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Source: From ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOUTHERN CULTURE edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris Copyright (c) 1989 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

George Washington Cable, 1844-1925

Cable, George Washington, 1844-1925, Writer and critic.During the local color era Cable wrote of Creole New Orleans, and he has been called the most important southern artist working in the late 19th century, as well as the first modern southern writer. He is praised both for his courageous essays on civil rights, such as The Silent South (1885) and The Negro Question (1890), and for his early fiction about New Orleans, especially Old Creole Days (1879) The Grandissimes (1880), and Madame Delphine (1881). Cable was not a Creole himself, but he had deep roots in New Orleans. He was born and grew up there, and, after service as a Confederate soldier, he returned to live and work in the city until 1885, when he moved to Massachusetts.

Cable's study of the colonial history of Louisiana while writing sketches for the Picayune revealed "the decline of an aristocracy under the pressure of circumstances," as well as the "length and blackness" of the shadow in the southern garden. In his essay "My Politics" Cable tells how his reading of the Code Noir caused him such "sheer indignation" that he wrote the brutal story of Bras-Coupe, incorporated later as the foundation of The Grandissimes. Cable connected the decline of the Creoles to their self-destructive racial pride, and his best work, The Grandissimes, makes clear that such racial arrogance has direct application to broader problems of southern history, especially the black-white conflict after 1865. Like the best stories of Old Creole Days, The Grandissimes balances sympathy for and judgment of New Orleans and the South, but it is stronger because it "contained as plain a Protest against the times in which it was written as against the earlier times in which its scenes were set."

Cable continued to write about New Orleans and Louisiana throughout his long career, most notably in Dr. Sevier (1884), The Creoles of Louisiana (1884), and the Acadian pastoral Bonaventure (1888). In all, he published 14 novels and collections of short fiction, with his last novel, Lovers of Louisiana, appearing in 1918, just seven years before his death. In his career after The Grandissimes Cable was unable to reconcile his love for the South with his abhorrence of slavery and racism. The result was a split in his career - the polemical essays embody the spirit of reform and the New South, while the romances, beginning with The Cavalier (1901), attempt to retrieve an idyllic past, devoid of the problems of racism.

Thomas J. Richardson
University of Southern Mississippi

Cable's diary, cited in Newton Arvin, "Introduction" to The Grandissimes (1957); Shirley Ann Grau, "Foreword" to Old Creole Days (1961); Thomas J. Richardson, ea., The Grandissimes: Centennial Essays (1981); Louis D. Rubin, Jr., George W. Cable: The Life and Times of a Southern Heretic (1969); Merrill Skaggs, The Folk of Southern Fiction (1972); Arlin Turner, George W. Cable: A Biography (1956).

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