James Branch Cabell

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James Branch Cabell, pronounced /ˈkæbəl/ (April 14, 1879 – May 5, 1958) was an American author of fantasy fiction and belles lettres. Cabell was well regarded by his contemporaries, including H. L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis. His works were considered escapist and fit well in the culture of the 1920s, when his works were most popular. For Cabell, veracity was "the one unpardonable sin, not merely against art, but against human welfare."[1] Interest in Cabell declined in the 1930s, a decline that has been attributed in part to his failure to move out of his fantasy niche. Alfred Kazin said that "Cabell and Hitler did not inhabit the same universe".[1] Although escapist, Cabell's works are ironic and satirical. H. L. Mencken disputes Cabell's claim to romanticism, characterized him as "really the most aciduous of all the anti-romantics. His gaudy heroes... chase dragons precisely as stockbrockers play golf." Cabell saw art as an escape from life, but once the artist creates his ideal world, he finds that it is made up of the same elements that make the real one.[1]



Cabell was born into an affluent and well-connected Virginian family, and lived most of his life in Richmond. His father, Robert Gamble Cabell II (1847–1922), was a physician, and his mother, Anne Harris (1859–1915), was the daughter of Col. and Mrs James R. Branch. Cabell's paternal great-grandfather, William H. Cabell, was governor of Virginia from 1805 to 1808. Cabell County in West Virginia is named after a branch of his family. James was the oldest of three boys — his brothers were Robert Gamble Cabell III (1881–1968) and John Lottier Cabell (1883–1946). His parents separated and were later divorced in 1907.[2]

Although Cabell's surname is often mispronounced "Ka-BELL", he himself pronounced it "CAB-ble". To remind an editor of the correct pronunciation, Cabell composed this rhyme: "Tell the rabble my name is Cabell."

Cabell matriculated to the College of William and Mary in 1894 at the age of fifteen and graduated in 1898. While an undergraduate, Cabell taught French and Greek at the College. According to his close friend and fellow author Ellen Glasgow, Cabell developed a friendship with a professor at the college which was considered by some to be "too intimate" and as a result Cabell was dismissed, although he was subsequently readmitted and finished his degree.[3] Following his graduation, he worked from 1898 to 1900 as a newspaper reporter in New York City, but returned to Richmond in 1901, where he worked several months on the staff of the Richmond News.[2]

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