Other Literary Forms

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George Washington Cable’s published books include several novels and collections of essays in addition to his short stories. His first novel, The Grandissimes (1880), captured national attention and widespread praise. His essays, although less popular, delineated and criticized social, economic, and political conditions in the South.

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George Washington Cable’s published books include several novels and collections of essays in addition to his short stories. His first novel, The Grandissimes (1880), captured national attention and widespread praise. His essays, although less popular, delineated and criticized social, economic, and political conditions in the South.

Achievements

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George Washington Cable achieved distinction for his realistic portrayal of New Orleans and Louisiana in his novels and short fiction. His Creole works abound with rich details of setting and character, and his attention to the varieties of dialect mark him as a brilliant local colorist. Yet his work also defies this narrow classification. His concern for the rights of African Americans and social conditions in general in the postbellum South inspired a number of essays. He also collaborated with Mark Twain on a series of lecture tours. His novels combine traditional forms such as romance and melodrama with the freshness of Creole detail and careful consideration of the looming social issues of the late nineteenth century. One of the finest regional writers of his day, Cable introduced the exotic Creole South to the rest of the country. He paved the way for later writers, such as William Faulkner, who likewise surpass mere regional identification to present intensely absorbing stories of the human condition.

Other literary forms

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In addition to nine novels, George Washington Cable published a novella, Madame Delphine, and four collections of short stories: Old Creole Days (1879), Strong Hearts (1899), Posson Jone’ and Père Raphaël (1909), and The Flower of the Chapdelaines (1918). He also wrote a dramatized version of one of his novels, The Cavalier. His eight books of nonfiction cover miscellaneous subjects. The Creoles of Louisiana (1884) is a collection of history articles, and Strange True Stories of Louisiana (1889) is a collection of factual stories; both collections are set in Cable’s native state. The Silent South (1885) and The Negro Question (1890) are collections of essays on southern problems. The Busy Man’s Bible (1891) and The Amateur Garden (1914) grew out of Cable’s hobbies of Bible teaching and gardening. A Memory of Roswell Smith (1892) is a memorial tribute to a friend, and The Cable Story Book: Selections for School Reading (1899) is a book of factual and fictional material for children. Cable also wrote magazine articles and a newspaper column.

Achievements

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In his 1962 study of the author, Philip Butcher shows the high position that George Washington Cable held in American literature in the last years of the nineteenth century. In 1884, the Critic ranked him ahead of fourteenth-place Mark Twain on its list of “Forty Immortals.” A cartoon in the May 27, 1897, issue of Life magazine depicted Cable among the ten most popular authors of the day. In the American edition of Literature in 1899, he was tenth on the list of greatest living American writers.

Popular both with critics and with the reading public in his own time, Cable is little known today. His reputation as a writer of fiction rests on three works: the novel The Grandissimes, the novella Madame Delphine, and the collection of short stories Old Creole Days, later editions of which include Madame Delphine as the lead story. Although Dr. Sevier and John March, Southerner contain serious commentary, the three novels that followed in the first decade of the new century are trivial romances. His last two novels, Gideon’s Band and Lovers of Louisiana, signal only an incomplete return to the artistic level and social worth of his first three books. Because much of his energy went into provocative social essays on southern racial problems, into humanitarian reforms in such areas as prisons and insane asylums, into cultural projects, and, as a major source of income, into platform tours, Cable found insufficient time for the fiction he might otherwise have created. Nevertheless, as late as 1918 he published a collection of short stories and a novel, and up to his death in 1925 he was working on still another novel.

Cable was much admired by his contemporaries. William Dean Howells praised him privately and in print. Twain took him as a partner on a reading tour, and for four months (1884-1885) the two shared the stage as they read from their respective works. Cable also read on programs that included Hamlin Garland, James Whitcomb Riley, Eugene Field, and other popular writers of the day.

Popular in Great Britain as well, Cable was invited to England by Sir James Barrie for the first of two trips abroad (1898, 1905). For nearly three months in 1898, he traveled and visited in the homes of Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Henry James, and other well-known figures. He was an interesting conversationalist, an effective speaker, and an entertaining performer. His British friends arranged for him to read his fiction, play a guitar, and sing Creole-black songs in their homes and in public halls. Andrew Carnegie, his host at Skibo Castle, was so impressed with Cable’s personality and writing that he later bestowed a lifetime pension on him. Among his honorary degrees was the doctorate of letters given by Yale University in 1901 to Cable, Twain, Howells, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and other contemporary notables.

