George Washington Cable

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541

George Washington Cable, a man of diverse and lively talents, was born in New Orleans in 1844. His father was from an old slaveholding family in Virginia, while his mother came of straitlaced Puritan stock; from this contrast may have stemmed some of the contradictions which later marked Cable’s adult personality and literary career.

In 1859, on the eve of the Civil War, Cable’s father died after a series of business reverses which had brought the family to the brink of poverty. During the next few years, the boy, only fourteen at the time of his father’s death, became the mainstay of the family. In 1863, Cable enlisted in the Confederate cavalry. Twice wounded, he nevertheless served until the end of the war, interspersing his activities as a trooper with self-imposed studies in mathematics, Latin, and the Bible.

For two years after the war, Cable was almost completely incapacitated by malarial fever. Recovering slowly, he began to write for the New Orleans Picayune, doing a regular column called “Drop Shot.” His journalistic career proved short-lived, however, when the paper dropped him for refusing to report theatrical performances. Next, as an accountant and correspondence clerk, he found congenial work with a firm of cotton factors. His marriage in 1869 to Louise S. Bartlett seemed to complete the pattern by which his life would be ordered.

Suddenly, however—and almost by accident—this course was changed. His passion for self-education had led him to develop mastery of French and to dig into the city archives. Among the latter he found numerous fascinating events which he could not resist using as the basis for narratives of his own. When a literary scout, Edward King, examined his papers for Scribner’s Monthly, the result was publication of “’Sieur George” in the October, 1873, issue of that magazine. Old Creole Days, a collection of seven tales, followed six years later. This volume gained for its author instant recognition as a new and interesting interpreter of the South. When the firm for which he worked was eventually dissolved, he seized the opportunity to turn to writing as a full-time occupation. In steady succession appeared The Grandissimes, The Creoles of Louisiana, Dr. Sevier, and The Silent South. Criticism of his views on the South led him in 1885 to establish a home for his family in Northampton, Massachusetts. During his later years in New England, he became a close friend of Mark Twain, with whom he had gone on a celebrated reading tour in 1884, and he continued to write and publish as late as 1918. He died in St. Petersburg, Florida, on January 31, 1925.

A large part of Cable’s remarkable energy went into his varied activities as an advocate of social reform. His Puritan inheritance found its outlet in untiring work as a philanthropist, a religious leader, and a Bible-class teacher; and his outspoken views, especially those regarding justice for blacks, often earned for him the resentment of his native South. Nevertheless, it is as a romanticist that the twentieth century most easily identifies George Washington Cable. His early work, for which he is by now best remembered, has established him as a leading exponent of the “local color” school, and his Louisiana tales have preserved an exotic segment of American life.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 184

After the death of his father, George Washington Cable left school at the age of twelve and worked in a warehouse. During the years he should have been in college he was a Confederate soldier. Ever eager to learn, he read incessantly while in the service. After the war he was a reporter for a short time, then a clerk for a cotton firm while continuing to publish personal essays signed “Drop Shot” for the New Orleans Picayune. In 1873, he met Edward King, who carried copies of his stories to the editors of Scribner’s Monthly. In October of that year Cable’s first story was published, and his first novel was published the following year. Desiring to be closer to literary circles, Cable left the South and settled with his family in Northampton, Massachusetts. He loved the energetic atmosphere of the North, and much of what he wrote about the South after the move lacked the clarity and fire of his earlier work. During a return trip to the South in 1925, Cable died, leaving stories of a period which would never be again.

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