Authors: James Branch Cabell

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and essayist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Eagle’s Shadow, 1904

The Cords of Vanity, 1909

The Soul of Melicent, 1913 (republished as Domnei, 1920)

The Rivet in Grandfather’s Neck, 1915

The Cream of the Jest, 1917

Jurgen, 1919

Figures of Earth: A Comedy of Appearances, 1921

The High Place, 1923

The Silver Stallion, 1926

Something About Eve, 1927

The White Robe, 1928

The Way of Ecben, 1929

Smirt, 1934

Smith, 1935

Smire, 1937

The King Was in His Counting House, 1938

Hamlet Had an Uncle, 1940

The First Gentleman of America, 1942

There Were Two Pirates, 1946

The Devil’s Own Dear Son, 1949

Short Fiction:

The Line of Love, 1905

Gallantry, 1907

Chivalry, 1909

The Certain Hour, 1916

The Music from Behind the Moon, 1926


The Jewel Merchants, pb. 1921


From the Hidden Way, 1916


Branchiana, 1907

Branch of Abingdon, 1911

Beyond Life, 1919

The Judging of Jurgen, 1920

Taboo, 1921

Joseph Hergesheimer, 1921

Straws and Prayer-Books, 1924

Some of Us, 1930

These Restless Heads, 1932 (contains two short stories and personal reminiscences)

Special Delivery, 1933

Ladies and Gentlemen, 1934

Of Ellen Glasgow, 1938

The St. Johns, 1943 (with A. J. Hanna)

Let Me Lie, 1947

Quiet, Please, 1952

As I Remember It, 1955

Between Friends: Letters of James Branch Cabell and Others, 1962 (Margaret Freeman Cabell and Padraic Colum, editors)

The Letters of James Branch Cabell, 1975 (Edward Wagenknecht, editor)


The Biography of the Life of Manuel: The Works of James Branch Cabell, 1927-1930 (18 volumes)


James Branch Cabell (KAB-uhl) was born in Richmond, Virginia, on April 14, 1879. He attended the College of William and Mary, graduating with high honors in 1898, and studied journalism in Richmond. After two years, from 1899 to 1901, with the New York Herald, he returned to Richmond and, while working as a genealogical researcher, began the publication of his fictional writings in short stories and novels. Cabell’s first major popular success was delayed until the publication of Jurgen in 1919; then, ironically, popular attention came largely because the book was charged with obscenity in a case that reached the New York State Supreme Court. The publicity attracted both critical and popular attention, and Cabell enjoyed huge success throughout the 1920’s. Cabell was a romanticist, but one with a difference; he was romantic in his subject matter but ironic in his conclusions. He was witty and erudite.{$I[AN]9810000242}{$I[A]Cabell, James Branch}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Cabell, James Branch}{$I[tim]1879;Cabell, James Branch}

James Branch Cabell

(Library of Congress)

By 1927, Cabell believed that a distinct phase of his writing was coming to a close, and he prepared the Storisende Edition of his collected works under the title The Biography of the Life of Manuel: The Works of James Branch Cabell. The whole series of eighteen volumes is an interrelated saga of Dom Manuel of Poictesme and tells of characteristic traits passed by him to his descendants. The Biography of the Life of Manuel covers centuries in time and has settings in both Europe and America. After 1930, further books by the author were to appear over the signature of Branch Cabell until, in 1942, he resumed using his full name.

Rearranged in time sequence, the books that make up The Biography of the Life of Manuel are integrated in such a way as to tell the richly involved story of a swineherd, Manuel. During the medieval period, he becomes ruler of the mythical kingdom of Poictesme in what is now the south of France. Progenitor of numerous descendants and characteristics, Manuel after death becomes the legendary basis of a cultural faith; he eventually reappears on earth.

Making up The Biography of the Life of Manuel are Cabell’s novels, short stories, poems, plays, and essays. Among the novels, Figures of Earth: A Comedy of Appearances presents the story of Manuel’s origin in mythic Poictesme, his rule, and his death; The Silver Stallion traces the legendary growth of Manuel as a redeemer who is worshiped by later generations. Jurgen, the most famous individual novel by Cabell, tells the story of a middle-aged pawnbroker who, seeking his wife, Lisa, dons a magic shirt which allows him to return to his youth and enjoy associations with famous beauties of fiction and myth. He eventually returns to his commonplace life and to his wife. The High Place tells the story of Florian de Puysange, who grasps the ideal romantic goal only to renounce it. The Rivet in Grandfather’s Neck and The Cream of the Jest both tell satirically of Poictesme-like romantic ideals in the American South. Cabell’s reiterated theme seems to be that an ideal as a goal to strive for is more stimulating and satisfying than an ideal actually achieved.

