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"James Branch Cabell: Man of Letters and Libraries" online compendium launched in tandem with new library grand opening

March 21, 2016

VCU Libraries announces “James Branch Cabell: Man of Letters and Libraries,” marking the Grand Opening of the new Cabell Library and bringing a new generation to the library’s namesake, a prolific local writer considered to be one of the chief pioneers of fantasy writing. The online compendium is available for viewing at

During the first half of the 20th century, Cabell enjoyed a national literary reputation. An astute, subtle and satirical commentator on southern manners, attitudes and political life, he explored sensitive real-world topics through the veil of fantasy. His medieval romanticism and fantasy combined classic mythologies in the make-believe world of Poictesme (pwa-tem). Today, writers and artists including Neil Gaiman, Charles Vess, Robert A. Heinlein and James Blish applaud his groundbreaking work as an inspiration for their own.

Cabell was a man possessed of great curiosity and imagination. He began collecting books at a young age, and as an adult his wide network of literary friends and associates helped him amass a collection of nearly 3,000 volumes for his personal library. After his death, that library--containing many first editions and autographed volumes--was donated to VCU. His books, some in his own bookcase, are housed in the Cabell Room on the fourth floor of the library.

His library legacy extends beyond his own personal collection. In the 1970s, Cabell's widow, Margaret Freeman Cabell, and the Associates of the James Branch Cabell Library, contributed time, energy and financial resources to bring his personal library to VCU and to create the Cabell Room which houses it. The Associates continue today to support Cabell Library and foster awareness, scholarship, and study of James Branch Cabell and his works.

The image-rich online compendium includes:

  • An inside-look at The Cabell Room, which is usually closed to the public. Artifacts, furnishings and artwork, some belonging to the Cabell family, are on view in this virtual tour.
  • A timeline of his works and suggestions for further study or reading.
  • Memorable quotes.
  • Images from some of the many books inscribed to Cabell by authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, H.L.Mencken, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and Sinclair Lewis.

  • A newly digitized version of  scholar Maurice Duke's 1968 dissertation:  James Branch Cabell's Library: A Catalogue, identifying each book from Cabell’s personal library and its location and arrangement within his home.
  • As a special treat, a selection of some of Cabell’s caballi--his collection of figurines named after great horses of world myth and legend. In Latin, the word caballus means “horse.”
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