Meet James Branch Cabell

A line from the first graph of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s previously unpublished 1920 short story in The New Yorker:

I would rather bring out a book that had an advance sale of five hundred thousand copies than have discovered Samuel Butler, Theodore Dreiser, and James Branch Cabell in one year.

“James Branch Cabell” — WHOTF IS THAT?

(Just so you know, the name is CAB-ble — “Tell the rabble my name is Cabell,” he told his publisher.)

Here’s a page about him almost as eccentric as he was.

And a nice, detailed online bio.

What I have to add is that I read his masterpiece, Jurgen, the same year I read The Hobbit — 1962, when I was in fifth grade. Except that Jurgen is wildly inappropriate for a fifth-grade audience and I have not the faintest how it got in the classroom library except that, hey, fantasy book, terrific fairy-tale type illustrations. Must have been a library cut-out that nobody looked at for longer than five seconds. (Shows the depth of Cabell’s popularity that a copy of his book made it all the way to little Livingston MT.)

Anyway, it was a wild ride of a read with a lot of sex stuff way, way over my head. Then about 10 years later when fantasy lit was on a major rebound, Cabell was reissued in paperback and I decided that Jurgen was at least 10-20 times better than anything else he did, which was prolix, if occasionally witty, blather.

But go dig up a copy of Jurgen — it’s 1920s the way On the Road is beatnik ’50s.

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