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James Branch Cabell Biography

(1879–1958), Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, The Eagle's Shadow, The Cords of Vanity

American novelist, born in Richmond, Virginia, educated at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Cabell enjoyed considerable critical and commercial success in the 1920s, largely as a result of the suppression by the Comstock Society of his seventh novel, Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice (1919). Between 1898 and 1902 he worked for various newspapers before beginning ten years of genealogical research in America and Europe. During these years he published his first novel, The Eagle's Shadow (1904), three volumes of short stories, and, in 1909, a second novel, The Cords of Vanity. With The Cream of the Jest: A Comedy of Evasions (1917, revised edition 1923) Cabell came to the attention of the influential critic Burton Rascoe and within a few years he numbered Joseph Hergesheimer, Sinclair Lewis, H. L. Mencken, and Carl Van Vechten among his many admirers. Both Jurgen and The Cream of the Jest belong to the ‘Poictesme cycle’, a series of eighteen linked works dealing with the idealized, mythical country of Poictesme, and centred on Dom Manuel, the founder of Poictesme, whose offspring people Cabell's novels. These works are notable for the fertility of Cabell's imagination and the floridity of his prose. Cabell set his face against both the realist and modernist tendencies in post-First World War American fiction, and consequently became an increasingly marginal figure, critics seeing little beyond whimsy and escapism in his fiction. His other works include the play The Jewel Merchants (1921), three volumes of verse, various volumes of short stories, essays, and recollections, and Joseph Hergesheimer (1920), a study of a close friend. Studies of his works include Edmund Wilson's ‘The James Branch Cabell Case Reopened’ (The New Yorker, 21 April 1956), and James Branch Cabell (1962) by Joe Lee Davis.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Burghers of Calais to Peter Carey Biography