Charles W. Chestnutt's The Marrow of Tradition Essay

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Charles W. Chestnutt's The Marrow of Tradition

Clearly, one can expect differing critical views of a novel; from the

author's perspective we see one view, from a publisher's another, and from

the reviewer's yet another. This is especially true of Charles W.

Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition. If one observes both the contemporary

reviews of the novel and letters exchanged between Chesnutt and his

friends and publisher, Houghton, Mifflin, and Co., one will see the

disparity in opinions regarding the work. Chesnutt himself felt the work

was of at least good quality, and remarked often of its significant

purpose in letters to
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Reflecting upon the title of this essay, The American People Are Too

Sensible to Waste Their Time Upon Such Silly Rot, taken from the review of

The Marrow of Tradition by Katherine Glover, it is interesting to note

that the novel did receive a certain amount of public success. Chesnutt

revealed the popularity of the novel to daughter Ethel in October of its

publication year (prior to the reviews cited here). The line from Glover's

review is obviously a mean-spirited attack by a racist reviewer, and is

ultimately ironic in that it did not accurately depict the sentiments of

the reading public. And in a series of letters to Booker T. Washington

Chesnutt expresses his belief that the novel has helped him to "arrive" as

a popular novelist. He also notes the probable popularity of the novel in

a letter to his publisher in November 1901.

All of the reviews presented here, and Chesnutt's own letters, bring to

light the sometimes apparent gap between what is achieved in the realm of

"quality" and what is achieved in "purpose." Clearly, with few exceptions,

The Marrow of Tradition was perceived as a "purpose" novel, one which

proposed to uncover the
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