Chesnutt's Works





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Of the many writers of the present day, to none is owing higher panegyric than to him who writes of the present conditions. For by knowing them only can be solved the problems of improvement which they include, and in this country of several sections only by reading, can one part have cognizance of the affairs of the other, usually. Such a writer is Mr. Charles W. Chesnutt, and his book the Wife of His Youth and other stories of the color line, deserves to be carefully perused and conned upon by the people of all portions of this great land.

The color problem is one that demands grave consideration and even apprehension for the future. The Negro is passing, slowly to be sure, from his state of sloth and thoughtlessness. He is being aroused to some degree of intelligence. He is beginning to realize his situation of inferior race and to protest it. Still the color line is as strong, or almost as strong as when the Dutch brought the first cargo of blacks to be sold as slaves. It is primarily a social prejudice, the kind most difficult to reform.

Mr. Chesnutt does not undertake the solution of the problem of what to do of an inferior and a superior race. He merely presents the status quo and leaves it to the reader to make his opinion. His presentation is the finest, perhaps, that anyone can discover, for Mr. Chesnutt renders the Negro side not in a way of argument but by showing their condition of mind, how they regard themselves and the whites, and also he delineates the white population of those localities where the Negro troubles are most prevalent.

The Youth of His Wife is, however, one of the exceptions in the matter of locality, for Groveland is well removed from the influences of the south. The story itself reads to be a keen reproach to the mulattoes who, as everyone knows, have a peculiar dislike for those whose veins are devoid of the blood of the whites. In so doing, it presents a splendid character of a man who fears not to do his duty, even though it deprive him of the object of his plans, and perhaps endangers his social prominence. It is most impressively arranged by Mr. Chesnutt who manoeuvres that the man recite his narration to his guests at the ball when he expects to win the heart of a beautiful young woman. He tells his life-story with a dignity which few white men could equal under similar circumstances and dramatically closes by introducing to his wondering friends the black wife of his younger years.

The other stories in the volume are her Virginia Mammy, The Sheriff's Children, A Matter of Principle, Cicely's Dream, The Passing of Grandison, Uncle Wellington's Wives,The Bouquet and The Web of Circumstance, all of which demand attention even as does The Wife of His Youth. The motif which has evidently prompted the author to compose and transcribe them, is that the Negro is a being with emotions, even as is the white man, that for all the prejudice against him, he has with in him, sympathies, affections, which can be utilized to his improvement better than the White man's perpetual menace. (The Wife of His Youth and other stories of the color line, by Charles W. Chesnutt. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston.)


Rev. of The Wife of His Youth in "Books and Authors," Boston Courier 21 Jan. 1900: 2.