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James Branch Cabell (1879 – 1958)


American author of satirical fantasy works, most notably the series known as Biography of the Life of Manuel.
James Branch Cabell
If the Author will it, there may be appended to any comedy an afterpiece. Meanwhile, so far as I may judge, the life of Manuel ends here.
Cabell quotes
A book, once it is printed and published, becomes individual. It is by its publication as decisively severed from its author as in parturition a child is cut off from its parent. The book "means" thereafter, perforce, — both grammatically and actually, — whatever meaning this or that reader gets out of it.
Cabell
I am quite content, in this Comedy of Appearances, to follow the old romancers' lead. "Such and such things were said and done by our great Manuel," they say to us, in effect: "such and such were the appearances, and do you make what you can of them."
I say that, too, with the addition that in real life, also, such is the fashion in which we are compelled to deal with all happenings and with all our fellows, whether they wear or lack the gaudy name of heroism.




Cabell James Branch quotes
"Now we must ford these shadowy waters," said Grandfather Death, "in part because your destiny is on the other side, and in part because by the contact of these waters all your memories will be washed away from you. And that is requisite to your destiny."
"But what is my destiny?"
"It is that of all loving creatures, Count Manuel. If you have been yourself you cannot reasonably be punished, but if you have been somebody else you will find that this is not permitted."
"That is a dark saying, only too well suited to this doubtful place, and I do not understand you."
"No," replied Grandfather Death, "but that does not matter."
Cabell James Branch
My immortality has sharp restrictions. For it is at a price that I pass down the years, as yet, in eternal union with the witch-woman whose magic stays — as yet — more strong than the magic of time. The price is that I only of her lovers many not ever hope to win Ettare. This merely is permitted me: that I may touch the hand of Etarre in the moment I lay that hand in the hand of her last lover. I give, who may not ever take... So do I purchase an eternally unfed desire against which time — as yet — remains powerless.
James Branch Cabell quotes
Cabell certainly doesn't take himself too seriously.
I enjoyed Figures of Earth a lot; its humour was so enjoyably sophisticated that I had to check that the author really was an American :-).
James Branch Cabell
I take it that I must be the eternal playfellow of time. For piety and common-sense and death are rightfully time's toys; and it is with these three that I divert myself.
Cabell James Branch quotes
The purblind majority quite honestly believed that literature was meant to mimic human life, and that it did so. And in consequence, their love-affairs, their maxims, their so-called natural ties and instincts, and above all, their wickedness, became just so many bungling plagiarisms from something they had read, in a novel or a Bible or a poem or a newspaper. People progressed from the kindergarten to the cemetery assuming that their emotion at every crisis was what books taught them was the appropriate emotion, and without noticing that it was in reality something quite different. Human life was a distorting tarnished mirror held up to literature: this much at least of Wilde's old paradox — that life mimicked art — was indisputable. Human life, very clumsily, tried to reproduce the printed word.
Cabell
I consider the saga of no lord of the Silver Stallion to be worth squabbling over. Your sagas in the end must all be perverted and engulfed by the great legend about Manuel. No matter how you strive against that legend, it will conquer: no matter what you may do or suffer, my doomed Guivric, your saga will be recast until it conforms in everything to the legend begotten by the terrified imaginings of a lost child. For men dare not face the universe with no better backing than their own resources; all men that live, and that go perforce about this world like blundering lost children whose rescuer is not yet in sight, have a vital need to believe in this sustaining legend about the Redeemer: and the wickedness and the foolishness of no man can avail against the fond optimism of mankind.
Cabell James Branch
The stranger pointed at the unfinished, unsatisfying image which stood beside the pool of Haranton, wherein, they say, strange dreams engender....
"What is that thing?" the stranger was asking, yet again...
"It is the figure of a man," said Manuel, "which I have modeled and remodeled, and cannot get exactly to my liking. So it is necessary that I keep laboring at it, until the figure is to my thinking and my desire."
James Branch Cabell
The comedy is always the same. In the first act the hero imagines a place where happiness exists. In the second he strives towards that goal. In the third he comes up short or what amounts to the same thing he achieves his goal only to find that happiness lies a little further down the road.




