James Branch Cabell

Literary Life and Legacy

Cabell’s Personal Library

Author sits in front of a bookcase. He wears a bow tie and jacket with decorative lapels. [View Image]
James Branch Cabell in his library, no date, Cabell Family Photographs
Special Collections and Archives, VCU Libraries

In 1968, James Branch Cabell’s extensive personal library first came to the newly organized Virginia Commonwealth University. Cabell began building what would become his working library as early as 1890. It grew to be 3,363 volumes consisting of literary works by the writer’s contemporaries as well as references sources on psychology, mythology, folklore, voodoo, and the occult. The library features 767 autographed or inscribed volumes by authors such as Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ellen Glasgow, Sinclair Lewis, H.L. Mencken, Carl Van Vechten, and others. The 1,023 inscriptions by these literary figures and others provide a unique insight into Cabell and his creative endeavors.

Cabell’s personal library also includes various editions, impressions, and states of his own published books and is invaluable for those studying his literary output and writing process. Some of these volumes contain the author’s notes and emendations in his own hand.  To showcase his published works, Cabell had maroon leather slipcases made for his first editions and purchased with his first royalties a mahogany Bingham bookcase to house them.

Cabell never compiled an inventory to his library during his lifetime. Maurice Duke, a professor of English at Richmond Professional Institute (RPI), took up that task in February of 1967 almost a decade after Cabell’s death. He assigned a number to each item in Cabell’s library and faithfully recorded its location in the author’s home at 3201 Monument Avenue. The catalog served as the basis of Duke’s doctoral dissertation and it continues to be a valuable resource for researchers and those who manage Cabell’s personal library. VCU Libraries made digital versions of Duke’s catalog available to aid Cabell scholars. 

Margaret Freeman Cabell, the author’s widow wife, formally donated Cabell’s personal library to the university 1971. Administered by Special Collections and Archives, the library is housed in the Cabell Room, a mid-Victorian recreation of a gentleman’s library based on the New York Women’s Club library designed by Margaret Cabell. The Cabell Room is located on the fourth floor of the building that bears his name. To locate materials in Cabell’s personal library, use VCU Libraries search.  Please direct research inquiries regarding physical volumes to libjbcsca@vcu.edu or call (804) 828-1108.

 

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