James Branch Cabell
(14 April 1879 - 5 May 1958)
James Branch Cabell was one of the great ironists of twentieth-century fantastic literature. His avowed aim "to write perfectly of beautiful happenings" was usually deceptive; the writing was wittily elegant but the beauty often bleak and austere. Cabell's finest works all acknowledge the emptiness or unattainability of most human ideals, and the inexorable ravages of time, with the happiest permitted outcome often being the return of the hero through a closed circle of story to the place (and sometimes even the moment) from which he set out.
Cabell was born on 14 April 1879 in Richmond, Virginia, which appears in his novels as "Lichfield." He lived there for most of his life, very consciously a Southern gentleman. His parents were Robert Gamble Cabell II, a physician, and Anne Harris (née Branch). His education was at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, from 1894 to 1898. Besides his career as an author, he did some newspaper and editorial work, plus much genealogical research, in particular as genealogist to the Virginia Society of Colonial Wars (1916-28) and the Virginia Sons of the American Revolution (1917-24). In 1918 Cabell married Priscilla Bradley Shepherd, who died in 1949; his second marriage in 1950 was to Margaret Walter Freeman, who survived him. He died on 5 May 1958. As a mnemonic for the pronunciation of his name, he wrote: "Tell the rabble / My name is Cabell."
Though acknowledging and sometimes preserving such earlier work as college magazine verses and newspaper essays, Cabell reckoned his career as a serious fiction writer from 1902, with the publication of his fantasy "An Amateur Ghost" (Argosy, March, later incorporated into Jurgen) and short historical romances in Smart Set and Harper's Monthly Magazine. His first novel The Eagle's Shadow, a contemporary narrative, was written in two bursts in 1903 and published in 1904. Magazine appearances continued for many years and expanded into other outlets like Collier's Weekly, with early stories collected in book form as The Line of Love (1905), Gallantry (1907) and Chivalry (1909). Other magazine episodes were worked into Cabell's second contemporary novel The Cords of Vanity (1909).
Even in the earliest work his prose is mannered but effective, larded with near-hypnotic repetitions, echoes and cadences. Certain quirks of phrase stand out, like the invariable use of "not ever" for "never". Mild archaisms abound. A perfectionist of language, Cabell obsessively revised and re-revised his stories through successive editions.
His first venture into book-length fantasy – though with little supernatural content – was The Soul of Melicent (1913), better known under its revised title Domnei. This is a very nearly deadpan story of the excesses of medieval Courtly Love, supposedly translated from a 15th century manuscript by the French romancer Nicolas de Caen. Such invented sources are frequent in Cabell's fiction.
For many years the lady Melicent is adored from afar by the impossibly noble hero Perion despite having given herself to the villainous Demetrios as ransom for Perion. Even Demetrios is high-minded in his own perverse way, and his nominally deadly rivalry with Perion is punctuated by grand gestures from either side that would seem better suited to devoted friends. Each rescues the other from direst peril, rather than allow the beloved enemy to be killed by lesser foes. Each in turn rejects the invincible magic sword Flamberge, scorning to accept such an advantage over the other.
Although, unusually, Cabell grants Perion and Melicent a happy ending, these extremes of chivalrous behaviour stray dangerously close to absurdity. Without the treacherous machinations of a third party who also loves Melicent from a discreet distance (and who appears to be the Wandering Jew), that overly sportsmanlike contest between Perion and Demetrios would evidently have continued until everyone concerned was too old for romance. Even as it is, Melicent's bloom has faded somewhat, and the curtain falls rapidly once the lovers are reunited.
Cabell divided his male creations into three broad categories: the chivalrous, of whom Perion is an outstanding example; the gallants or philanderers, and the poets – who like Cabell himself may turn from verse to novel-writing. Women tend to be either nagging, tiresome but ultimately comfortable wives, or instances of that unattainable beauty whom the author calls the Witch-Woman (the sequestered Melicent's role for much of Domnei).
There followed the oddly titled The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck (1915), the most polished of Cabell's mainstream novels; and another historical story collection, The Certain Hour (1916), which in the wake of Gallantry and Chivalry dealt with his third class of men, poets. Perhaps not coincidentally, an extensive verse collection appeared in the same month: From the Hidden Way (1916).
The Witch-Woman makes repeated appearances in the first truly accomplished book-length fantasy, The Cream of the Jest (1917). Here the hero Felix Kennaston is a modern poet-turned-novelist whose first success, Men Who Loved Alison, seems closely similar to The Soul of Melicent. Like Cabell, Kennaston strives to write perfectly of beautiful happenings, set in "an epoch and a society, and even a geography, whose comeliness had escaped the wear-and-tear of ever actually existing." Thanks to an ambiguous talisman known as the Sigil of Scoteia, his dreams take him to just such times and geographies, including his creator's own unreal land of Poictesme. A region of mediaeval France no longer found on maps, Poictesme somehow borders on even more fabulous realms and is central to Cabell's fantasies.
