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Studies in American Fiction123 Petry, Alice Hall. A Genius in His Way: The Art of Cable's Old Creole Days. Rutherford: Farleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1988. 158 pp. Cloth: $24.50 In A Genius in His Way: The Art of Cable's Old Creole Days, Alice Hall Petry makes a compelling case for a serious reading of Cable's fiction. In her introduction Petry says that "part and parcel with the disinclination to read Cable is the disinclination to approach his writings as works of art. . . . There seems to be a widespread and tenacious assumption that there is nothing in Cable which could possibly be misinterpreted—that he is so superficial, so transparent, so 'simple' if you will, that his writings are not conducive to serious critical study. Nothing could be further from the truth" (p. 13). Noting the high favor in which Cable's work was held in the nineteenth century, Petry finds it, "startling . . . that in the twentieth century the tendency has been to approach Cable's writings—if at all—from narrow, fundamentally nonliterary angles ..." (p. 14). Petry acknowledges the perceptive scholarship of such critics as Arlin Turner, Louis D. Rubin, Jr., and Philip Butcher but notes that their work is largely critical biography which did not allow "the time or space necessary for a full appreciation of Old Creole Days" (p. 14). Petry's study is designed to fill what she terms the "large gap ... in Cable scholarship" (p. 14). In the introduction Petry also delineates some of the techniques Cable used in the fiction, including his "utilization of dense, organic, highly evocative language . . . . Like Poe, Cable had a rational turn of mind coupled with a predilection for the intangible, the unknown, even the whimsical" (p. 15). Cable also incorporates a distinctive pattern of symbols: "Private homes are used to symbolize the personal situation of their residents, and buildings (especially public ones) often serve as gauges of socioeconomic change" (p. 18). Thus, Petry concludes, "both the doomed plantation of the Belles Demoiselles and the rotting mansions of Jean-ah Poquelin, for example, are emblems of the families with which they are associated. . . . One is reminded immediately of Poe's House of Usher, Miss Havisham's mansion in Dickens' Great Expectations, and Hawthorne's House of Pynchon" (p. 18). The following chapters examine the novella Madame Delphine and the other seven stories in the collection. Petry employs a chapter by chapter analysis of the individual tales because, she notes, "a story's artistry is most palpable when it is examined as a unit" (p. 22). Petry's close reading of Madame Delphine provides an insightful analysis of the ambiguities of this novella. She notes, "it was one of the more poignant developments of Cable's career that the novella . . . was written in response to an anonymous quadroon's complaint that his story "Tite Poulette' (1874) begged the agonizing question of miscegenation in nineteenth-century New Orleans" (p. 24). In response, says Petry, "Cable vowed to retell the story in a more 'truthful' fashion" (p. 24). The result was Madame Delphine, a novella which Petry convincingly argues is a penetrating analysis of the racial relations, especially as guided by the Code Noir, in New Orleans. Petry concludes, however, that "despite—or perhaps because of—the story's melodrama, the stock characters, the variety of dialect, and the ease with which one can brush past the complex racial and ethical issues, Madame Delphine became one of Cable's most famous works. . . . As is the case with the earlier 'Belles Demoiselles Plantation,' Cable no doubt would have appreciated the irony of a story with a strong moral dimension remaining popular for more than a century precisely because that dimension is readily overlooked" (p. 48). Among the seven remaining stories, probably the most detailed and perceptive discussion is of "Belles Demoiselles Plantation." Noting that "all the foreshadowing, all the geological facts in the world, do not seem to make tenable—except perhaps on the level of the most ghoulish melodrama—the collapse of the beautiful mansion 124Reviews into the Mississippi" (p. 59), Petry argues that the story is "fundamentally a religious allegory. But thanks to Cable's masterful presentation of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 123-124
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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