James Branch Cabell Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111207066-Cabell.jpg James Branch Cabell (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Born on April 14, 1879, in Richmond, Virginia, James Branch Cabell grew up there as a southern gentleman. His parents—Robert Gamble Cabell II, a physician, and Anne Branch—were both from distinguished southern families. Cabell’s paternal great-grandfather was a governor of Virginia; his paternal grandfather held two claims to fame, having been a schoolmate of Edgar Allan Poe at the English and Classical School in Richmond and later a neighbor and the personal physician of General Robert E. Lee. On his mother’s side of the family, Cabell was related through marriage to a number of prominent Virginia families and was cousin to a governor of Maryland. Fostering Cabell’s aristocratic pride still further was his “mammy,” Mrs. Louisa Nelson, who, in her several decades of service in the Cabell household, doted on James and encouraged him to consider himself a privileged member of society.

Cabell’s outstanding intellect asserted itself early. He performed brilliantly at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, which he attended from 1894 to 1898. His professors suggested that he revise a sophomore paper titled “The Comedies of William Congreve” for publication and later asked him to teach courses in French and Greek at the college. The only blemish on Cabell’s academic career was a scandal during his senior year. One of his professors was accused of having homosexual relations with his students; Cabell, because he had been friends with the man, was briefly implicated. The unpleasant episode had positive repercussions, however, for in wandering about Williamsburg alone and troubled, Cabell met Ellen Glasgow, who had come to town to research the background for a novel. She offered him sympathy, and thus began a lifelong friendship. Soon the charges against Cabell were dropped for lack of evidence, and he graduated with highest honors.

After his graduation, Cabell pursued writing both as a vocation and an avocation. He served as a copyholder on the Richmond Times in 1898, then spent two years working for the New York Herald, and in 1901 he worked for the Richmond News. For the next decade, he worked as a genealogist, traveling around the United States, England, Ireland, and France to examine archives. Not only did this occupation result in two volumes of the Branch family history—Branchiana (1907), a record of the Branch family in Virginia, and...

(The entire section is 993 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Branch Cabell (KAB-uhl) was born in Richmond, Virginia, on April 14, 1879. He attended the College of William and Mary, graduating with high honors in 1898, and studied journalism in Richmond. After two years, from 1899 to 1901, with the New York Herald, he returned to Richmond and, while working as a genealogical researcher, began the publication of his fictional writings in short stories and novels. Cabell’s first major popular success was delayed until the publication of Jurgen in 1919; then, ironically, popular attention came largely because the book was charged with obscenity in a case that reached the New York State Supreme Court. The publicity attracted both critical and popular attention, and Cabell enjoyed huge success throughout the 1920’s. Cabell was a romanticist, but one with a difference; he was romantic in his subject matter but ironic in his conclusions. He was witty and erudite.

By 1927, Cabell believed that a distinct phase of his writing was coming to a close, and he prepared the Storisende Edition of his collected works under the title The Biography of the Life of Manuel: The Works of James Branch Cabell. The whole series of eighteen volumes is an interrelated saga of Dom Manuel of Poictesme and tells of characteristic traits passed by him to his descendants. The Biography of the Life of Manuel covers centuries in time and has settings in both Europe and America. After 1930, further books by the author were to appear over the signature of Branch Cabell until, in 1942, he resumed using his full name.

Rearranged in time sequence, the books that make up The Biography of the Life of Manuel are integrated in...

(The entire section is 695 words.)