The author of "The Wife of His Youth" and "The Conjure Woman," whose short story, "A Victim of Heredity; or, Why the Darkey Loves Chicken," appears in this number of SELF CULTURE MAGAZINE, has lately sprung into prominence as one of the most, if not the most, original of American writers of fiction.
Mr. Chesnutt was born in Cleveland, O., June 20, 1858, of North Carolina parentage. His father served four years on the non-commissioned staff of the Northern army during the Civil War. The family returned to North Carolina after the war, where our author finished his course at school and became a teacher. He followed this profession for ten years /410/ and rose to the position of principal of the State Normal School. In 1883 he went to New York, doing work as a reporter on "The Mail and Express" for some months. He returned to Cleveland in the autumn of the same year and entered the office of the "Nickel Plate" Railroad. After a year and a half of railroad office work he began the reading of law in the solicitor's office of the same company, and was admitted to the bar in 1887. In the same year appeared his first story under the auspices of McClure's Syndicate. His reputation as an expert stenographer brought him profitable employment in the Cleveland courts, though this interfered to some extent with the practice of law. Meantime, his growing literary aspirations drew him still farther from that profession.
His first story in the "Atlantic Monthly," "The Goophered Grape Vine," brought him immediate recognition but his most distinct success was "The Wife of His Youth," published in August, 1898. The two stories are representative of two distinct types of character and of the separate motifs which give to his two collections of short stories such well defined individuality and connected interest. Uncle Julius, whose tales entrance the reader of "The Conjure Woman," is no way inferior to Uncle Remus as a raconteur, and the superstitions which give color to his tales are an interesting contribution to the folk-lore of the South. Mr. Chesnutt works an original field in this series, and works it with skill not inferior to that of Joel Chandler Harris, Thomas Nelson Page, or James Lane Allen.
In "The Wife of His Youth" he touches the pathetic chord and portrays with rare dramatic ability the emotions of sensitive human beings under the ban and thraldom of caste. This is a subject on which Mr. Chesnutt feels deeply. His sympathies are all with the race which suffers so grievously from Anglo-Saxon pride and prejudice both North and South, and he wields his pen as chivalrously in its behalf as ever knight of old wielded his sword.
Mr. Chesnutt has created a favorable impression in platform reading from his own works, and those who have enjoyed the rare pleasure of hearing him interpret his own dialect stories will appreciate the more keenly every new product of his pen. He is working very earnestly, and the readers of SELF CULTURE MAGAZINE are to have the opportunity of enjoying, besides the humorous dialect story which appears in the present number, his first serial-story, a romantic novel of thrilling incidents, of great dramatic interest, of lofty humanitarian aims, and steeped withal in kindly humor, which springs as naturally from his generous spirit as melody springs from the throat of the nightingale.
Hudson, William. "A New Delineator of Southern Life," Self Culture Magazine 11 (July 1900): 409-11.