CHARLES W. CHESNUTT.
Since "The Coophered[sic] Grapevine," "Po' Sandy," "Mars Jeem's[sic] Nightmare," "Sis' Becky's Pickaninny," and other revelations of the slave plantations before the war won him a place in the literature of our country, Mr. Chesnutt has continued his work and entered into the more serious phases of Afro-American life with a success as decided as it has been surprising. "The House Behind the Cedars" is a story of Southern life, in which every social phase is presented with the startling cunning of a literary Phidias. A young Afro-American man, almost white, studies law in the office of an aristocratic old Southern gentleman, for whom he worked as an office boy. He was the natural son by a mulatto woman of another white man of high social and business standing. He leaves North Carolina and goes to South Carolina, where the law declared "persons having only one-eighth negro blood shall be declared to be white." He becomes an eminent lawyer and marries into a leading South Carolina family, whose estate he finally inherits after the deaths of all surviving heirs. After the absence from his old home of many years he returns and visits his mother and sister clandestinely. His sister has grown into womanhood, beautiful, graceful and dignified. He finally induces her to return to his adopted home and take up life under conditions where she would lose her racial identity and be a white woman. A wealthy young man falls in love with her. He ultimately finds out that she is a woman of color and breaks the engagement. In his solitude he broods over his lost love and frantically resolves to return to her, not withstanding her race. He does so–too late, she died of a broken heart. The story is well told and its interest is sustained from the opening chapter to the close. It is a valuable contribution to the literature of its class and created a favorable impression even upon Southern critics.
"The Wife of His Youth" is another romantic tale by Mr. Chesnutt, which though not told with the same degree of skill as his other stories, yet remains a fascinating story of the love of a young Afro-American man nearly white for a woman who was his mental physical opposite–but who protected him in his distress and poverty; educated him and was the chief agent of his success in life,–and who was not forsaken by him in his hour of triumph.
The Chesnutt books are published by Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston, Mass. The Conjure Woman. $1.25; The Wife of His Youth, $1.50: The House Behind the Cedars, $1.50.