THE WIFE OF HIS YOUTH, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE COLOR LINE, BY CHARLES W. CHESNUTT, HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND CO. BOSTON AND NEW YORK, $1.50.
IN this collection of short stories, we find Mr. Chesnutt, already favorably known by his "Conjure Woman," making a series of unique, and most interesting studies into the conditions of life peculiar to the colored people in our country since the Civil War. The Negro, as a subject for writers of short stories has long been popular, but when treated seriously, as he has been now by many and skillful writers, it is the old-time slave who is the ideal Negro; the Negro of the present day with his struggles to shake off the burden of the past, and to adapt, not only himself to his environment, but his environment to himself, is seldom looked upon with any sympathy, and rarely escapes a liberal outpouring of contempt. And yet, to the Negro of to-day, and especially to the educated and well-to-do of the race, life from the cradle to the grave is one continual meeting and settling of perplexities and problems that afford ample material for the exercise of the [End 121] story-teller’s art. These "stories of the color line" touch with great delicacy and sympathy upon many of these perplexities. There is no arraignment of the white race, no effort whatever to fix responsibility for present difficult conditions, only a careful and artistic portrayal of some of those conditions and of the results to which they may lead. Some of the stories, as "A Matter of Principle," "Uncle Wellington’s Wives," and "The Passing of Grandison" show the same vein of humor that runs through the "Conjure Woman"; others are intensely somber in their dealing with the worst phases of the Negro question, notably "The Sheriff’s Children" and "A Web of Circumstance." In the others neither humor nor tragedy is predominant, only the simple pathos that we see in everyday homely virtues and emotions, called out by hard, or new and untried conditions.
Mr. Chesnutt has done much toward fulfilling the hope expressed in our review of his "Conjure Woman," that he use his powers and opportunities in showing to those interested in it the little understood life of the educated part of his own race. No one can read his book of stories without understanding better and coming into fuller sympathy with the Negro of the present day. He has entered into an entirely new field in literature and we can not but hope that he may cultivate it carefully and share with us the fruits of his labors.
A. M. B. Rev. of The Wife of His Youth in "Book Reviews," The Southern Workman 29 (Feb. 1900): 121-22.