Charles W. Chestnutt's The Marrow Of Tradition

1034 words - 4 pages

Charles W. Chestnutt's The Marrow of Tradition


      Clearly, one can expect differing critical views of a novel; from the

      author's perspective we see one view, from a publisher's another, and from

      the reviewer's yet another. This is especially true of Charles W.

      Chesnutt's  The Marrow of Tradition. If one observes both the contemporary

      reviews of the novel and letters exchanged between Chesnutt and his

      friends and publisher, Houghton, Mifflin, and Co., one will see the

      disparity in opinions regarding the work. Chesnutt himself felt the work

      was of at least good quality, and remarked often of its significant

      purpose in letters to Booker T. Washington, Houghton, Mifflin, Isaiah B.

      Scott, and William H. Moody. Reviewers, too, were able to see the

      "purpose" of the novel as a significant one as evidenced by reviews in

      Chautauquan, the New York Times, The Literary World, Nation, and New York



      However, most reviews, even those which pointed out the important theme of

      the novel, suggested that it was not a well written one, often seeming

      overly dramatic and too fictionalized. Even Chesnutt's friend, W.D.

      Howells, was quick to attack the quality of the novel. And, as one might

      expect, a few reviews (especially those of a Southern origin) were nothing

      but negative. Examples of these are the Atlanta Journal, Bookman, and the

      Independent. Particularly scathing is that of the Independent, a magazine

      which was considered friendly to the cause of Black rights. In a series of

      letters to his publisher, Chesnutt ponders the cause of his lack of

      reviews in the Independent, and upon eventually being reviewed negatively,

      finds that the author of the criticism was a Southerner.


      Reflecting upon the title of this essay, The American People Are Too

      Sensible to Waste Their Time Upon Such Silly Rot, taken from the review of

       The Marrow of Tradition by Katherine Glover, it is interesting to note

      that the novel did receive a certain amount of public success. Chesnutt

      revealed the popularity of the novel to daughter Ethel in October of its

      publication year (prior to the reviews cited here). The line from Glover's

      review is obviously a mean-spirited attack by a racist reviewer, and is

      ultimately ironic in that it did not accurately depict the sentiments of

      the reading public. And in a series of letters to Booker T. Washington

      Chesnutt expresses his belief that the novel has helped him to "arrive" as

      a popular novelist. He also...

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