Black and White: Shaw and Farleigh’s Perfect Mirroring in Text and Woodcuts

Bernard Shaw’s The Adventures of the Black Girl in her Search for God pairs stark woodcuts with harsh irony and fierce agnosticism. This text, whose critique of major religions caused enough outcry to sponsor five reprints, offers unprecedented texture to religious critique, race relations and feminism. Jessie Carter details in The Negro Journal of 1935,

“Picture if you can a Negro woman, heroine of a religious work, sans Mumbo-Jumbo, sans Jesus, sans tom-tom, sans spirituals, sans nose rings, sans tribal superstition, sans animal skins; in fact, divested of all those peculiar racial and religious worship impedimenta, and you have the unusual personality around which Shaw builds an African religious fable.”

Carter, Jessie. The Journal of Negro History 20.4 (1935): 491-93. Web.

Indeed, a narrative centered around such a character from the mind of a cynical Irishman is not without its problematic and complex context. For the 1930s, Bernard Shaw and John Farleigh as a pairing are worth talking about. While Shaw’s character meets with diverse gods, rejecting “all inadequate deities” with a knobkerry, as the gods become “less and less harsh, younger and younger in physical appearance developing from a savage idolatry and bloodlusty divinity into a metaphysical comprehension,” her image as constructed by Farleigh remains strong, whole, and consistent (Shaw and Farliegh, 3). She anchors each image, but is most central on the cover itself.

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The style of these illustrations seems to mirror the book’s very essence: textured, new, but simple and sure in its convictions.

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First editions of the book are available in the Modern Graphic History Library’s Walt Reed Illustration Archive and in Rare Books. Reprints are available on Amazon  and through MOBIUS if you’re interested in reading this fascinating book.

Shaw, Bernard, and John Farleigh. The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God. 1st ed. London: Constable, 1932.

About the author

Laken Sylvander is an undergraduate pursuing degrees in Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies and French as a member of the class of 2017.