A wholly new and hitherto unexplored field in literature has been opened up by Charles W. Chestnutt in "The Wife of His Youth," published recently with the sub-title "Other Stories of the Color Line." The short stories of which the volume is made up are unique in that they present the negro simply as a human being, without the exaggerated pathos of the "purpose novel," or the equally exaggerated and sometimes fantastic "humor" of the "negro story." The book has found a place in contemporary letters, not only as novel and engaging fiction, but as a contribution to the literature of the race question,--not the least serious problem before the American people for solution.
Mr. Chestnutt has not been without motive in writing the stories which make up the volume. In writing recently to a friend, he said: "The book was written with the distinct hope that it might have its influence in directing attention to aspects of the race problem, which are entirely familiar to those on the weaker side of it, but which have hitherto found no adequate expression. Of course the sermon that is labeled a sermon has to be a good one; but sermons are the most widely read of all books, if they have the strength to stand the test. I have confidence in the book myself, but that might be the author's partiality for his own work."
The value of the book lies, no doubt, in the fact that it brings the colored man, whether white or black (a startling paradox that Mr. Chestnutt explains), into view as simply a human being, as one of a race crying, "We are men of like passions with you," differing in temperament and emotions in degree only, not in kind. As Richard Henry Stoddard has said of the book: "It simply aims to interest us in him as an individual human being, without regard to the straigtness or kinkiness of his hair, or the amount of negritude in the color of his skin."
"Literary Notes" in "Literary Department," Colorado Springs Gazette 18 Feb 1900: 10.