George Washington Cable

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George Washington Cable

The American novelist George Washington Cable (1844-1925) was an important regional writer whose best-received books were set in Louisiana. He was also an early Southern advocate of civil rights for African Americans.

George Washington Cable was born in New Orleans, the son of a Virginia-born father and a mother whose ancestors were New England Puritans. and became the chief support of his mother and her sizable family. He served in the Confederate Army until the end of the Civil War. After working at several small jobs, Cable became a columnist and reporter on the New Orleans Picayune.

In 1869 Cable married Louise Stewart Bartlett, who would be his inspiration and assistant for 35 years. Stories sold to Northern magazines from 1873 to 1878 provided insufficient funds to support dependent relatives and a rapidly growing family (four daughters and a son by 1879), and he dropped writing for a time to work at three bookkeeping jobs. But payment he received for research for the U.S. Census and the success of Old Creole Days (1879), a collection of his stories, enabled him once more to devote full time to writing, the fruits of which were a novel, The Grandissimes (1880). Northern readers who particularly enjoyed regional literature delighted in Cable's uniquely graceful and delicate evocations of New Orleans and Louisiana plantation country.

By contrast, the Creoles, descendants of French or Spanish settlers of the Mississippi Delta country, disliked Cable's representations of them. He was fiercely criticized for having attacked various Southern practices and attitudes (including the treatment of African Americans) in his speeches, articles, and books such as The Grandissimes, Madame Delphine (1881), Dr. Sevier (1884), and The Silent South (1885). During Northern travels, notably a joint reading tour with Mark Twain in 1884-1885, Cable found the atmosphere friendlier, and in 1885 he moved his family (eventually including eight children, seven surviving childhood) to Northampton, Mass., which was destined to be his home until his death.

Cable continued to champion african Americans rights in articles and lectures during years when the cause was not popular even in the North. Although Bonaventure (1888), a collection of stories, contained few social preachments, The Negro Question (1890) attacked racism. He founded the Home Culture Clubs, reading groups which dealt with Southern social problems.

Cable's best work appeared before 1890. John March, Southerner (1895) showed his weakness in portraying an area other than Louisiana, and The Cavalier (1901), though a financial success, was an inferior swashbuckling romance. Gideon's Band (1914) authentically pictures Mississippi River life but is theatrical. After many years of illness, Louise Cable died in 1904. In 1906 Cable married Eva C. Stevenson, who died in 1923; and in that year he married Hannah Cowing, who survived his death on Jan. 31, 1925.

Further Reading

Arlin Turner, George W. Cable (1956), is a splendid full-length biography. Cable's daughter, Lucy Leffingwell Cable Bicklé, stresses family life in George Washington Cable: His Life and Letters (1928). Charles Philip Butcher, George W. Cable (1962), and Edmund Wilson, Patriotic George: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War (1962), provide excellent critical discussions. □

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