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[Review of The House Behind the Cedars]

"The House Behind the Cedars" is, if the present reviewer is not mistaken, Mr. Chesnutt's first long story. Some years ago there began to appear in The Atlantic Magazine a series of remarkable stories concerning the lives of those who live on the borderland between white and black. It was understood that the author himself belonged to the class of whom he was writing; and few who read these stories could have failed to be moved by the strength of feeling, restraint and dignity with which they were written. The stories were collected and published under the name of the most successful story, "The Wife of His Youth." Mr. Chesnutt as an artist has an opportunity as great as it is rare; and it is evident from the way in which he handles his material that he is aware of this. Yet his view, it is plain, is the far greater view of life; and if he keeps to that, and does not use it for gain, but for the desire of his heart, evident to everyone who can understand, he will write a story in the end that will shake those who read it. "The House Behind the Cedars" is the story of a woman, slightly colored, and her two children, whose descent, apparently, could not be perceived. The son had left home, and had been accepted as a white man of unusual ability and position. He had made a good marriage, but his wife had died, and he returned home by stealth to ask his sister, a beautiful girl, to live with him, and to take care of his child. The mother consents; a young southerner falls in love with Rowena; she feels that she ought to tell him; believes that he had been sufficiently warned; returns home hastily to nurse her mother, and is discovered by her lover, who declines to marry her. Mr. Chesnutt never forces his reader's feeling, and he is perfectly fair to the standpoint of the white man, surely a remarkable thing. It remains to be seen, of course, if Mr. Chesnutt can do better work; but if, instead of telling the story from the standpoint of a spectator, and with a forced calm, he would, for instance, reveal the heart of the mother, or let Rowena speak, it is hard to see how he could fail to create a work of extraordinary dramatic intensity. The author does not lack the two things that keep so many back: he cares and he knows.