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A Business Career

Charles W. Chesnutt

Publication Year: 2005

Never before published, A Business Career is the story of Stella Merwin, a white woman entering the working-class world to discover the truth behind her upper-class father's financial failure. A "New Woman" of the 1890s, Stella joins a stenographer's office and uncovers a life-altering secret that allows her to regain her status and wealth.

When Charles W. Chesnutt died in 1932, he left behind six manuscripts unpublished, A Business Career among them. Along with novels of Paul Laurence Dunbar, it is one of the first written by an African American who crosses the color line to write about the white world. It is also one of only two Chesnutt novels with a female protagonist.

Rejecting the novel for publication, Houghton Mifflin editor Walter Hines Page encouraged Chesnutt to try to get the book in print. "You will doubtless be able to find a publisher, and my advice to you is decidedly to keep trying till you do find one," he wrote. Page clearly saw that in A Business Career Chesnutt had written a successful popular novel grounded in realism but one that exploits elements of romance.

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932) was an innovative and influential African American writer of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His novels include The House Behind the Cedars, The Marrow of Tradition, The Colonel's Dream, as well as the posthumously published novel Paul Marchand, F.M.C. from University Press of Mississippi.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-6

In a large, handsomely appointed room on one of the upper floors of a tall office building in a great city of the Middle West, a gentleman sat at an open roll-top desk, somewhat impatiently opening letters with a carved ivory paper-knife,— a rather stern looking...

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pp. 6-9

For half an hour before Mr. Truscott had begun his morning's work, two women had been seated in an office a few blocks away from Mr. Truscott's. One of them was apparently anywhere from thirty-five to forty-five years of age, a short, stout woman, with strongly...

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pp. 9-18

Her father, Henry Merwin, had been, some years before, a successful and wealthy oil refiner of Groveland. Stella had been born in the city, and the first few years of her life had been spent amid surroundings of refined luxury. Her home...

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pp. 18-30

Stella had no difficulty in finding the place, a large, new building on a corner of the principal street in the heart of the city. The offices of the Truscott Refining Company were located on the eighth floor of the El Dorado, a modern steelframe structure towering...

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pp. 30-35

Stella was at her desk a few minutes before one. The clerks were all on time. Some of them were just on the hour, and these looked relieved when they glanced up at the clock. Stella supposed their apprehension due to the rigid discipline of the office. She almost shuddered...

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pp. 35-42

When Stella and Mrs. Paxton dismounted from the street-car in front of the brilliantly lighted entrance to the theater, a fashionably attired throng were pouring into the lobby and carriages were depositing their freight of ladies and gentlemen in evening dress upon the...

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pp. 43-49

"I don't know what in the world I shall do, Stella," said Mrs. Paxton despairingly. "Every one of my girls is busy, and I don't know where to turn for another. Please stay and help me out until noon! Something may turn up by that time. It will give you an opportunity to...

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pp. 50-58

Wendell Truscott had known Matilda Wedderburn for a number of years. He had met her first, indeed, at the Merwin residence, at a time when he was a poor clerk, and only enjoyed by his employer's favor the privilege of meeting such a fine flower of culture as...

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pp. 58-66

"Smith, if you please," said Stella, mustering up a bit of courage. For strangely enough, though she despised and hated the man, she always felt small when she came into his presence. She did not know whether it was the mere sex instinct of subordination, or simply...

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pp. 66-70

Stella's work for the afternoon was light. Mr. Truscott did not come in until late, and in the meantime Stella wrote a letter to her mother, stating where she was working and why. Later on, Mr. Ross brought her a statement to copy. It was short, but the work of tabulating was...

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pp. 70-79

Stella had many letters to answer this morning. Mr. Truscott had relapsed into his former humor, and did not even say "Good morning" when she entered his room. He dictated a good many letters, more rapidly than upon the last occasion; in fact, he kept perilously...

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pp. 79-86

"You'll like it, Stella, for you have fine business aptitudes. And you'll get accustomed to the money. There's something sweet about the money one earns! Perhaps it wasn't the worst thing for Adam and Eve that they had to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow...

