Skip to main content

Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 3 February 1890

Textual Feature Appearance
alterations to base text (additions or deletions) added or deleted text
passage deleted with a strikethrough mark deleted passage
passage deleted by overwritten added text Deleted text Added text
position of added text (if not added inline) [right margin] text added in right margin; [above line] text added above the line
page number, repeated letterhead, etc. page number or repeated letterhead
supplied text [supplied text]
archivist note archivist note
  30 Blackstone Bldg, My dear Mr. Cable:-

I have been able to devote a few days almost entirely to literary work, and I took up my unfinished story first, although I suspect you regard the article on Southern schools as of more importance.1 I have cut the story down from about 20,000 words to 14,000, without eliminating a single incident that I can at present think of, but simply by following the line of condensation suggested by you when you were at my house. I have adopted your suggestions with regard to Rena's speech and appearance, and I think I have made a compact story of what was before a rather rambling collection of thoughts. I have studied to reduce the number of words, but I do not see where I could do so furtherit except in the preliminary descriptions, and then not without loss to the story.2

If you can get the Century people to read the manuscript, and if otherwise available to make a concession in regard to the length, it will be a favor which I can appreciate if not return. The story has been read in its crude form to several people of taste and culture, as well as to some plainer people, and it seems to strike a chord of sympathy. I hope it will be as successful with the editor you send it to. If by reason of its length or any other cause you think it or find it unsalable, I will try my hand at it again, and will thank you for any further sufggestions.

I am now going to work at the article on Southern schools. I have just received a copy of the Report of the Com'r of Education for 1887-'88, the latest of the series, just recently issued;3 and with the data I already have on hand I think I can write a readable and reliable article; at least I shall try. I shall send it to you when completed, which I think will be very soon.

Very respectfully yours, Chas. W Chesnutt.

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. The idea for an article about Southern schools seems to have been first discussed when Cable met with Chesnutt in Cleveland in November 1889. Chesnutt mentions working on it in several letters to Cable: December 30, 1889; February 3, 1889; and February 18, 1890. He encloses it with his March 29, 1890, letter and describes some of what it includes. Neither a published nor manuscript version of the article has been located.[back]

2. Chesnutt references "Rena Walden," a short story he first sent to Cable September 9, 1889. It would eventually become his first published novel, The House Behind the Cedars (1900).[back]

3. It seems likely that Chesnutt refers to "Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of North Carolina for the Scholastic Year 1887 and 1888" (Raleigh, Josephus Daniels, State Printer and Binder, Presses of Edwards and Broughton, 1889).[back]