After 1934, Cabell published three trilogies, none of them adding greatly to his fame as a novelist: The Nightmare Has Triplets, composed of Smirt, Smith, and Smire; Heirs and Assigns, made up of The King Was in His Counting House, Hamlet Had an Uncle, and The First Gentleman of America; and It Happened in Florida, made up of The St. Johns, There Were Two Pirates, and The Devil’s Own Dear Son.

In 1913, Cabell married Priscilla Bradley, who bore him one son and who died in 1949; in 1950, Cabell married Margaret Waller Freeman. In his later years, he and his wife spent much of their time in Florida. During the late 1930’s and the 1940’s, Cabell’s popular and critical position was in eclipse, but Edmund Wilson, a perceptive critic, writing in 1956, began a revival of interest in Cabell’s writings which lasted two decades. When Cabell is now remembered, it is usually as a neo-Victorian aberration, a fantasy writer, or a failed precursor to later, more perfect practitioners of the southern gothic style. Nevertheless, Cabell was one of the most influential writers of his time.

BibliographyBrewer, Frances J. James Branch Cabell: A Bibliography of His Writings, Biography, and Criticism. 1957. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971. Compiled with Cabell’s revisionist assistance.D’Ammassa, Don. “James Branch Cabell: No Fit Employment for a Grown Man.” In Discovering Classic Fantasy Fiction: Essays on the Antecedents of Fantastic Literature, edited by Darrell Schweitzer. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1996. Essay on Cabell’s fantasy fiction is part of a collection of essays focusing on the exploration of the origins of the modern fantasy genre. Contributors discuss how late nineteenth and early twentieth century writers’ creation of places and people who could exist only in the imagination laid the groundwork for subsequent novels by J. R. R. Tolkien and others.Davis, Joe Lee. James Branch Cabell. New York: Twayne, 1962. Reliable biography also presents analysis of Cabell’s writings. Includes a list of bibliographical references.Duke, Maurice. James Branch Cabell: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979. A most useful guide, in a chronological format, to the writings about Cabell; spans reviews to full-length studies.Ginés, Montserrat. “James Branch Cabell: Quixotic Love, the Exercise of Self-Deception.” In The Southern Inheritors of Don Quixote. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000. Analyzes the work of five southern writers–Cabell, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Walker Percy–whose fiction expressed the ideals and spirit of Don Quixote. Describes how the writers were sympathetic to idealistic characters who tilted at windmills and points out the similarities between the Spain of Miguel de Cervantes and the social and economic conditions of the American South.Himelick, Raymond. James Branch Cabell and the Modern Temper: Three Essays. New York: Revisionist Press, 1974. Explores realism and romance, the fact and the dream, in Cabell’s novels. Himelick sees Cabell as an antiromantic whose novels convey his understanding of life as a “grotesque comedy.”Inge, Thomas M., and Edgar E. MacDonald, eds. James Branch Cabell: Centennial Essays. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983. Compilation of essays, originally presented at a celebration of the centennial of Cabell’s birth at Virginia Commonwealth University, provides both biographical information on the author and critical analysis of his works. Includes a bibliographical essay.MacDonald, Edgar E. James Branch Cabell and Richmond-in-Virginia. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993. Very detailed, authoritative biography focuses on how Cabell was influenced by living in Richmond, Virginia, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. MacDonald is a senior Cabell scholar at the James Branch Cabell Library at Virginia Commonwealth University. Includes an excellent bibliography.Riemer, James D. From Satire to Subversion: The Fantasies of James Branch Cabell. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989. Devotes separate chapters to The Cream of the Jest, Jurgen, Figures of Earth, The High Place, The Silver Stallion, and Something About Eve–these books, Riemer argues, represent Cabell’s greatest achievements. Includes an introduction that provides a good overview of the writer’s career.Tarrant, Desmond. James Branch Cabell: The Dream and the Reality. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967. Critical study of Cabell’s work examines the author as mythmaker. Discusses both Cabell’s early and later writings.Van Doren, Carl, H. L. Mencken, and Hugh Walpole. James Branch Cabell: Three Essays. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1967. Valuable contribution to studies on Cabell presents criticism of a very high standard–both erudite and entertaining–by three eminent authors. Included in the appendix is a sampling of reviews of Cabell’s works.
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