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pp. 86-98

Miss Wedderburn had been walking on air all day. Part of the morning had been devoted to preparations for the evening. To any one else her house would have seemed perfect already; but Miss Wedderburn moved a vase here or a statuette there, set a chair in this place or an...

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pp. 98-108

Stella found a boarding-place, after a little search. Since her brother was working in the city, she would have preferred a house where they could board together. She had seen him during the earlier part of the week and suggested such an...

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pp. 108-111

Stella had been trying to train herself to take a merely perfunctory interest in the confidential matters that passed through her hands. But she had a very active intelligence, and could not entirely restrain the lively curiosity of a fresh young mind, brought for the first...

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pp. 112-114

Stella's brother had not been to see her for several evenings. She felt disappointed and neglected, for she had relied upon George for occasional companionship during the disagreeable task she had undertaken for the benefit of the family. She was charitable enough...

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pp. 114-120

Mr. Truscott observed his stenographer very closely after the evening of his dinner at Miss Wedderburn's. Up to that time he had been unconscious of any special interest in the girl, and even afterwards his thoughts in regard to her were purely involuntary. A...

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pp. 120-131

A week had elapsed after George's disappearance before Stella received another letter from her brother. In the meantime she had run down to Cloverdale to apprise her mother of George's disappearance and show her his somewhat vague and incoherent note...

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pp. 131-138

A carriage, driven by a liveried coachman, drew up before the El Dorado Building, one fine morning in Summer. A lady alighted, and having ordered the coachman to wait, entered the building and stepped into the elevator...

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pp. 138-143

Stella had been very busy for a week or ten days. Mr. Truscott's scheme was making rapid headway, as she knew from the tenor of his replies to the letters received at the office. The most important letters, as well as carbon copies which Stella made, were kept under...

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pp. 144-150

Stella stood by the window, looking out over the lake. During the night a thunderstorm had cleared the atmosphere. A landward breeze kept back from the lake the smoke that might otherwise have marred a beautiful view. The wind was just strong enough to send the...

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pp. 150-159

The volume of correspondence in regard to the new enterprise kept Stella so busily employed that for some time she only perfunctorily footed the daily statements turned in by Mr. Ross and handed to her for checking. When there came a lull of a day or two in the letter-writing...

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pp. 159-170

Stella, upon regaining consciousness, found herself in the dark. Whether night had fallen or not she had no means of knowing, nor could she imagine how many hours she had lain there. With consciousness her terror returned, and she screamed and beat her hands...

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pp. 170-174

Ross got safely away for the time being. The agencies set in operation by Truscott to find him were unavailing, and many months elapsed before he was finally located in a certain South American country with which at that time the United States had no treaty of extradition...

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pp. 174-179

Stella felt strangely depressed as she climbed the stairs of the El Dorado Building on Sunday afternoon. She had not gone to church in the morning; why, she had not asked herself; probably because of some obscure incongruity between worship and the afternoon task to which...

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pp. 180-189

The Country Club, where Truscott was engaged to dine on Sunday, was an organization of rather exclusive membership, recruited mostly from among elderly business men of large affairs. Two railroad presidents were numbered among the elect, one of whom, a bachelor...

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pp. 189-196

Stella, returning from the office with the papers, reached her boarding-house while tea was in progress. She did not feel like eating, but, lest her absence might attract attention, sat down among the other boarders and drank a cup of tea. She excused herself from an invitation...

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pp. 197-205

Stella awoke with a feeling of profound humiliation. For weeks she had been misjudging, and for part of that time holding in scorn and hatred her father's best friend. With returning day and a mind refreshed by sleep, her thoughts recurred to certain things which had not been...

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pp. 205-215

On the morning of the second day of the panic Truscott came down to his office a half hour earlier than usual. He had spent the evening at his club, hoping that he might see some way out of his difficulties. He clutched at several straws—but they were only straws. Of several...

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pp. 215-218

He went away with a certain sense of relief. He had performed what might have proved a difficult duty; but the lady's tact had robbed the situation of its awkwardness. That he should have overlooked for so many years this jewel among women, to discover her...

About the Book

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pp. 262

E-ISBN-13: 9781621031680
E-ISBN-10: 1578067618
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578067619

Publication Year: 2005

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