Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Poictesme (PWA-tem). Imaginary medieval French realm whose name is derived from the cities of Poictiers (modern Poitiers) and Angoulesme (modern Angoulême), although it lies in the south of France, along the Mediterranean coast, on the Gulf of Lions. It corresponds geographically to the modern district of Gard, overlapping Herault and Bouches-Du-Rhone. It is a central location in many works of James Branch Cabell’s eighteen-volume Biography of the Life of Manuel (1927-1930), the story of the pig-keeper who ruled Poictesme and of how his “life” continued on for twenty-odd generations of descendants.

Based in part on country resorts in Virginia where Cabell passed time as a young man, Poictesme is a pleasant country of fields, forests, and mountains. Among its walled cities and castles is the capital, Storisende, the home of Manuel’s heirs. They hold Poictesme in feudal bond from Horvendile, an immortal demiurge, who may be senior to the creator of the world. Horvendile is also, however, the alter ego of Felix Kennaston, the author of the fiction in which Horvendile appears at the beginning of the book. But it is not clear if Horvendile is Kennaston’s representative or Kennaston Horvendile’s, nor is it clear if Poictesme is purely a fancy of Kennaston’s or if, in his world, it is a historical place. He calls it the “one possible setting for a really satisfactory novel,” but he himself is a descendant...

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The Cream of the Jest Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Davis, Joe Lee. James Branch Cabell. New York: Twayne, 1962. Considers all of Cabell’s works as confessional pieces and intensely personal romantic flights of fancy. Allots a central role to The Cream of the Jest.

Inge, Thomas M., and Edgar E. MacDonald, eds. James Branch Cabell: Centennial Essays. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983. A compilation of essays that were presented at Virginia Commonwealth University, 1979, in commemoration of the centennial of Cabell’s birth. Valuable biographical information and criticism.

McDonald, Edgar. “James Branch Cabell.” In Supernatural Fiction Writers: Fantasy and Horror, edited by Everett F. Bleiler. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985. A compact commentary on the author’s excursions into fantasy.

Tarrant, Desmond. James Branch Cabell: The Dream and the Reality. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967. A Jungian analysis that considers Horvendile and Ettarre as archetypal images.

Wells, Arvin. Jesting Moses: A Study in Cabellian Comedy. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1962. Relates Cabell’s work to the tradition of French satirical fabulation that descends from François Rabelais to Anatole France.