Fantasy & Optimism

James Branch Cabell born on 14 April1879 was an American author of fantasy fiction

Since his surname was often mispronounced, he composed this rhyme: “Tell the rabble my name is Cabell” to clear up pronunciation issues.
His works were considered escapist: according to him truthfulness was “the one unpardonable sin, not merely against art, but against human welfare”
Although escapist, his works are ironic and satirical: even if he saw art as an escape from life, he found that, once the artist creates his ideal world, it is composed of the same elements that make the real one.

He wrote in obscurity until the banning of his 1919 novel “Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice” which made him famous.
It is a satirical journey through a medieval cosmos, in which the titular hero, a middle-aged pawnbroker and aspiring poet, must reluctantly set off in search of his wife who has been abducted by the Devil

Shortly after its publication, in early 1920, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice declared Jurgen to be a “lewd, lascivious, indecent, obscene and disgusting book.” As a result, it was taken off the shelves and unsold copies were seized, making it became instantly renowned.

Writers across the country nationwide protested , while everyone rushed to buy a copy of what they were assured was a delightfully scandalous book. A thriving black market ensued, with copies sold at two hundred times the real price.

The trial over Jurgen lasted two years and in the end, and by the time he was cleared in court, Cabell’s fame had skyrocketed to such an extent that some declared him the greatest living American author.
When his escapist literature themes, , a perfect fit for the culture of the Roaring ’20s, no longer attracted readers living the harsh realities of the Great Depression and the New Deal, interest in Cabell waned.

He failed to get out of his fantasy niche even at the beginning of World War II, when his popularity waned further because, as one critic put it, “ Cabell and Hitler did not inhabit the same universe”
Cabell continued to write and publish until his death in 1958. By the end of his life he had authored some 52 volumes of work.

His best-known quote is:

«The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.»

James Branch Cabell nato il 14 aprile 1879 , fu un autore americano di narrativa fantasy

Poiché il suo cognome veniva spesso pronunciato male, compose questo verso che in inglese presenta una bella rima: “Di’ alla marmaglia che mi chiamo Cabell” per chiarire i problemi di pronuncia.

Le sue opere erano considerate di evasione, secondo lui la veridicità era “l’unico peccato imperdonabile, non solo contro l’arte, ma contro il benessere umano”
Seppur poco realistiche le sue opere sono ironiche e satiriche: anche se l’arte era una fuga dalla vita, scoprì che, una volta che l’artista crea il suo mondo ideale, esso è composto dagli stessi elementi che compongono quello reale.

Rimase tranquillamente nell’ oscurità fino alla messa al bando del suo romanzo del 1919 “Jurgen ,Una commedia della giustizia” che lo rese celebre.
È un viaggio satirico attraverso un cosmo medievale, in cui l’eroe, Jurgen, un prestatore su pegno di mezza età e aspirante poeta, deve partire con riluttanza alla ricerca della moglie che è stata rapita dal diavolo

Poco tempo dopo la sua pubblicazione, all’inizio del 1920, la “Società di New York per la soppressione del vizio” dichiarò che Jurgen era un “libro osceno, lascivo, indecente, sconcio e disgustoso”. Di conseguenza fu levato dagli scaffali e sequestrato rendendo immediatamente famoso.

Gli scrittori di tutta la nazione protestarono e tutti si precipitarono a comprare una copia di quello che era stato loro assicurato fosse un libro deliziosamente scandaloso. Ne conseguì un fiorente mercato nero, con copie vendute a duecento volte il prezzo di copertina..

Il processo contro Jurgen durò due anni e alla fine, quando fu scagionato in tribunale, la fama di Cabell era salita alle stelle a tal punto che alcuni lo dichiararono il più grande autore americano vivente.

Quando i suoi temi di letteratura di evasione, che si adattavano perfettamente alla cultura dei ruggenti anni ’20, non attrassero più i lettori che vivevano le dure realtà della Grande Depressione e del New Deal, l’interesse per Cabell diminuì.
Non riuscì a uscire dalla sua nicchia fantasy neanche all’inizio della seconda guerra mondiale, quando la sua popolarità diminuì perché, come disse un critico “Cabell e Hitler non abitavano nello stesso universo”.
Cabell continuò a pubblicare fino alla sua morte nel 1958 . Alla fine della sua vita aveva scritto circa 52 opere

La sua citazione più nota è:

“L’ottimista proclama che viviamo nel migliore dei mondi possibili; e il pessimista teme che sia vero.

60 thoughts on “Fantasy & Optimism

  1. Really interesting post about Cabell
    (I like the rhyme about the name lol😅) .
    I think that banning the book was the best way to increase it’s popularity, right?? Like the quote at the end as well. But I still wonder why his popularity waned with the advent of Hitler….. Maybe it was because of excess of fantasy in his writings that contrasted the hardships faced during the Roaring 20’s .
    Overall, a good post with fusion of the fields I love the most- history and writing (especially escapist) . Great share 😀👍🏻

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks to you, I think that in times of world war people did not want to read fantasy stories, probably the anguish was such that even taking refuge in a fantasy world became impossible.🙏🙏🙏
      Thank you for your kind response

      Liked by 1 person

  2. And sad thing, dear Luisa, is that this censorship is slowly and steadily returning. I’m glad for Cabell it instantly lead to his fame. That’s how the mind works, if it’s barred from venturing into something it will really yearn to vesnture into it to know why it’s being barred. 😀💖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a beautiful observation about the functioning of the mind: if it is prevented from venturing into something, it will really want to venture into it to know why it has been blocked.
      Thank you very much for sharing it 🙏💙🙏

      Like

  3. I can say that I did not know the works of James Branch Cabell and as a result of the most absolute chance, a strange alignment of the stars, his novel “Jurgen” came into my hands in 2017 and it made my imagination fly.
    Now with the data you provide about him, I have become curious to delve into his literary life. Greetings Louise.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. La citazione è davvero molto interessante!!! Quando da te riportato nel post afferma che il più delle volte la censura incrementa il successo ottenendo un risultato completamente opposto al suo intento!! Buona serata 😘

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Penso che l’azione di censura non faccia che richiamare ed accrescere la curiosità-

      Nel Ritratto di Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde scriveva: ” There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”, cioè “C’è una sola cosa al mondo peggiore del far parlare di sé ed è il non far parlare di sé” 😚😚😚

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There is Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia. Same family but not the same person. Your blog post prompted a cursory but of Giggle research. The phrase Banned in Boston was enough to make anything seem titalating. Informative post. Happy Easter.

    Like

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