Skip to main content

Richard W. Gilder to George Washington Cable, 28 May 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
  Please return

to G. W. C.1

This story of Chesnutts "Rena Walden" I have read with great care. I'm extremely sorry not to find it feasible. Its subject is new, & the point of view. But somehow it seems to me amorphous—not so much in construction as in sentiment. I could talk to you about it more clearly than I can write. There is either   a lack of humor in the author, or a brutality in the characters, & lack of mellowness, lack of spontaneous, imaginative life in the people, lack of outlook,—I don't know what—that makes them—as here depicted—uninteresting. I think it is the writers fault, rather than the people's. The result seems to me a crude study; not a thoroughly human one. I wish I could see more of the author's work—some briefer study. The writing in the opening pages is excellent.

Sincerely, R.W. Gilder The hero & heroine are such frauds both of them that they have no interest—as here described. The black boy is better, from a literary point of view & his father.

Correspondent: Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) was the editor of The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine from 1881 until his death. Under his leadership, The Century became one of the most influential general-interest magazines in the United States. In 1889, Gilder rejected an essay by Chesnutt and in 1890 he rejected "Rena Walden." Both had come to him via George Washington Cable. Of the essay, "An Inside View of the Negro Question," Gilder wrote to Cable, it is "so timely and so political—in fact so partisan—that we cannot handle it. It should appear at one somewhere." He also gave his comments on "Rena Walden," in a letter to Cable, which Cable shared with Chesnutt. In 1901, Gilder accepted the short story "The March of Progress" for publication in the Century.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. George Washington Cable, on Chesnutt's behalf, had sent the manuscript of "Rena Walden" to Richard Watson Gilder, the editor of The Century in February 1890.[back]