James Branch Cabell

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C <h1>James Branch Cabell</h1><blockquote><p><b>The American essayist and writer of romantic fiction James Branch Cabell (1879-1958) played an important part in the battle against sexual taboos in American literature during the 1920s.</b> </p></blockquote><p>James Branch Cabell was born in Richmond, Va., into an aristocratic "Old Dominion" family. He graduated from William and Mary College in 1898, having taught French and Greek there. His first book, <i>The Eagle's Shadow</i> (1904), was a romance attacking contemporary materialism. However, he achieved greater success with <i>The Line of Love</i> (1905), <i>Gallantry</i> (1907), and <i>Chivalry</i> (1909), romantic tales of disillusionment set in the past. Both Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt praised the first of this series.</p><p>Cabell's most productive and popular period came in the 1920s with the continuation of his "Biography of the Life of Manuel." This saga chronicled the career of the pivotal character, Don Manuel, and the history of seven generations of his descendants. <i>The Soul of Melicent</i> (1913), revised as <i>Domnei</i> in 1920, was part of the saga, followed by <i>Jurgen</i> (1919), <i>Figures of Earth</i> (1921), <i>The High Place</i> (1923), <i>The Silver Stallion</i> (1926), <i>Something about Eve</i> (1927), <i>The White Robe</i> (1928), and <i>The Way of Ecben</i> (1929).</p><p>Cabell's best-known and most typical work was <i>Jurgen,</i> the story of a middle-aged pawnbroker wandering through a mythical realm known as Poictesme. When his youth is miraculously restored, Jurgen travels through other imaginary lands searching for "justice." In depicting these countries and the hero's adventures in them, Cabell satirized many contemporary beliefs and attitudes. As he recounted Jurgen's love affairs, he used Freudian symbols to make fun of sexual mores.</p><p>The guardians of American morality were outraged and acted to suppress the book. A hotly contested and widely publicized trial followed; sales of the book soared. Cabell became famous and his novel went through many editions. The publicity also increased the sales of his other books. Cabell fought hard to free literature from rigid values imposed by puritanical society, and for his forthrightness he was much admired. By 1932, however, Cabell's fame had waned, and his later books were not successful.</p><p>In his volumes of criticism, such as <i>Beyond Life</i> (1919), Cabell expounded the theory that fiction should allegorically interpret a dream life superior to sordid and meaningless actuality, thereby enlarging mankind's visions.</p><h2>Further Reading</h2><p>An 18-volume edition of <i>The Works of James Branch Cabell</i> (1927-1930) was published, but no collected edition has added books published after 1930. Isadore Rosenbaum Brussel, <i>A Bibliography of the Writings of James Branch Cabell</i> (1932) is also incomplete. A biographical and critical study which lists later books and perceptively surveys Cabell's career is Joe Lee Davis, <i>James Branch Cabell</i> (1962). Also illuminating are Arvin R. Wells, <i>Jesting Moses: A Study of Cabellian Comedy</i> (1962), and Desmond Tarrant, <i>James Branch Cabell: The Dream and the Reality</i> (1967).</p><h2>Additional Sources</h2><p>MacDonald, Edgar E., <i>James Branch Cabell and Richmond-in-Virginia,</i> Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993. □</p>
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Branch Cabell (James Branch Cabell) (kă´bəl), 1879–1958, American novelist, b. Richmond, Va., grad. William and Mary, 1898. After various experiences as a journalist and a coal miner he began writing fiction. His early works, which are sophisticated novels deriding conventional history, include Gallantry (1907), Chivalry (1909), and The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck (1915). Many of Cabell's most popular novels are set in the imaginary medieval kingdom of Poictesme; among these are The Cream of the Jest (1917), Jurgen (1919)—Cabell's most famous work because of its attempted suppression on charges of obscenity—and The Silver Stallion (1926). Cabell's novels are usually pointedly antirealistic, and many of them can be considered moral allegories. Although he was enormously popular in the 1920s, his highly artifical prose style and subject matter lost favor with critics and public alike by the 1930s. His nonfictional writing includes Beyond Life (1919), The St. Johns (with A. J. Hanna, 1943), and Here Let Me Lie (1947).

See studies by J. L. Davis (1962), D. Tarrant (1967), H. Walpole (1920, repr. 1973), and L. D. Rubin (1959, repr. 1973).