A brilliant student born into an elite Virginia family, Cabell was destined both in his personal life and in his writings to challenge staid visions of sexuality and sexual taboo. Among the controversial aspects of his fiction were his interest in the occult and his parodies of modern Southern aristocracy. The latter were often comic treatments of upper-crust society thinly disguised in sexually suggestive allegories of life in the Middle Ages or as refashionings of classical myths. Cabell taught French and Greek and worked in journalism, as a genealogist, and briefly, as a coal miner, before he married Priscilla Bradley Shepherd in 1913.
Cabell became internationally known amid the uproar that followed the publication of his novel Jurgen (1919), a bawdy tale of medieval romance. Cabell and his publisher were placed under indictment by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in January, 1920, for alleged violation of New York’s pornography laws. The case was decided in Cabell’s favor on October 19, 1922. Meanwhile, the publicity and debate engendered by the case made Cabell a central figure of the 1920’s American literary avant garde, with its advocation of freer sexuality and the testing of conventional social boundaries combined with wit and urbane sophistication.
The author of over fifty books, Cabell was also an editor of the Richmond literary Reviewer in the 1920’s and, with Eugene O’Neill, Sherwood Anderson, and others, of the American Spectator during the early 1930’s.