Todd B. Vick has just launched a new blog series, “The Literary Influences of Robert E. Howard”, with the increasingly forgotten James Branch Cabell as the opener.
In his review, Howard calls Cabell the ablest writer of the present age. Along with many other readers back then, Howard was seized by Cabell’s command of the English language.
Carl van Vechten’s portrait of Cabell, 1935. B&W from the Library of Congress, but here newly up-rezzed, tweaked and colourised by me. View on a dark background and good monitor, to see the wooden cane in the lower half. Feel free to use for worthy projects.
DMR also recently had a short post Forefathers of Sword and Sorcery: James Branch Cabell which noted others influenced by Cabell…
Neil Gaiman counts JBC as his favorite author.
The Lovecraft-Barlow letters also reveal that Cabell was a key idol for Barlow. The Lovecraft-Bloch letters also indicate Bloch was an admirer, though perhaps less ardently that Barlow.
What of Lovecraft? He was more tepid. In 1920 he called Cabell a “real thinker”. But while judging most of Cabell’s fiction “sound and admirable”, and often with an enjoyable “light, witty, & sophisticated manner” and a fine ear for “prose rhythm”, for fantasy Lovecraft very much preferred Dunsany for his “genuine magic & freshness”.
He was distinctly sniffy about the politics, though, by 1935. To Bloch he wrote… “Cabell strikes me as a pale-pink Anatole France — with a lot less to say than his prototype had”. Pale-pink here seems to refer to Cabell’s politics. If one was ‘pink’ in the mid 1930s, one was a dupe or a fellow-traveller of the ‘reds’ (the Communist Party). Such people failed to know or recall that when ‘the revolution’ is in its early stages the intellectual comrade — the bookish guy with intellectual theories and a taste for poetry — is the one put up against the wall and shot by the thuggish element among his comrades. Still, even in a letter to Bloch of November 1935 Lovecraft can still be found lauding Cabell and overlooking his political foolishness. In this letter Lovecraft remarked that Cabell had… “one of the finest and maturest styles yet found in American prose”.