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his fame came from an obscenity trial
James Branch Cabell was born in Richmond, Virginia, on April 14, 1879. He attended William and Mary College from 1893 to 1898, during which period he also taught courses in French and Greek, and then worked briefly at the Richmond Times as a copy-holder. From 1899 to 1901 he worked for the New York Herald as a social reporter; he returned to Richmond in 1901 and spent several months on the staff of the Richmond News. He spent the next ten years performing genealogical research; he also wrote short stories and articles, many of which were published in such national magazines as Harper's Monthly and the Saturday Evening Post. In 1911, Cabell was employed as a bookkeeper at his uncle's coal mine in West Virginia. He returned to Richmond in 1913 and married Rebecca Priscilla Bradley, a widow with five children; the couple had one son, Ballard Hartwell Cabell.
Cabell's first work to be published was a college paper entitled The Comedies of William Congreve, which appeared in the April 1901 edition of International. His first book, The Eagle's Shadow, was published in the autumn of 1904, after it had appeared serially in the summer editions of the Saturday Evening Post. By 1918 he had published 10 major works and began to attract critical admirers. He attracted his greatest fame, however, following the 1919 publication of Jurgen.
On January 14, 1920, the New York State Society for the Prevention of Vice charged Cabell's publishing editor, Guy Holt, with violating New York State Anti-Obscenity laws by publishing Jurgen. The controversy over the charges brought Cabell much notoriety, and also boosted sales of the book. The obscenity trial began on October 16, 1922, and ended three days later with an acquittal of all charges.
Throughout the 1920's, Cabell continued to publish in the style of Jurgen -- a combination of satire, symbolism and fantasy, set in a mythical medieval French province called Poictesme. The works he wrote during this period eventually became part of an eighteen-volume collection entitled The Biography of the Life of Manuel, the last volume of which was published in 1930.
In 1932, he began to publish work under the name Branch Cabell. The nearly twenty books he wrote over the next three decades were grouped in a series of trilogies.
The name James Branch Cabell returned in 1947, with publication of Let Me Lie. This was the first installment of his fifth and last trilogy, consisting largely of semi-autobiographical essays.
Rebecca Cabell died in 1949. In 1950, Cabell married Margaret Waller Freeman.
James Branch Cabell died of a cerebral hemorrhage on May 5, 1958, at his home in Richmond.
List of His Works
The Eagle's Shadow (1904)
The Storisende Edition of The Works of James Branch Cabell (1927-1930)
This page was last updated on 01/17/2017.