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Chesnutt in the Classroom

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THE PHILADELPHIA PRESS, SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 1900

IN THE WORLD OF BOOKS

Critical Notes and Comments on Some of the Latest Publications

It is strange that the race question should be one of the most tardy of modern problems to find place in contemporary fiction. Few of the riddles which confront American society lend themselves so readily to artistic presentation or contain so essentially the elements of beauty, pathos, tragedy. Three or four authors notably Kingsley, Howells and Cable-have attempted stories along such lines, but only in a more or less experimental and desultory sort of way and with only partial success. It has remained for one by nature better qualified to sympatathize with such a theme to make it the avowed purpose of his literary labors. This writer is Charles W. Chesnutt, and his latest book, "The Wife of His Youth, and Other Stories of the Color Line" (Houghton, Mifflin & Co.), promises well for his ability in the treatment of his chosen subject. The task of convincing most white readers is difficult. The lovely quadroon girl is easy enough to exploit, but to excite sympathy for the male of the species even with a surrounding of his own "mance"-perhaps even more because of this surrounding-requires a great deal of skill. That Mr. Chesnutt has notably accomplished, this is not likely to be forgotten by any who read the title story of the present collection when it appeared in the "Atlantic." The faults in the telling of many of the tales are faults of a beginner, and these are easily hidden by the powerful conception which brings home to the reader the terror of the half-blood, the man and woman neither white nor black, who, feeling that the one race does not want them and that the other is below them, are so quickly ground beneath the upper and the nether millstone.

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Review of The Wife of His Youth. In: "The World of New Books," The Philadelphia Press. 3 February 1900: 9.