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Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 4 October 1889

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  30 Blackstone Bld'g. Dear Mr. Cable:-

Your letter returning the MS. of "Rena Walden"1 and enclosing statement of Gov. Chamberlain's views on the Negro Question was duly received.2 I have tried to answer Gov. Chamberlain's argument on the line you suggested, with what success you can determine from the enclosed type-writer copy, which I made in duplicate, as it was about as easy. It's funny about Chamberlain: he himself led the black vote of S.C. tolerably well, and had hopes, as the recent history of his administration states, of bringing to a successful issue the experiment of providing good government even out of unpromising materials, until his attempt was nipped in the bud by the very methods which he now approves and justifies.

I cannot properly express my thanks to you for your wise and kindly criticism of "Rena Walden".3 Every suggestion is to the point, and I had purposely dodged some of the additional work necessary—because it was hard, and because I wanted to keep the story within a certain length. I suppose, however, it is a species of willful murder to kill a story for lack of words. I have doubts about my ability to make of the story all that you suggest, but I shall do , my best, and then let you see the result. I am glad you think the story a good one in outline; I was afraid it would suffer from the lack of white characters in it. The elaborations you suggest will increase its length several thousand words; indeed, I think it could be rounded out into a "novelette" if not a novel.

I have read of your article in the Congregationalist,4 though I have not had an opportunity to read it. The Christian Church now has a fine opportunity to demonstrate whether it will be really the Church of Christ, and trach[sic] what He taught, or whether it shall be merely a weak reflection of society, A good many people are watching with deep interest the course ofwhich the Congregational and Episcopal churches in this matter.

Very truly yours, Chas. W. Chesnutt. G W Cable Esq Northampton Mass

Correspondent: George Washington Cable (1844–1925) was a reporter, novelist, and critic. He began his career at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, writing nearly one hundred columns in two years. After working on a collection of journalistic essays based mostly on historical accounts, Cable turned to writing short stories, novellas, and novels, typically set in New Orleans. In the 1880s, Cable began lecturing, writing essays, and forming organizations focused on social reform, specifically in the areas of Black rights and prison conditions, and in 1885 he moved to Northampton, MA. Cable and Chesnutt met for the first time in Cleveland, on December 21, 1888, at the Congregational Club's Forefather's Day celebration, where Cable was the principal speaker. They began corresponding immediately, and in mid-1889 Cable offered to employ Chesnutt as his secretary in Northampton, MA; Chesnutt declined. Cable visited the Chesnutt home in the fall of 1889, and for two years, their correspondence was frequent, typically about Cable's political efforts on race issues, Chesnutt's writings, or recent publications. After 1891, they corresponded only occasionally.

1. "Rena Walden" was a short story Chesnutt worked on intermittently over ten years, ultimately becoming the novel The House Behind the Cedars (1900). Between September 1889 and 1890, Chesnutt shared several drafts with Cable, who provided recommendations. It was rejected by The Century and the Atlantic Monthly, in 1890, and in 1891 by Houghton Mifflin as part of a collection Chesnutt proposed and wanted to title "Rena Walden and Other Stories."[back]

2. Daniel Henry Chamberlain (1835-1907) was born in West Brookfield, Massachusetts, served in the Union Army as lieutenant of an African American regiment, and after the Civil War moved to South Carolina. He supported civil rights for African Americans, served as the state attorney general (1868-1872), and as Governor of South Carolina (1874-1877), resigning the position during his reelection campaign against a Democrat who encouraged violence and promised the restoration of White rule. He moved to New York, remained a Republican, and, for many years, supported civil rights. But by the late 1880s he had abandoned this position. Chamberlain was to be a contributor to George Washington Cable's "Open Letter Club." Cable forwarded to Chesnutt with his September 26 letter Chamberlain's essay. Neither Chamberlain's essay nor Chesnutt's response have been located.[back]

3. In George Washington Cable's letter of September 25, 1889, he reviewed Chesnutt's "Rena Walden" manuscript.[back]

4. George Washington Cable published an article, "Congregational Unity in Georgia," in the Congregationalist for September 26, 1889.[back]