Cable’s reputation began to decline before his death and has never recovered. In the 1980’s he was considered too important a writer to be omitted from southern literature anthologies and American literature textbooks, but by the end of the twentieth century he had yet to be deemed worthy of widespread revival.

Bibliography

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Biklé, Lucy Leffingwell Cable. George W. Cable: His Life and Letters. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1928. This biography, written by Cable’s daughter, has the advantage of immediacy to, and intimacy with, the subject. Covers the life of Cable primarily through the many letters that he wrote.

Butcher, Philip. George W. Cable. New York: Twayne, 1962. Literary biography provides a good general introduction to Cable, examining his life in the context of his work and vice versa. Discusses the major phases of Cable’s life—from New Orleans and Old Creole Days to his friendship with Mark Twain to his social and political involvement—in an honest, engaging fashion.

Cleman, John. George Washington Cable Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1996. Critical introduction to Cable’s life and work discusses the author’s major works and the social context within which they were created. Includes chapters devoted to Cable’s advocacy of civil rights for African Americans, his political writing, and his later works of “pure fiction.”

Ekstrom, Kjell. George Washington Cable: A Study of His Early Life and Work. New York: Haskell House, 1966. Focuses on Cable’s Creole fiction, giving much historical, literary, and cultural background to Cable’s early work. In addition to biographical information on Cable’s early years, provides discussion of the literary and nonliterary sources for the Creole short stories and novels.

Elfenbein, Anna Shannon. Women on the Color Lines: Evolving Stereotypes and the Writings of George Washington Cable, Grace King, Kate Chopin. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989. Argues that Cable identified racism with sexism and classism and subverted the traditional literary categories that have segmented white women and women of color. Discusses how in the story “Tite Poulete” Cable moves beyond racism to a consideration of the shared oppression of all women.

Foote, Stephanie. “’The Shadow of the Ethiopian’: George Washington Cable’s The Grandissimes.” In Regional Fictions: Culture and Identity in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001. Examination of Cable’s novel explains the book’s place in American regional fiction. This chapter is part of a larger study that focuses on how Cable’s work and other regional fiction shaped Americans’ ideas about the value of local identity.

Jones, Gavin. “Signifying Songs: The Double Meaning of Black Dialect in the Work of George Washington Cable.” American Literary History 9 (Summer, 1997): 244-267. Discusses the interaction of African American and French Creole culture in Cable’s works. Argues that African American dialect, song, and satire were transmitted to the white community subversively.

Ladd, Barbara. Nationalism and the Color Line in George W. Cable, Mark Twain, and William Faulkner. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996. Demonstrates how the works of Cable and the other writers were influenced by the cultural legacy that French and Spanish colonialism embedded in the Mississippi River Valley and the Deep South.

Petry, Alice Hall. A Genius in His Way. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1988. A literary study focusing on the short stories from Old Creole Days, but opening with a chapter on Madame Delphine, this book is rather scholarly, but accessible to an advanced high school student. The bibliography includes only items cited in the text.

Roberson, William H. George Washington Cable: An Annotated Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1982. An important resource.

Rubin, Louis D., Jr. George W. Cable: The Life and Times of a Southern Heretic. New York: Pegasus, 1979. By Rubin’s own admission, the biography in this book is dependent on the work of Arlin Turner (cited below), but Rubin’s comments on Cable’s works are insightful and informative. Includes complete chapters on the novels The Grandissimes, Dr. Sevier, and John March, Southerner.

Schmidt, Peter. “Romancing Multiracial Democracy: George Washington Cable’s Lovers of Louisiana.” In Sitting in Darkness: New South Fiction, Education, and the Rise of Jim Crow Colonialism, 1865-1920. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008. Chapter on Cable’s last novel is included in an exploration of how southern fiction published from the time of Reconstruction through the end of World War I affected societal reform in the South in regard to race, politics, and education.

Turner, Arlin. George W. Cable: A Biography. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1957. Thoroughly researched biography in many ways set the standard for further Cable studies. Discusses in great detail not only Cable’s life but also his literary work, his political involvement, the geographical contexts of his work, and the important historical events that affected his life and work. Includes extensive bibliography and index.

Turner, Arlin. Mark Twain and George W. Cable: The Record of a Literary Friendship. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1960. Drawing almost exclusively on letters between the two writers, this short volume is useful for its personal insights.

Turner, Arlin, ed. Critical Essays on George W. Cable. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. An important resource. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

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