Skip to main content

[Review of The Wife of His Youth]

We have had negro stories and white stories, Chinese stories and again white stories. Strangely enough, the dramatic possibilities of the line where race clashes against race, interest against interest, civilization (in many cases) against civilization, have been exploited hardly at all. In the case of the life of India, the South Sea Islands, and other parts of the globe where white meets brown, the novelist has been quick to seize upon contradiction and contrast. America has plenty of frontier stories, but not a great many stories dealing with her racial frontiers. At least, not a great many good ones.

Charles W. Chestnut, in his latest book of short stories, The Wife of His Youth. (Houghton, Mifflin & Co.) has attempted, and with considerable success, to seize upon the dramatic possibilities of that life which is neither white nor black, the life of the mulatto in America. The dramatic possibilities are very great, of this life. Commonly the mulatto is almost white, so far as color goes, and of intelligence much greater than that of the pure-blooded Basuto negro. He is precluded both by pride and social attainments from associating with his blacker brothers. In many cases he would regard his marriage with a black woman as a backwards step On the other hand, between him and the white man there is an impassible gulf. No matter how slightly he may be tinged with colored blood, the taint is an effectual bar to any social intercourse with whites. Mr. Chestnut has used this dramatic situation of the mulatto as a foundation for his stories. Take the title story. A mulatto gentleman of culture and wealth is about to marry the woman he loves, a woman his equal in every respect, when his black slave-wife appears on the scene. Although she does not recognize him, and although she is very ignorant, and although many years older than he, he nevertheless acknowledges her to be his wife. Another story is of a girl ignorant of her birth, but who has a dash of colored blood in her veins. Her white lover discovers the fact, but keeps it from her and marries her notwithstanding. And so on.