Chesnutt's Works

Reviews

Bibliography

Manuscripts

Related Links

Home

Chesnutt in the Classroom

Site Info


Conjure Woman Reviews

The above is an excellent portrait [not shown] of the author of "The Conjure Woman," a new book of stories that is attracting wide-spread attention and most favorable comment. Mr. Chestnut's parents were North Carolinians, but he was born here in Cleveland in 1858, where he attended the public sehools until a few years after the war of rebellion, when his parents moved to North Carolina. Here his education was continued. His teachers were Rev. (now a bishop, of the A. M. E. Zion church) C. R. Harris and his brother, Prof. Robert H. Harris (deceased). At thirteen years of age the subject of this sketch was assisting his teacher and others, and at nineteen was appointed an assistant to Prof. Harris. On his (Mr. Harris') death, Mr. Chestnut succeeded him as principal of' the State normal school at Fayetteville, N. C., serving acceptably for three years at odd times studying short hand. When twenty-five years of age, with his wife and children, he went to New York City, where he found employment in a Wall Street news agency. While there he contributed for some time a daily column Wall street gossip to the Mail and Express. In 1883, he returned to Cleveland, procuring, employment in the accounting department of the Nickle Plate Railroad Co. In less than two years he was transferred to the legal department of the road, to the office of Judge Samuel R. Williamson, remaining two years. While there he also read law, being admitted to the bar in 1887. Since, he has practiced his profession in connection with reporting in the courts. In this latter specialty he has held the lead for five or six years. Mr Chestnut's first story was written at fourteen years of age. Since 1884 he has contributed stories to various periodicals-the Atlantic, Independent, Overland, etc. His story, "The Wife of His Youth," published one year ago in the first magazine, attracted wide attention because it was a good one and out of the beaten paths. While Mr. Chestnut has never attended college, he knows something of the classics and of German and French literature and traveled in Europe. Of his four children two are sophomores at Smith college, and a boy is preparing for college.

His recently published volume, "THE CONJURE WOMAN," is an assured success from a critical point of view and promises to become very popular. Like his story mentioned above, it is unique-so different from anything written that this fact alone would attract attention and secure the author a great deal of credit. "The Conjure Woman" contains several stories, all in dialect. These stories tell with accuracy some of the race superstitions in the south before the war of rebellion and especially in North Carolina. The author, it appears, was interested in grape culture in northern Ohio, when it was found advisable to move to a southern climate on account of the failing health of his wife. After thinking of France, Spain and southern California, he finally decided to purchase a plantation in North Carolina, and in searching for a satisfactory one, he came across the "Goophered Grapevine," which is the subject of the first story. The story is related by Julius, an exslave of the old type, who tells how a former vineyard there had fallen away and withered because of the "hoodoo" laid upon it by "the conjure woman." Julius srtrongly advises the writer not to purchase, but the latter was not to be deterred, and he learned afterwards that the old fellow had long reaped a considerable return from the neglected vines. Showing that the narration did not spring from a mere foundation of faith in its truth, but from a motive of questionable selfishness. The stories, through somewhat extravagant, commemorate traditions and events which passed from one generation to another from the earliest history of the race. The second story, "Po' Sandy," illustrates the wildly preposterous imagination of the old slave class. It relates the impossible turning of a man into a tree, who after suffering various forms of torture in perfect silence, was sawed into lumber from which a kitchen was built; in which kitchen no person could remain at night, owing to the hideous moaning and groaning of the boards. "Mars Jeem's nightmre," "The Conjurer's Revenge," "Sis' Becky's Pickaninny," "The Gray Wolf's Ha'nt," and "Hot-Foot Hannibal: are the other stories. In "Sis' Becky's Pickanininny," Mr. Chestnut, lecturing to Julius about "the rabbit foot" superstition so prevalent, said: "Julius, your people will never rise in the world until they throw off these childish suprestitions and learn to live by the light of reason and common sense. How absurd to imagine that the fore-foot of a poor dead rabbit, which he timorously felt his way along thorough a life surrounded by snares and pitfalls, beset by enemies on every hand, can promote happiness or success, or ward off failure of misfortune!"

"The Conjure Woman" is a volume of 230 pages, bound in fine linen cloth with the title stamped in gold, and a unique cover. The book is published by Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston. Local book publishers and sellers handle it also.

Anon. "Mr. Charles W. Chestnut, Esq." Cleveland, The Gazette. (July 15, 1899): 1.