Mr. Chesnutt in his new novel enters the lists once more as the champion of the colored race, and in a forcible story emphasizes the pathetic anomaly of the ineradicable taint of a single drop of African blood flowing in the veins of a man or woman, no matter how beautiful, fair or gifted.
The scene of the story is placed in North Carolina, a few years after the Civil War. Two young people, brother and sister with a quadroon mother and a gentleman father, are stamped with the badge of an inferior race, though bearing no trace of the dark strain. The boy, ambitious and clever, leaves home and studies law, winning success, but, always as a white man. He fetches his sister, grown into a beautiful girl, and she, too, takes her place in the circle as a white woman. The secret is carefully concealed, and even when on the eve of marriage with a young white man Rena still keeps the secret, rather than involve the fortunes of her brother and his son.
An accident, however, betrays her, and the young man, bred in strong racial prejudice, turns from his love in horror and forswears it forever. Rena goes back to her old home and devotes herself to the uplifting of her race. But love is too strong and real to be set aside. The young lover rises above race distinctions and social prejudice. He follows Rena to offer reparation. He arrives too late. She dies, surrounded by the faithful people for whom she has suffered so greatly. The book, thus briefly outlined, is rich and picturesque in treatment. The old Southern judge, a gentleman of the old school; the honest young negro, Frank; the quadroon mother, devoted to her white children and to the memory of their white father, and other figures in the drama, are portrayed in sharp, clear lines. The story calls out the strongest, most sympathetic protest against a condition irremediable for many years to come, if not forever. Mr. Chesnutt deals impartially with the problem and without rancor, suggesting no solution beyond the ancient, every young law of Christ, and the substitution of love for hate and cruel injustice.
Rev. of The House Behind the Cedars. "New Publications." Public Ledger. 13 December 1900: 6.