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Few of the more astute critics who have appraised the work of James
Branch Cabell have failed to call attention to that extraordinary
cohesion which makes his very latest novel a further flowering of the
seed of his very earliest literary work. Especially among his later
books does the scheme of each seem to dovetail into the scheme of the
other and the whole of his writing take on the character of an
uninterrupted discourse. To this phenomenon, which is at once a fact and
an illusion of continuity, Mr. Cabell himself has consciously
contributed, not only by a subtly elaborate use of conjunctions, by
repetition, and by reintroducing characters from his other books, but by
actually setting his expertness in genealogy to the genial task of
devising a family tree for his figures of fiction.
If this were an actual continuity, more tangible than that fluid
abstraction we call the life force; if it were merely a tireless
reiteration and recasting of characters, Mr. Cabell's work would have an
unbearable monotony. But at bottom this apparent continuity has no more
material existence than has the thread of lineal descent. To insist
upon its importance is to obscure, as has been obscured, the epic range
of Mr. Cabell's creative genius. It is to fail to observe that he has
treated in his many books every mainspring of human action and that his
themes have been the cardinal dreams and impulses which have in them
heroic qualities. Each separate volume has a unity and harmony of a
complete and separate life, for the excellent reason that with the
consummate skill of an artist he is concerned exclusively in each book
with one definite heroic impulse and its frustrations.
It is true, of course, that like the fruit of the tree of life, Mr.
Cabell's artistic progeny sprang from a first conceptual germ--"In the
beginning was the Word." That animating idea is the assumption that if
life may be said to have an aim it must be an aim to terminate in
success and splendor. It postulates the high, fine importance of excess,
the choice or discovery of an overwhelming impulse in life and a
conscientious dedication to its fullest realization. It is the quality
and intensity of the dream only which raises men above the biological
norm; and it is fidelity to the dream which differentiates the
exceptional figure, the man of heroic stature, from the muddling,
aimless mediocrities about him. What the dream is, matters not at
all--it may be a dream of sainthood, kingship, love, art, asceticism or
sensual pleasure--so long as it is fully expressed with all the
resources of self. It is this sort of completion which Mr. Cabell has