Cover image for Lyrics of sunshine and shadow : the tragic courtship and marriage of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore : a history of love and violence among the African American elite
Lyrics of sunshine and shadow : the tragic courtship and marriage of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore : a history of love and violence among the African American elite
Alexander, Eleanor (Eleanor C.)
Publication Information:
New York : New York University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
x, 243 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
The child is the father of the man -- To escape the reproach of her birth and blood -- The wooing -- One damned night of folly -- Parted.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS1557 .A76 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



A New York Times Notable Book of 2002!

On February 10, 1906, Alice Ruth Moore, estranged wife of renowned early twentieth-century poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, boarded a streetcar, settled comfortably into her seat, and opened her newspaper to learn of her husband's death the day before. Paul Laurence Dunbar, son of former slaves, whom Frederick Douglass had dubbed "the most promising young colored man in America," was dead from tuberculosis at the age of 33.

Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow traces the tempestuous romance of America's most noted African-American literary couple. Drawing on a variety of love letters, diaries, journals, and autobiographies, Eleanor Alexander vividly recounts Dunbar's and Moore's tumultuous affair, from a courtship conducted almost entirely through letters and an elopement brought on by Dunbar's brutal, drunken rape of Moore, through their passionate marriage and its eventual violent dissolution in 1902. Moore, once having left Dunbar, rejected his every entreaty to return to him, responding to his many letters only once, with a blunt, one-word telegram ("No").

This is a remarkable story of tragic romance among African-American elites struggling to define themselves and their relationships within the context of post-slavery America. As such, it provides a timely examination of the ways in which cultural ideology and politics shape and complicate conceptions of romantic love.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

The literary darlings of African American society in their day, authors Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) and Alice Ruth Moore (1875-1935) were frequently compared to the Brownings. They were hailed as the "ideal pair," the model to which African American couples might aspire. In reality, however, their relationship was far from ideal: Dunbar, a heavy drinker and womanizer, raped Moore during their engagement and beat her during their marriage. This behavior finally led to their divorce in 1902. Alexander (history, Georgia Inst. of Technology) offers an engaging study of the couple's courtship and marriage in light of the social customs of the period, both within and outside the African American community. She demonstrates the deleterious effects of race, class, and gender on the concept of romantic love at the turn of the century, skillfully blending her analysis with the couple's letters, poems, and autobiographical statements, allowing them, for the most part, to tell their story in their own words. This book should appeal both to general readers and to scholars. Highly recommended. William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.