Chesnutt's Works





Site Info

The House Behind the Cedars

"An Unfortunate Heroine"

If the man with the "high-bred features" who wrote a signature on the register of the hotel at Patesville, N. C., had not assumed the name Warwick, then most of the troubles the author of "The House Behind the Cedars" describes would not have occurred. The so-called "Warwick" was John Walden, and through his veins ran negro blood. The romance Mr. Charles W. Chesnutt has written is a singularly distressing one. The theme treated is the not uncommon one of a handsome girl, John Walden's sister, who, on account of her negro origin, suffers all kinds of misfortunes. Mr. Chesnutt presents in an interesting way the claims of our colored brethren, and the injustice done them. The question of social equality is always a difficult one. The beautiful and well-bred Rene always seems to be out of place. George Tyron, the white man, falls in love with her; then by accident learns of her negro origin and breaks with her. Then comes the mulatto Jef Wain. Mr. Chesnutt has no liking for the man who is neither black nor white.

There is no one faithful to poor Rene save Frank Fowler, the negro cooper. He finds Rene by the wayside, ill, bereft of her senses, and he cares for her during her last moments. True is it that: "There are depths of fidelity and devotion in the negro heart that have never been fathomed or fully appreciated." Mr. Chesnutt's two centres, around which the story revolves, are not far enough apart. In the episodes of action the personages are always stumbling over one another. Rene runs away from Tryon, and then falls right into his arms. When the man tries to evade the woman they come once more across each other.

Anon. "Review of The House Behind the Cedars." New York Times Book Review, (December 15, 1900): 931.