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Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice

Jurgen, cause célèbre

novel cabell dame cave

a novel by James Branch Cabell, published in 1919. Jurgen is the best-known novel from the ambitious, 18-volume ‘Biography of the Life of Manuel’, also known as the ‘Poictesme cycle’, that occupied Cabell from 1905 until 1929. The novel tells the story of Jurgen, a poetical pawnbroker, whose marriage to Dame Lisa is a distinctly soulless affair. Dame Lisa is spirited away to a cave by the Devil; Jurgen, somewhat reluctantly, follows her into the cave where he has many adventures, some of them romantic. The adventures are used by Cabell to dramatize a host of mythical creatures and stories (at one point Jurgen marries a vampire), and, in part, a good deal of the interest of the novel is anthropological and historical. Jurgen was something of a cause célèbre, for on publication it was suppressed for two years by the Comstock Society on grounds of obscenity and indecency; however, the suppression, of course, did much to promote interest in the novel, and the critic H. L. Mencken remarked that ‘every flapper in the land has read Jurgen behind the door; two-thirds of the grandmothers east of the Mississippi have tried to borrow it from me’.

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