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Charles W. Chesnutt to George Washington Cable, 11 April 1895

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  CHAS. W. CHESNUTT, 7361024SOCIETY FOR SAVINGS BLD'G. 9719 Lamont Ave., N.E., Cleveland Mr. Geo. W. Cable, Northampton, Mass. My dear Mr. Cable:-

I received your letter in reply to mine soliciting a contribution for the Lakeside Magazine, and am sorry you were not able to write for it, though I hardly expected you would be.1

I thank you for the kind suggestion that I again enter the literary field. I have never abandoned it in fact, though I have not published anything since a story that appeared a couple of years ago in "Two Tales", a defunct Boston venture.2 But I wrote last year a novel of about 60,000 to 70,000 words.3 I had not completed my revision of it when the Fall business came on with a rush, and diverted me from it. I expect ere the Summer is over to finish it.

Several days before I received your letter I had taken up the MS. of "Rena Walden" with a view to re-writing it. I found myself much better able to realize the force of some criticisms of it that were made four or five years ago, when you were good enough to interest yourself in it. I have recast the story, and in its present form it is a compact, well-balanced novelette of 25,000 to 28,000 words.4 With four or five years of added study of life and literature I was able to see, I think, the defects that existed in it, and I venture now to regard it not only as an interesting story, but as a work of literary art. I shall offer it for publication in a magazine, and whether successful in that or not, shall publish it in book form. I hope to write many stories, and would like to make a worthy debut with this one.

My years of silence have not been unfruitful. I believe I am much better qualified to write now than I was five years since; and I have not used up a fund of interesting material which I might have expended on 'prentice work. Furthermore, I have saved from ten to fifteen thousand dollars since I was with you at Northampton, and have the feeling of security which even a little of this world's goods gives, so that I can now devote more time and, if necessary, some money to securing a place in literature.5

Thanking you again for your kindly and inspiring wish, I remain, as ever,

Yours very Truly, Chas. W. Chesnutt.

P.S. I have read your "John March, Southerner". It is a great book, but does not appeal to me, for obvious reasons, quite as much as "The Grandissimes" or "Old Creole Days". But I realize that the truthful historian must portray all phases of life, if he would be true to his art.6


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. In his letter to Chesnutt on March 4, 1895, George Washington Cable declines to contribute to the Lakeside Hospital magazine, noting that his physician has ordered "rest and recuperation."[back]

2. Chesnutt's short story "A Deep Sleeper" was published in Two Tales, a small Boston publication, on March 11, 1893.[back]

3. The novel may be "Mandy Oxendine," a short novel the Atlantic Monthly declined in early 1897. See Chesnutt's February 12, 1897 letter to Walter Hines Page. The novel was not published in Chesnutt's lifetime.[back]

4. "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]

5. Chesnutt visited George Washington Cable (1844–1925) in Northampton, Massachusetts, for about ten days in the second half of March 1889 and returned before April 1. While there, Chesnutt produced a transcription of a meeting of Cable's City Hall adult Bible Class, which was published as "Blind Bartimeus" in the Northampton Daily Herald for March 18, 1889.[back]

6. John March, Southerner (1895) is set in the fictional southern state of Dixie. Both The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life (1880), Cable's first novel, and Old Creole Days (1883), a collection of short stories, are set in New Orleans.[back]