Publisher: Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University
Illustration for Jurgen
This Frank Papé illustration, which was published in the 1921 edition of James Branch Cabell's best-known work, Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice, bears the caption, "Thus it came about that Jurgen clambered merrily from Hell to Heaven." In Branch's coy, suggestive novel, the eponymous hero of Jurgen—a medieval pawnbroker who considers himself to be a "monstrous clever fellow"—sails through a series of sexual liaisons with a female vampire, a fertility goddess, and Arthurian maidens before ultimately reaffirming to himself the sanity of domestic, wedded harmony. After the book was first published in 1919, the director of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice charged that the novel was obscene and quickly had the printing plates seized and the book banned. Overnight, Jurgen became a cause célèbre, lifting Cabell from obscurity to fame as one of America's most-discussed novelists.