THE RIVET IN GRANDFATHER’S NECK, James Branch Cabell’s third novel and the fourteenth volume in the Storisende Edition of his works, deals with the American descendants of Count Manuel of Poictesme. Subtitled “A Comedy of Limitations,” the book satirizes the American South and its adherence to the code of chivalry. The title is taken from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of “The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep,” in which two porcelain figures who are in love attempt to escape after the shepherdess’ grandfather, a porcelain Chinese figure with a nodding head, promises her to a wooden satyr. The shepherdess is frightened by the outside world, and they return. The grandfather had been broken while pursuing them, and his neck was riveted so that he could no longer nod agreement to the satyr’s proposal. In the novel, Musgrave interprets this tale as an allegory about human limitations: everyone has a figurative rivet in his neck, and this signifies the action one cannot perform. Although the outmoded code by which Musgrave lives is satirized, the author also perceived that this code was not without grace and charm. The manner matches the matter. Cabell was an urbane stylist who seems closer to the English wits than to any American writer.
Cabell was a genteel Southern writer caught in the limbo between the crash of the old order following the Civil War and the rise of the Southern Literary Renaissance in the 1920’s. A...
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