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Research Guides

James Branch Cabell (1879-1958)

This research guide has biographical and bibliographical information about the namesake of Virginia Commonwealth University's Library: James Branch Cabell.

Tell the rabble my name is Cabell

James Branch Cabell was born in Richmond in 1879 at the home of his maternal grandparents at 101 East Franklin Street- where Richmond's Public Library now stands. Cabell went to the College of William and Mary in 1894 at the age of fifteen where he taught French and Greek while studying all the classics. He graduated in 1898.

After college, Cabell worked as a reporter in New York City for The Herald.  He returned to Richmond in 1901, where he continued working as a reporter at the Richmond News. Soon after, Cabell began publishing in national magazines, including Harper's Monthly Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post.  His first novel, The Eagle's Shadow, was published in 1904.  Cabell's works were well received critically over the next several years but enjoyed little popularity. He married Priscilla Bradley Shepherd in the fall of 1913.  She was a wealthy widow with five children from her previous marriage. They had one child, Ballard Hartwell Cabell (1915-1980).

In 1919, at the age of forty, Cabell published Jurgen.  This was to be his best known work, immersed in scandal and in critical praise. Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice (1919) was Cabell's tenth and most famous book. Jurgen became the focus of a highly publicized obscenity trial shortly after its publication. The novel is a fantasy that takes place in the medieval world of Poictesme (pronounced pwa-tem). It was one of several fantasies that Cabell wrote that took place in Poictesme.

In early 1920, the  New York Society for the Suppression of Vice charged Jurgen as a "lewd, lascivious, indecent, obscene and disgusting book."  The trial over Jurgen lasted two years with Robert M. McBride, Cabell's publisher, eventually winning. During this time Cabell’s fame skyrocketed.

By 1930 Cabell had released the Storisende Edition of the Biography of Manuel, the 20 works that were written over a 23-period of time that Cabell now insisted were one complete story.  During the 1930s, he published several novels under the name Branch Cabel - to highlight his break from fantasy writing. In the 1940s and 1950s, he concentrated on writing on his life and the history of Virginia. 

After Priscilla Cabell died in 1949, Cabell married Margaret Waller Freeman (1893-1993) in 1950.  Margaret, a native of Richmond, was then working as a interior designer in New York City and had long been associated with Cabell's literary circle. She was fiercely protective of his legacy, which was of great concern to Cabell.

James Branch Cabell died in 1958 at his long time residence, 3201 Monument Ave. He authored 52 volumes of work. He is buried in Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery.

Timeline

·  April 14, 1879- James Branch Cabell is born

·  1894-Cabell begins college at age 15. 

·  1898-Graduates from William and Mary College

·  1898-1900-Cabell works as a newspaper reporter in New York City

·  1901-Cabell returns home to Richmond: Works for Richmond News; His first stories are published. 

  1904-Cabell's first novel, The Eagle's Shadow, is published by Doubleday Page & Company

·  1913-Cabell marries widow Priscilla Bradley Shepherd

·  1915-A son, Ballard Hartwell Cabell, is born

·  1919-Jurgen is published

·   1927-1930-the Storisende Edition is published

·  1932-Cabell begins publishing as "Branch Cabell"

·  1949-Priscilla Cabell dies

·  1950-Cabell remarries to Margaret Waller Freeman

·  1955-As I Remember It published.

·  1958-James Branch Cabell dies at his home at 3201 Monument Avenue, Richmond, Virginia.