December 6, 1900: The Watchman
In the Realm of Fiction
In the House Behind the Cedars, Charles W. Chesnutt has made a larger venture than in his short stories which, brought together in the volumes entitled "The Conjure Woman" and "The Wife of his Youth," won for him deserved recognition. This more pretentious work, a novel of nearly 300 pages, deals with the race problem, but does not so well sustain the interest as the short stories, some of which were of unusual excellence. It takes a peculiar gift to write a good short story, and it is a common experience that one who has this gift does not succeed so well with the novel. Mr. Kipling is a conspicuous example of this fact. The motive of the present work is the apparently insurmountable barrier between the white and black races, even a tinge of African blood serving to separate its possessor from the proud white. A young Southerner falls desperately in love with a beautiful girl whom he supposes to be white. A fortnight before the date set for the wedding he discovers accidentally that she is not of white blood altogether, and the shock leads him to break off his engagement in cruel wise. This ruins his life and that of the young woman, who, by the way, has been practicing deceit in assuming to be white. The end of the tragedy is her death, after long suffering, while he, repentant and still a lover, seeks too late to regain her, blood or no. It is doubtful if the effect of such a story as this tends to do away with race prejudice. The conditions are improbably, and the almost white girl, the unrecognized daughter of a Southern white, is hardly a fair representative of the race for which Mr. Chesnutt seeks to gain recognition. To say this is not to deny to the story much of merit and interest. (Houghton, Mifflin & Co. $1.50.)
Rev. of The House Behind the Cedars in "In the Realm of Fiction," The Watchman 81 (Dec. 6, 1900): 24.