On this day in 1956, the eminent critic Edmund Wilson published a favorable consideration of James Branch Cabell‘s work in a New Yorker article titled “The James Branch Cabell Case Reopened.” Cabell, you’ll recall, was the Richmond-born troublemaker (what a face!) whose novel Jurgen (1919) provoked an obscenity trial in New York. Sadly, Wilson’s call for a serious reappraisal did not win over readers or critics. Their loss, I guess.
Here’s how the article begins:
Cabell is out of fashion. He has been telling us this constantly himself, and he hardly exaggerates. He has come nowadays to be fatally associated with all that was most meretricious in the twenties—the speakeasy sophistication, the half-baked provincial cleverness, the bad taste in dealing with sex that followed on liberation from the taboos of an earlier period. By the thirties, people sneered at the mention of “Jurgen;” by the forties, it was never mentioned. That Mr. Cabell himself came to share this disgust with his most famous book’s reputation he explains in his new volume of memoirs, “As I Remember It: Some Epilogues in Recollection” (McBride). It was very embarrassing, he tells us, to find oneself admired and besieged by “hordes of idiots and prurient fools, of busybodies, of unpublished authors well worthy of that condition, of dabblers in black magic, of catamites and of amateur strumpets.” The effect of the Cabell cult was eventually to leave the impression that its object was second-rate, and this is unjust to Mr. Cabell, whose distinction is real and of an uncommon kind.
If I can’t interest you in James Branch Cabell, then how about a Don Draper–worthy ad for Four Roses whiskey that appears in the middle of Wilson’s article? No other whiskey says it as well!