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April 27, 1899: City and State

THE CONJURE WOMAN. By Charles W. Chesnult.
Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Company.

This little book contains seven most amusing little stories, told in a humorous manner in negro dialect. As the title of the book indicates, the superstitious side of the negro character plays a conspicuous part. The scene is laid in a North Carolina town, and one who has walked, between trains, through one of those sleepy little villages will agree with Mr. Chesnutt that "there brooded over it a calm that seemed almost Sabbatic in its restfulness,--and will at once recognize "Patesville" as the one he has seen.

The individuality of Uncle Julius is well developed. One can see the old darkey spinning his yarns, while he basks in the sun, with a seriousness which leaves a doubt in one’s mind whether belief in his own story inspires it or shrewdness as to its effect upon his audience. The stories remind one of those of Ruth McEnery Stuart, with quite as much humor and knowledge of the negro character; but the idea of the Conjure Woman is quite new, and one is sure to be much more familiar with "Goophering" at the close of this little volume that at the beginning. As for moral, if there is any, it is an old one, and comes incidentally in showing the possibility, in the days before the war, of families being separated at any moment, and the suffering occasioned by it, as in the pathetic little incident of "Sis Becky’s Pickanniny." But in a land where the Conjure Woman can send the baby back to its old "mammy" in any form she wishes (if sufficiently paid) there is nothing serious in the way of moral. "Po’ Sandy" would be a tragedy, if not so grotesque as to make one laugh; but in many of our happiest writers the tear and the laugh have been very near together. So that, whether they are instructive or not, they are undoubtedly amusing, and will serve to cheer a dull afternoon and make one forget the cares of life for a little while.

M. L. D.

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M. L. D., "Literary Notes," City and State [Philadelphia] 6, 21 April 1899: 283.