoys Irene. Once they are at the dance, Irene watches Clare... (full context)
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...to figure out the “name, status, and race” of a certain beautiful blond woman, meaning Clare. Irene explains that they are childhood friends, and that Clare had mentioned wanting to meet... (full context)
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Hugh remarks that Clare is dancing with more black men than white. Meanwhile, he says, all the white women... (full context)
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...says they will have to talk about it more sometime in the future. Hugh says Clare is the perfect example of Irene’s theory. (full context)
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Then Hugh lights a cigarette and asks if it’s true that Clare is a perfect example, implying that she might not be as white as she appears.... (full context)
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...the end of the dance, Brian offers to drop Irene off first and then take Clare home. Irene tells him he does not have to do so, because Irene asked Bianca... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
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...in many respects in Irene’s mind, it does mark the beginning of her friendship with Clare. After the dance, Clare often visits the Redfield household. Despite this new friendship, Irene remains... (full context)
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Still, Irene does not request that Clare stop coming. Brian seems to tolerate Clare with amusement, and has stopped worrying about the... (full context)
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Clare sometimes attends social events with Irene and Brian, and occasionally goes with Brian alone if... (full context)
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Margery, meanwhile, is already back in Switzerland for school, and Clare and John plan on returning there in the spring. The idea of going back upsets... (full context)
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Clare changes her tone and agrees with Irene, apologizing for poking fun at her. Clare reaches... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
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...will, as usual, be late. Irene thanks him for waking her. Brian informs Irene that Clare is already downstairs, and Irene responds with annoyance, saying that she did not invite her.... (full context)
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...her. Irene tells Brian that Hugh prefers intelligent women, and Brian asks if Irene thinks Clare is stupid. (full context)
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...Brian sees this comment as somewhat catty, but Irene objects, saying that no one admires Clare’s brand of intelligence, as well as her “decorative qualities,” more than she does. Irene then... (full context)
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After a moment of silence, Brian admits to having invited Clare to the party. Irene is furious, and as she speaks, her voice has a strange... (full context)
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Irene completely changes her tune and tells Brian she is glad that Clare is coming. Brian returns downstairs. Irene tells him she will be right down, and Brian... (full context)
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...does not have to think about the possibility that Brian is cheating on her with Clare. The guests make small talk, and Irene responds to questions about a decoration that Brian... (full context)
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...tells Felise they are fine. Felise tells Irene she is going to go talk with Clare, who is sitting by herself, and who she wants to invite to a party. (full context)
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Felise, before leaving her, comments that Clare looks stunning. Irene agrees, and takes in Clare’s fine clothes. Irene spots Hugh across the... (full context)
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...makes social plans with the party guests, but feels apathetic and tired. She eavesdrops on Clare talking to Dave Freeland, and hears Clare’s charming compliments to Dave. Irene notes that Clare... (full context)
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Irene thinks again about the possibility that Brian and Clare are sleeping together, and wonders what will happen to her and the boys if that... (full context)
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...that Hugh has covered for her. She thinks he realizes that Irene is jealous of Clare and suspects infidelity. Irene wants to dissuade him from this suspicion, so Irene steels herself,... (full context)
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Irene makes small talk with Clare, which the narrator tells using only conversation fragments spoken by Irene. The clock chimes, and... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
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Although in the previous section Irene thinks that she can live with Brian and Clare’s (unsubstantiated) affair, and it does not matter, the narrator states in this section that it... (full context)
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...so she should not assume he is doing so now. Irene wonders why Brian inviting Clare has caused her to be so jealous and suspicious. Anyway, Irene thinks, if they are... (full context)
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...it was so busy, because it kept her from thinking too much about Brian and Clare. Irene is also happy that Clare has not been around much because John was home... (full context)
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Irene tells herself that Brian’s behavior is not necessarily because of Clare, but she wishes it were Spring already, when Clare will be on her way back... (full context)
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Irene entertains the idea of telling John that Clare is black in order to get Clare out of her life. However, Irene feels that,... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3
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...about the fact that, if she had introduced John to Felise, John might realize that Clare has been spending time in Harlem and take her away. Irene thinks that it was... (full context)
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Irene wonders if she should tell Clare that she has run into John, since, although Irene did not betray Clare, he still... (full context)
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...tries to read, but is too distracted. She wonders what might happen if John divorces Clare, and thinks that it “if Clare were free” it would be the worst outcome. Irene... (full context)
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...realizes that, above all, she wants to keep her routine with him, and worries that Clare will ruin it. Irene prays that March, when Clare will leave, will come soon. She... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4
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...silence. Then she watches the snow falling out the window until Zulena tells Irene that Clare is on the phone and wants to speak with her. Irene asks Zulena to take... (full context)
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...he said “don’t expect me to give up everything.” She thinks he might have meant Clare. She tries to talk herself down from this idea. Irene remembers that Clare will soon... (full context)
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Clare arrives at the house, looking beautiful, while Irene is still getting dressed. Clare kisses Irene... (full context)
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...so she does not have to look at herself in the mirror. She then asks Clare if she has thought about what it would mean for her if John ever found... (full context)
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Irene is determined not to reveal her thoughts and worries to Clare. She tells Clare to go downstairs and talk to Brian. As Clare gets up and... (full context)
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At this point, Irene acknowledges that she is completely certain that Clare and Brian are having an affair, and that she is beyond trying to convince herself... (full context)
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...sure Brian stays with her, despite the fact that she now wholeheartedly believes Brian and Clare are having an affair. Irene thinks it is better to share him and close her... (full context)
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After a page break, Brian, Clare, and Irene are arriving at the party at the Freelands’. Brian asks Clare if she... (full context)
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Clare asks why Felise lives on the sixth floor, and Irene responds that Felise says it... (full context)
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...Redfield, and asks what is wrong with John. John enters the room and walks toward Clare. Clare, meanwhile, backs away from him. John calls Clare a “nigger.” At the sound of... (full context)
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Clare stands by the window, surprisingly composed and smiling slightly. Her smile infuriates Irene, who runs... (full context)
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Everyone except Irene rushes downstairs. Irene sits down and processes the fact that Clare has fallen out the window. Irene is shocked, and wonders if the others think Clare... (full context)
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...with the rest of them. Irene panics when she thinks that it is possible that Clare might not be dead, and feels sick at the idea that her beautiful body might... (full context)
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...on Dave, looking sick. Irene walks to Brian, who looks deeply upset. Irene asks if Clare is dead, not managing to completely get the words out, and Felise responds that Clare’s... (full context)