FIRST EDITION OF CHARLES CHESNUTT'S MARROW OF TRADITION, 1901—"A MASTERPIECE… THE MOST IMPORTANT PROTEST AGAINST THE PAINFUL DESCENT OF AMERICA INTO HARSH SEGREGATION"—BASED ON THE DEADLY WILMINGTON UPRISING OF NOVEMBER 10, 1898
CHESNUTT, Charles W. The Marrow of Tradition. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1901. Octavo, original black- and white-printed dark yellow cloth.
First edition of the definitive novel by Chesnutt, who opened a path for "the evolution of a modern Black literature and culture"—"Like W.E.B. Du Bois, Chesnutt understood that 'the problem of the 20th century [would be] the problem of the color line'… Marrow of Tradition is an unflinchingly and brutally honest book that demonstrates this truth"—in original cloth.
At the cusp of the 20th century, "Chesnutt emerged as the preeminent African American writer of fiction" (McWilliams, Charles W. Chesnutt, vii). Marrow of Tradition, his second novel, is "a masterpiece of political fiction—indeed the most important protest against the painful descent of America into harsh segregation." It speaks to his vital role in laying the ground for "the evolution of a modern Black literature and culture" (Sundquist, To Wake the Nations, 453, 112-14). "Among Black fiction writers who continued in his path we may count Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison" (McWilliams, 71). Built around the intertwined lives of two families, Marrow of Tradition's realist approach and his "tightly woven meditation on the race crisis" reaches, "like Twain… back into the decayed world of antebellum law to find the origins of modern racism; but Chesnutt also reached into the vibrant world of slave culture to find the origins of modern African American cultural resistance to racism" (Sundquist, 271-3).
The son of free Blacks, Chesnutt could have "passed" as white, yet refused to give up his African American identity. Self-taught and proficient in Latin, French, German and Greek, he was trained as a lawyer and passed the bar, but racism forced him instead to work as a court stenographer. "Like W. E. B. Du Bois, Chesnutt understood that 'the problem of the 20th century [would be] the problem of the color line'… Marrow of Tradition is an unflinchingly and brutally honest book that demonstrates this truth" (Pettis, Charles W. Chesnutt, 452, 462). His novel "tells the harrowing, historically accurate story" of the November 10, 1898 uprising in Wilmington, North Carolina, which "should more rightly be styled a revolution (as Chesnutt does), a rebellion or a coup (as several historians have), or a massacre" (Sundquist, 405). On that day, organized mobs of whites terrorized and murdered African Americans, burned down a Black-owned newspaper, and took over the elected city government. "It would take a century for… Wilmington to officially recognize the 'race riot' as a massacre and publicly acknowledge the atrocities that were committed that day in the name of white supremacy" (Belau and Cameron, Charles W. Chesnutt, 14). Raised in North Carolina, Chestnutt still had relatives near Wilmington and, at the time, wrote that this was "an outbreak of pure, malignant and altogether indefensible race prejudice, which makes me feel personally humiliated, and ashamed for the country" (Yarborough, Violence, 318). As many critics have noted, the "last line of Marrow of Tradition is prophetic: 'There's time enough, but none to spare'" (Harrell, Fruit of My Own Imagination, 39). Pioneering Black filmmaker Oscar Michaux made two films based on Chesnutt's works. First edition, first printing: as issued without dust jacket. Blockson 5939. Work, 472.
Text block recased with original endpapers preserved, expert paper repair to gutter's edge of first few dozen leaves, light soiling to original cloth. A very scarce extremely good copy.