James Branch Cabell quotes
The magician looked at the tall warrior for a while, and in the dark soft eyes of Miramon Lluagor was a queer sort of compassion. Miramon said, "Yes, Manuel, these portents have marked your living thus far, just as they formerly distinguished the beginnings of Mithras and of Huitzilopochtli and of Tammouz and of Heracles—"
"Yes, but what does it matter if these accidents did happen to me, Miramon?"
"— As they happened to Gautama and to Dionysos and to Krishna and to all other reputable Redeemers," Miramon continued.
"Well, well, all this is granted. But what, pray, am I to deduce from all this?"
Miramon told him.
Dom Manuel, at the end of Miramon's speaking, looked peculiarly solemn, and Manuel said: "I had thought the transformation surprising enough when King Ferdinand was turned into a saint, but this tops all! Either way, Miramon, you point out an obligation so tremendous that the less said about it, the wiser; and the sooner this obligation is discharged and the ritual fulfilled, the more comfortable it will be for everybody."
James Branch Cabell
Criticism, whatever may be its pretensions, never does more than to define the impression which is made upon it at a certain moment by a work wherein the writer himself noted the impression of the world which he received at a certain hour.
Cabell quotes
You must permit that I begin it in my own way, with what may to you at first seem dream-stuff. For I commence at Storisende, in the world's youth, when the fourth Count Emmerick reigned in Poictesme, having not yet blundered into the disfavor of his papal cousin Adrian VII.... With such roundabout gambits alone can some of us approach — as one fancy begets another, if you will — to proud assurance that life is not blind and aimless business; not all a hopeless waste and confusion; and that we ourselves may (by and by) be strong and excellent and wise.
Cabell James Branch
I think that unless a reviewer gets their facts completely wrong, the author should shut up (and even then, the author should probably let it go — although I'm a big fan of a letter that James Branch Cabell wrote to the New York Times pointing out that their review of Figures Of Earth was bollocks. ... For most authors, not being James Branch Cabell, it's probably wisest after reading a particularly stupid or vicious or bad review to mentally compose your letter to the editor, fill it with your sharpest and most cutting and brilliant bon mots, and then, having made it up, to successfully resist the urge to put it to paper, and to return cheerfully to work.
Cabell James Branch quotes
Here was the astounding fact: the race did go forward; the race did achieve; and in every way the race grew better. Progress through irrational and astounding blunders, whose outrageousness bedwarfed the wildest cliches of romance, was what Kennaston found everywhere. All this, then, also was foreplanned, just as all happenings at Storisende had been, in his puny romance; and the puppets, here to, moved as they thought of their own volition, but really in order to serve a denouement in which many of them had not any personal part or interest....
James Branch Cabell
There are many of our so-called captains on industry who, if the truth were told, and a shorter and uglier word were not unpermissible, are little better than malefactors of great wealth.
James Branch Cabell quotes
It was not his to choose from what volume or on which page thereof he would read; accident, as it seemed, decided that; but the chance-opened page lay unblurred before him, and he saw it with a clarity denied to other men of his generation.
James Branch Cabell
Poor and naked as this aspiring ape must seem to the eye of reason, asks Mr. Cabell, is there not something magnificent about his imaginings? Does the course of human life not singularly resemble the dance of puppets in the hands of a Supreme Romancer? How, then, may any one declare that romance has become antiquated or can ever cease to be indispensable to mortal character and mortal interest? The difference between Mr. Cabell and the popular romancers who in all ages clutter the scene and for whom he has nothing but amused contempt is that they are unconscious dupes of the demiurge whereas he, aware of its ways and its devices, employs it almost as if it were some hippogriff bridled by him in Elysian pastures and respectfully entertained in a snug Virginian stable.
Cabell James Branch
The desire to write perfectly of beautiful happenings is, as the saying runs, old as the hills — and as immortal.


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