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Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 25 July 1890

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  Chas. W. Chesnutt, 30 Blackstone Bldg. Dear Mr. Cable:-

I send you herewith new draft of "Rena Walden."1 I have endeavored, to obviate, so far as I could see them, the things objected to by Mr. Gilder. In the first place I have given the mother more heart, I think to the improvement of the character. A few passages intended to have that effect may be found at the bottom of page 6 and on page 7. On pp. 19 and 20 the dialogue is rewritten with this intention. At the bottom of page 35 and on pp. 36 and 37, the night interview; also the interview at parting, p. 37, are similar passages.

I have also shaded Wain down so that he is not quite so melodramatic a villain, and modified Rena's speech and bearing tso that she is not quite so superior a being, leaving her to depend for her interest more on the element of common human feeling. The hint at a rather cold-blooded attempt on the part of the old woman, Wain's mother, to poison Rena, is ascribed to senile idiocy, so to speak.

I have tried to word the dialogue so as to give the people a little more imagination,, a little broader outlook. For instance, in one place Mis' Molly says she "would n' lose her daughter for all de riches er Solomon""; and Wain observes that "a ride behin' dat mare would wake de dead", etc. And I have also taken pains to refer in terms to the narrowness of their lives and to trace it to the influence of their surroundings. I have endeavored to have the mother realize, fitfully and vaguely, her own "terrible speciousness"—I think I have used that expression, which is yours , on page 5.

There is a preaching passage on page 10, beginning: "If with the fine analytic mind" , and ending with "handiwork", which can be left out if an editor should think best, without disturbing the story. The little apostrophe to dreamland on page 30 I think rather pretyty and not strained, though rigid pruning might perhaps require it to be eliminated.

In short, I have re-written the story so that scarcely five pages of the last draught remain unchanged. I am afraid the length is awkward for a magazine, though the story "Little Venice" in the last Century was I think longer than this.2

I have put so much of my time and my heart in this story, and it has been so well spoken of by the few who have read it (the last was a cultivated gentleman who is very familiar with the best English and French literature, with whom I went on a journey a few weeks ago) , that I mean to have it published. I send it to you with carte blanche, with only rthe request that you kindly give it as early attention as your own business will permit. I imagine you mean, if you think it sufficiently improved, to offer it again to the Century, although, as I said before, I personally   would not have the temerity to do so. If it is not accepted by the people to whom you send it, I shall offer it to the Atlantic and if rejected there shall either publish it in book form with some other stories, or re-write it into a longer work.3

With renewed thanks for your kindness and appreciation, I remain as ever,

Yours sincerely, 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. "Rena Walden" was a short story Chesnutt worked on intermittently over ten years, ultimately becoming the novel The House Behind the Cedars (1900). In 1889 and 1890, Chesnutt shared several drafts with George Washington Cable. 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. "Little Venice: A Story of the St. Clair Flats," by Grace Denio Litchfield was published in the July 1890 issue of The Century.[back]

3. Chesnutt informed George Washington Cable of the Atlantic Monthly's rejection in his September 22, 1890, letter.[back]