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[Review of The Conjure Woman]

Some months ago we called attention to a story in the Atlantic Monthly, called "The Wife of His Youth," which was remarkable, even in these days of good short stories, for its literary skill and distinction, its dramatic quality, its tactful treatment of a delicate race problem, and, above all, for its genuine human feeling. Some who read this story recalled others from Mr. Chesnutt's pen that had appeared in the Atlantic and other magazines during the past ten years, among them being a number of "conjure" stories, which now form the basis of Mr. Chesnutt's first book, The Conjure Woman just published by Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin and Company. This book will serve to give its author an assured place among story writers, besides contributing an eloquent and sympathetic artistic treatment of his people from a literary point of view, which is unique and valuable. For Mr. Chesnutt has not only an exceptional knowledge of the negro character and environment, but he has also marvelous subtlety and wisdom in his treatment of their difficulties. Standing as the author does between the two races-nearer, perhaps, to the white by education, business association and tastes, yet near enough to the black man to be keenly alive to the complexity of character evolved by his peculiar environment-he is completely competent to deal with the variations of life on the plantation-a life made up of toil entirely, hardened by cruelty and sorrow, under which flowed a current composed of the same elements as that of the master, only more intense, because smothered beneath a careless exterior of seemingly passive acceptance of the existing order of things. Mr. Charles W. Chesnutt was born in Ohio about the time of the Civil War, after which his parents moved to North Carolina, where he spent some years as a teacher, becoming at an early age the principal of a State Normal School. Later, he went to New York and was for a time connected with one of the large daily newspapers, afterward returning to Cleveland, where he is well known as a lawyer and court reporter. He is a type, not rare in our times, of the professional man who devotes his best hours to the prosaic task of earning a living, and who in his brief periods of leisure turns his love of letters to richer and farther reaching account. From the quality of work done by him in the past we looked with eagerness for this book of short stories, which has now appeared, and what it reveals not only pleases and satisfies, but arouses greater expectations. We believe that Mr. Chesnutt is now engaged on a novel. A review of The Conjure Woman appears among our Novel Notes.