James Branch Cabell 1879-1958
"Now I am wiser: for I know there is not any memory with less
satisfaction in it than the memory of some temptation we resisted."
-- James Branch Cabell
from Jurgen, 1919.
Richmond author James Branch Cabell is best known for his controversial Jurgen (1919), one of several ironic fantasies he wrote that took place in Cabell's mythical medieval world of Poictesme (pwa-tem). Jurgen, laced with erotic overtones, was considered pornographic by some and a trial over its content brought the reclusive writer national fame. Throughout the 1920s, Cabell was highly regarded by his literary peers -- H.L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, and others praised his works. His medieval romanticism and fantasy were in fact thinly disguised commentary on the manners of those times.
As the 1930s approached, when the realism of writers like Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck came into vogue, Cabell's sophisticated writing voice fell out of favor with the reading public. Cabell continued to write and by the end of his life he had authored some 52 volumes of work.
Image on the right is of James Branch Cabell, April 30, 1935 --
taken by noted photographer, writer, and friend, Carl Van Vechten.
Today, some recognize Cabell as one of the first contemporary writers from the South. Like his friend and fellow Richmond writer Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945), Cabell was not afraid to satirize what he saw as the South's contradictions. Others, noting Cabell's unique blending of classic myths and legends with his own imagination, consider him a pioneer of fantasy writing. His work has been admired by a diverse group of writers, including Carl Van Vechten, Margaret Mitchell, Edmund Wilson, Robert Heinlein, and Neil Gaiman.
Soon after Virginia Commonwealth University was formed in 1968, when the Medical College of Virginia merged with Richmond Professional Institute, the University began plans for a new library for the Academic Campus. In 1970, the James Branch Cabell Library, named for one of Richmond's most respected writers, opened its doors.
Poictesme is now the name of the undergraduate student literary magazine of VCU. The magazine is produced by undergraduates from various schools and disciplines at VCU with faculty advisors come from the Department of English.
Encyclopedia Virginia entry for James Branch Cabell - a very good resource.
Guide to the James Branch Cabell Papers in Special Collections and Archives.
Links to related Cabell sites.
Mother Goose Birthday Party for James Branch Cabell -- Come celebrate James Branch Cabell's birthday by visiting this online exhibit that describes his 5th birthday held in Richmond on April 14, 1884.
Friends and Rivals: James Branch Cabell and Ellen Glasgow -- This online exhibit, created by Special Collections and Archives, focuses on the relationship between two of Richmond's most well known and respected writers.
"Hagiography and The High Place" by Stephen Wetta, winner of 1998's Cabell Prize.
Jurgen -- Music by Deems Taylor. Read the liner notes written by Mike Keith on his recording of Deem Taylor's music inspired by Cabell's "Jurgen." Mike Keith's essay was the winner of 1999's Cabell Prize.
"The Heir of James Branch Cabell: The Biography of the Life of the Biography of the Life of Manuel (A Comedy of Inheritances)" by Bill Patterson. Mr. Patterson's essay on James Branch Cabell's influence on science fiction writer Robert Heinlein was the prize winner in 2000.