Chesnutt's Works





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THE INTERIOR February 22, 1900


THE WIFE OF HIS YOUTH And Other Stories of the Color Line, by Charles W. Chesnutt. A year ago last summer a short story in The Atlantic Monthly, by an unknown author, created the sensation of the month in literary circles, and fixed in the minds of many readers, for a long time to come, the name of a new writer of great promise. A month or so later it was announced in literary journals that Mr. Chesnutt is a very successful lawyer, of mixed white and negro lineage, resident in Cleveland, Ohio. Some little time ago a volume of short stories of the Southern negro and his peculiar folk-superstitions, was published by Mr. Chesnutt under the title of "The Conjure Woman." Now comes these nine other stories, one of which is the pathetic tale which introduced Mr. Chesnutt to "Atlantic" readers eighteen or twenty months ago. These stories are all, as the sub-title says, "of the color line"-the problems offered by the advance of many of the blacks to places of social and industrial preferment, and by the intermarriage and co-education of the two races. Without doubt the negroes had a great many sorrows in the old regime of slavery, but equally without doubt have they had a good many sorrows which are not commonly taken account of, in their as yet by no means successful efforts to adjust themselves to the new order of things wherein they are no longer bond, yet not quite, even in a bold, constitutional sense, "free and equal" with all men of white descent. Mr. Chesnutt has probably experienced some of these difficulties, but one would never suspect as much from his writing. He does indeed make some strong pleas for the poor negro, but they are no partisan pleas-hardly are they even passionate, Mr. Chesnutt being that remarkable man who sees the irony of both sides of the burning question. One could scarcely imagine a more deliciously sharp bit of humor, or a better story, than his recital of how Mr. Cicero Clayton handled, "a matter of principle" regarding a brother several shades darker than he. "What our country needs most in its treatment of the race problem," Mr. Clayton used to "orate" at all times when opportunity offered, and sometimes when it did not, "is a clearer conception of the brotherhood of man." Yet the lengths to which Mr. Clayton who sighed pathetically for recognition by his whiter fellows, went to avoid arraigning himself socially with a supposedly blacker fellow, is the acme of delicious irony. This is really the cleverest story in the book, although all are good, with the possible exception of "Her Virginia Mammy," which is not up to the general standard, and is mawkish to boot. "The Sheriff's Children" is a really terrible tragedy of the old regime in the South, "Uncle Wellington's Wives" is a rollicking bit of comedy, and "Cicely's Dream" is a pathetic pastoral. The stories are all readable, and some are eminently good. [Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston.]


Review of "The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line. In: The Interior. [Chicago] 22 February 1900: 242.