Category Archives: Charles W. Chesnutt

Roundup: While You Were Out

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Still making people mad.

Tobias Wolff speaks with Australia’s The Age (where his latest story collection, Our Story Begins, has just been published). He recalls the experience of reading galleys of his first novel, Ugly Rumours, a book he now disowns: “”I thought I had gotten way ahead of myself. I wasn’t smart enough to be Pynchon, but I liked the almost 19th century Dickensian layering of perspectives, the kind of wild sense of humour that Pynchon allows himself and the mingling of realism and urban myth and absurdity. Nothing is a waste of time for a writer, but this was not my medium.”

Penguin Classics is launching its African American Classics series with a collection of works by Charles W. Chesnutt. The Atlantic‘s Web site pointed to some of his work in January.

Scott Romine revisits Walter Hines Page‘s The Southerner. The 1909 novel has just been reissued by the University of South Carolina Press.

Lastly, if it’s true that we’re all not reading anymore, at least the book titles are still good for something: “If you decided to name your horses after classics in American literature, you could have horses named Red Badge Of Courage, Tender IsThe Night, The Last Tycoon, O Pioneers, Pudd’nhead Wilson, Absalom Absalom, A Moveable Feast, Travelswithcharley, Tortilla Flat and many others. I’ve just scratched the surface.”

The Chesnutt Files

The Atlantic, which recently freed up its archives, is pointing readers toward a handful of stories by Charles W. Chesnutt, “the first African-American novelist to be published on a national scale.” One of the featured stories, “The Wife of His Youth,” has a very formulaic turn at the end, but it’s an interesting study of passing. The story’s hero, Mr. Ryder, is a member of the Blue Veins, a society of light-skinned black gentry. He’s hosting a ball in advance of his marriage:

“I have no race prejudice,” he would say, “but we people of mixed blood are ground between the upper and the nether millstone. Our fate lies between absorption by the white race and extinction in the black. The one doesn’t want us yet, but may take us in time. The other would welcome us, but it would be for us a backward step. ‘With malice towards none, with charity for all,’ we must do the best we can for ourselves and those who are to follow us. Self-preservation is the first law of nature.”

His ball would serve by its exclusiveness to counteract leveling tendencies, and his marriage with Mrs. Dixon would help to further the upward process of absorption he had been wishing and waiting for.