James Branch Cabell was born April 14, 1879 in Richmond, Virginia to Robert Gamble Cabell (1847-1922) and Ann Harris Branch Cabell (1859-1915). 1
Cabell attended William & Mary, and in his third year was recognized for his academic achievements with the Corcoran Scholarship. The last few months of his W&M career concluded with a "scandal", made public by Ellen Glasgow in her book The Woman Within, which stated "the leading middle-aged intellectual of the village, or so I was told, had exercised a pernicious influence on some of the students [drunkenness and homosexuality]." She further intimated the faculty of the college didn't properly investigate the incidents. These rumors harmed those named, personally and professionally, especially William & Mary Librarian Charles Washington Coleman (1862-1932). Coleman resigned in an effort to separate himself from local backlash, but returned to the college and was reinstated. Shortly after returning, Coleman left the college permanently to work at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. 2
Cabell graduated with a B. A. from William & Mary on June 23, 1898. 3
After college, he worked as a reporter in with the New York Herald for two years and then the Richmond News for one year. He also worked in the office of a West Virginia coal company. He published his first book Eagles Nest, in 1904. 4
In 1901, Cabell's name was attached to an incident in which he was tried by the court of public opinion. On November 13, 1901, John Scott, a cousin of Cabell, and allegedly his mother's lover, was murdered. No suspect was ever charged with the murder, and later analysis suggests it was another family member who commited the crime. 5
From the Dictionary of Virginia Biography:
"James Branch Cabell was the author of fifty-two books, including fantasy and science fiction novels, comedies of manners about post-bellum Richmond, works of genealogy, collections of short stories, essays, and poetry. His best-known book, Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice (1919), was about an eponymous hero who travels to heaven, hell, and beyond, seducing women and even the devil's wife. Denounced by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice*, it became the subject of a landmark, two-year obscenity case following its publication. The novel eventually was deemed fit to be read, and its subsequent popularity propelled Cabell to literary fame. His most comprehensive project, however, is the sprawling, eighteen-volume collection known as the Biography of the Life of Manuel (1927-1930), of which Jurgen is a part. Comprised of novels, essays, and poetry, it traces the life of Manuel, Count of Poictesme (a fictional French province, pronounced "pwa-tem"), and generations of his descendants. While some of Cabell's novels - especially those that are science fiction and fantasy-have achieved cult status, his work fell out of favor beginning in the 1930s. By the time of his death in 1958, he was known primarily as the author of the scandalous Jurgen."
James Branch Cabell died May 5, 1958 and is buried in the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. 6
"Tell the rabble my name is Cabell."
-James Branch Cabell [https://gallery.library.vcu.edu/exhibits/show/jamesbranchcabell/cabellswriting/quotable The Quotable Cabell]
Materials in the Special Collections Research Center
- James Branch Cabell in SCRC Database
- James Branch Cabell in SCRC Rare Books
- James Branch Cabell in SCRC Digital Archive
External Links / Further Reading
- MacDonald, Edgar E. "Cabell's Richmond Trial". The Southern Literary Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Fall 1970), pp. 47-71. Accessed May 18, 2017. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20077398.
- The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice Papers can be found at the Library of Congress.
- U. S. Find A Grave Index 1600s-Current, "James Branch Cabell" (1820-1861), Memorial #157, record added January 1, 2001, accessed through Ancestry.com May 19, 2017, https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=157.
- William L. Godshalk, In Quest of Cabell Five Exploratory Essays (New York: Revisionist Press, 1975), 17, 19.
- Charles Slack, "Lost & Found, Biographer hopes to restore the reputation of James Branch Cabell", Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 2, 1993, p. 61.
- Edgar MacDonald, James Branch Cabell and Richmond-in-Virginia (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1983), 113-118.
- U. S. Find A Grave