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
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
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
The Line of Love, 1905
The Certain Hour, 1916
The Music from Behind the Moon, 1926
The Jewel Merchants, pb. 1921
From the Hidden Way, 1916
Branch of Abingdon, 1911
Beyond Life, 1919
The Judging of Jurgen, 1920
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.
James Branch Cabell
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.