James Branch Cabell Biography

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Who is James Branch Cabell? Information on James Branch Cabell biography, life story and works.

James Branch Cabell

James Branch Cabell; (1879-1958), American author, who wrote more than 50 works of fiction, essays, and reminiscences, of which the novel Jurgen (1919) is the most celebrated. He was born in Richmond, Va., on April 14, 1879, graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1898, and spent most of his life in Virginia. His first book, The Eagle’s Shadow, was published in 1904. He did not become famous, however, until New York City censors attempted to suppress Jurgen on the grounds of its extreme sexuality. He died in Richmond on May 5, 1958.

Cabell avoided the contemporary scene in his fiction. In the 18 novels that comprise his major work, he invented complex dreamlike adventures set in the Middle Ages in the imaginary country of Poictesme. These novels, which include The Eagle’s Shadow and Jurgen, were assembled in 1927-1930 as a kind of history of a Dom Manuel and his descendants. After Jurgen, the most successful works in this series are The Cream of the Jest (1917), Figures of Earth (1921), and The Silver Stallion (1926).

Cabell insisted that he despised realism, and he encouraged his admirers to think of him as a writer of escapist fantasies. Literary critics, however, have found that his allegories have a serious moral purpose. In them, Cabell seems to suggest that though man might strive for perfection, he is bound to a limited existence and to mortal compromises. Only art, in its triumph over time, offers the hope of survival.

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