"THE FIRST GREAT AFRICAN AMERICAN WRITER": FIRST EDITION OF CHARLES CHESNUTT'S WIFE OF HIS YOUTH AND OTHER STORIES OF THE COLOR LINE, 1899
CHESNUTT, Charles W. The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1899. Octavo, original light red cloth. $3500.
First edition of Chesnutt's decisive second collection of richly engaging and "subversive" stories that "explode myths about American history and racial supremacy," with frontispiece and three full-page illustrations, in original gilt-stamped cloth.
In this seminal collection of Chesnutt's short prose, he "confronts without flinching the dynamics of race, gender and class" (Duncan, Absent Man, 25). When describing the collection to his publishers, Chesnutt stated: "the backbone of this volume is not a character but a subject, as indicated in the title, The Color Line." Its nine stories contest and repudiate the color line as a "system of racial exclusion and the multiple barriers of oppression erected within American society. Unlike the veil which inscribes silent vision… the color line demands the more forceful assertion of identity which lies in crossing over the boundaries which inhibit and confine" (Fienberg, Charles Chesnutt's Wife of His Youth, 207). To critic Matthew Martin, it is notably the "subversive quality of his writing, his ability to explode myths about American history and racial supremacy" that further assert "Chesnutt's position as the first great African American writer" (Two-Faced New South, 18).
The volume's stories are arranged to convey "a ceaseless oscillation across the boundaries: from present to past, from North to South, from freedom to slavery and back again" (Fienberg, 212). "During the late 1890s he wrote 'The Wife of His Youth,' 'A Matter of Principle,' 'Uncle Wellington's Wives,' 'Her Virginia Mammy,' 'Cicely's Dream'… (probably in that order)." Together with "The Sheriff's Children," "The Passing of Grandison," "The Bouquet" and "The Web of Circumstance," Chesnutt's collection demonstrates "that he was ready to break the ice in the American fiction of manners. He would be the first to introduce, with a tonal ambiguity reminiscent of a Henry James or an Edith Wharton, the upper crust of Afro-American society to the upper crust of the white reading public," and declare his undeniable status as a "writer of national significance" (Andrews, Literary Career, 104, 120). Scholar Eric Sundquist confirms that Chesnutt ranks "among the major American fiction writers of the 19th century" (To Wake the Nations, 12). First edition, first printing: published November 27, 1899. Containing frontispiece and three full-page illustrations by Clyde O. De Land. As issued without dust jacket. Contains nine short prose works together in print for the first time: serialization of Wife of His Youth (Atlantic Monthly, July 1898) and Sheriff's Children (Independent, November 7, 1889) prior to publication herein. Blockson 6780. Work, 463. Bookplate.
Interior very fresh with expert repair to closed tear to preliminary blank, light edge-wear, mild toning to spine of cloth. A handsome near-fine copy.