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Poictesme

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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, along the Mediterranean Sea’s Gulf of Lions. Poictesme corresponds geographically with France’s modern district of Gard, overlapping Herault and Bouches-Du-Rhone. Poictesme is a central location in many of the novels in James Branch Cabell’s eighteen-volume The Biography of the Life of Manuel, of which Jurgen is a part. It is a pleasant country of fields, mountains, and forests (some haunted), and walled cities with castles, including Storisende (“story’s end”), the capital.

Cabell based Poictesme partially on country resorts in Virginia where he passed time as a young man among the elegant gentry of the South.

Garden Between Dawn and Sunrise

Garden Between Dawn and Sunrise. Place inhabited by the illusions of youth and idealistic love, including Dorothy La Désirée, sister of the ruler of Poictesme, as she was when Jurgen first loved her. The garden reflects Cabell’s ambivalence toward the vision of the eternal feminine glimpsed by naïve, adoring love: It is a necessary ideal, humankind’s window to transcendence, as well as a great deal of fool nonsense.

Amneran Heath

Amneran Heath. Unwholesome and magical place, with an entrance to a troll’s cave. At the end of the book, Jurgen finds Koshchei—the creator of the world—at the back of the cave, working in a small office; however, he gets no satisfactory explanations of life or of himself from the dim and overbusy creator.

Cameliard

Cameliard (kah-MEEL-yard). Capital of Glathion, the realm modeled on Arthurian romances, that is home to Queen Guenevere and the chivalric ideal that everything one possesses is on loan to devote to the service of god, king, and woman. It is an ideal that Jurgen cannot grasp. With chivalry comes courtly love, which is essentially illicit or adulterous and, to Jurgen, hypocritical. His affair with Guenevere is winked at so long as it does not become public knowledge and ruin her marriage to King Arthur.

Cocaigne

Cocaigne (koh-KAYN). Island realm of eternal evening ruled over by Dame Anaïtis (whose name is an anagram of “Insatia”), the Lady of the Lake. A place of pagan hedonism whose law is do whatever seems good to you. However, Jurgen tires of endless indulgence in the “curious pleasures” he finds “disappointing and messy.” Cocaigne’s name comes from the medieval French for the “land of Cockaigne,” an imaginary land of pleasure, eternal youth, and endless sweets—presumably just as cloying.

Leuke

Leuke. Island ruled by Queen Helen of Troy, who is now married to Achilles. Its capital, Pseudopolis (Greek for “unreal city”), is the home of the classical tradition at its most noble and ethereal. Helen, like Dorothy, is the transcendent loveliness always sought, but lost when it is won. When Jurgen has a chance to reveal Helen’s full beauty by drawing her coverlet away while she sleeps, he refrains, leaving the ideal unattained.

Philistia

Philistia. Land at war with Pseudopolis; a satire of contemporary American culture. Philistia’s law is do whatever seems to be expected of you. Its gods are Sephra, Ageus, and Vel-Tyno, anagrams of “phrases” (representing catch phrases), “usage” (conformity), and “novelty” (faddishness).

Hell

Hell. Hell exists to assuage the pride of sinners, specifically Jurgen’s father, Coth, who think he deserves the direst of punishments. In Hell, whatever Coth believes becomes real. Cabell uses the episode to show how human beings insist on their beliefs, which then shape the world around them: People are the cause of their own suffering. In Hell, which is fighting a war with Heaven, the religion is patriotism, and the government is an enlightened democracy—Cabell’s satire of America’s government by the masses and of the jingoistic extremism of Americans during World War I, which ended while he was writing this book.

Heaven

Heaven. Contiguous to Hell, Heaven (and its God) was created by Koshchei to satisfy Jurgen’s grandmother, Steinvor, who insisted on an afterlife fitting her religious beliefs, and to honor her capacity for selfless love. Jurgen finds he loves and fears God, but cannot believe in Him. Even sitting on God’s throne, he still does not know what he wants. Our beliefs and expectations shape what we find, perhaps all that we can perceive, even of good; unable to believe, Jurgen cannot be satisfied.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 241

Attebery, Brian. The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature: From Irving to Le Guin. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980. Places Cabell in the larger context of American literature, comparing and contrasting him specifically with science fiction writer Edgar Rice Burroughs. A perceptive and ground-breaking study.

Carter, Lin. Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy. New York: Ballantine Books, 1973. Discusses Cabell and Jurgen in relation to a tradition extending from the ancient epics to literature of the early 1970’s. An appreciation rather than a rigorous analysis.

Davis, Joe Lee. James Branch Cabell. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1962. Treats Jurgen as a volume in Cabell’s series “The Biography of the Life of Manuel” and ranks him with such internationally known writers as George Bernard Shaw and André Gide. The obvious starting point for anyone interested in Cabell.

Fiedler, Leslie A. “The Return of James Branch Cabell: Or, The Cream of the Cream of the Jest.” In James Branch Cabell: Centennial Essays, edited by M. Thomas Inge and Edgar E. MacDonald. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983. An informal essay praising Cabell for writing what Fiedler ironically labels “juvenile trash” (as opposed to “high art”). Jurgen is also discussed in many of the other essays in this collection.

Riemer, James D. From Satire to Subversion: The Fantasies of James Branch Cabell. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989. Evaluates a handful of Cabell’s best fantasies, including Jurgen, and concludes that he successfully merges satire and subversion. Useful secondary bibliography.

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