In these haunting dreams, Kennaston appears as Horvendile, a potent demiurge of the Cabell cosmology: who in the world of stories wields more power than an author? But though authors may write themselves into their tales, their female creations remain, for them, unattainable. Horvendile longs for his Ettarre, who like Melicent is a daughter of the redoubtable Dom Manuel of Poictesme; but touching her invariably ends the current dream.
Meanwhile in waking life, Kennaston is troubled by hints that his literary inventions are not wholly fictional. Notable persons, including a bishop, question him obliquely about the presence in his work of the Sigil and a sinister rite involving a mirror and white pigeons. (The latter is frequently mentioned though never described in Cabellian fantasy.) Eventually, though, the sigil itself is ironically explained away as half of the patterned metal top of a modern cold-cream jar, as though the powers behind reality are now papering over the cracks that allowed Kennaston to look behind the scenes. A final jest which even Kennaston never detects is that the sigil's "meaningless" characters, reproduced as a frontispiece in most editions, can if turned upside-down be read as a message from the Author. "James Branch Cabell made this book ..." it begins, and concludes by universalizing Ettarre the unattainable: "All men she must evade at the last and many are the ways of her elusion."
The early work attracted some praise. Mark Twain himself described the stories in Chivalry as "masterpieces ... wonderfully well written." (Quoted in letter from Eugene Saxton to Cabell, 1920.) But it was typical of Cabell to use his most negative reviews as end-matter advertisements in a later book – for example, assembling several notices of The Soul of Melicent which conveyed that Howard Pyle's coloured illustrations were the best part of the book, and adding demurely: "This Comedy is now issued without illustrations."
1919 began quietly with the January publication of Beyond Life, a collection of literary essays with a fictional framework in which a character from The Cords of Vanity shows off his marvellous library. This contains books existing only in fiction, like The Complete Works of David Copperfield; books never written, like Milton's King Arthur ("quite his most readable performance"); and known books in their Intended Editions as the authors conceived them, rather than as they reached the printed page. Again the appeal was to an appreciative but limited audience of literati. Then in September 1919 came the novel that would make – or shatter – Cabell's reputation, and establish him as the notorious author of Jurgen.
Its engaging though often reprehensible title character is a middle-aged pawnbroker who is both poet and gallant. When in a spirit of paradoxical phrase-making he vigorously defends the Devil, a then-unidentified black gentleman "rewards" him by abducting his tiresome wife Dame Lisa. Jurgen reluctantly goes looking for her, almost accidentally regains his youth, and continues on a year-long journey through variously magical realms. Despite mature experience, he relives and outdoes all the follies of his earlier years, including a great many love affairs.
On a particular day in the past Jurgen dallies with his lost love Dorothy (Dom Manuel's third daughter). Straying into Arthurian legends, he becomes dangerously involved with Guenevere prior to her marriage to Arthur; during this period he is also pleasurably distracted by two other ladies, one a delectable ghost. In Cocaigne he marries the Lady of the Lake, here presented as Anäitis, a goddess of erotic perversity. In the ancient world he comes close to possessing Helen of Troy, but for once refrains, recognizing his own personal unattainable. (To Jurgen, Helen resembles Dorothy; to Perion and Horvendile, who make cameo appearances here, the likeness is to Melicent and Ettarre respectively, although "it was certain that these three sisters were not particularly alike.")
Instead Jurgen marries a personable dryad from Greek myth, only for her unreal milieu to be overrun by the dull forces of rational "Philistia". Despite giving great pleasure to the Queen of Philistia, he is consigned to Hell and to affairs with a lovely vampire and Satan's own wife. Having shamelessly promoted himself as he travels – Duke, King, Prince, Emperor – our hero next bluffs his way into Heaven in a chapter entitled "The Ascension of Pope Jurgen."
Passing beyond the throne of God to Koshchei, the black gentleman who manages the universe, Jurgen is again offered Guenevere, Anäitis, or Helen. Having already had his opportunities with all three, he chooses the return of his own scolding harridan wife. During his travels Jurgen has been identified by the all-powerful Master Philologist as a solar myth, and therefore returns home at the end of one year – to the same day, since Koshchei has retrospectively made the whole adventure a dream.
Jurgen is a wonderfully witty novel, crammed with tasty mythological erudition. There are many fine poetic passages and some authentic shudders at hinted horrors typically referred to as "not convenient to describe." Jurgen's final choice of Dame Lisa, and his constant failure to find lasting satisfaction with alternatives, can be read as highly moral and uplifting. But the gentle naughtiness of the lovemaking scenes, though never explicit, led to trouble.
On January 14, 1920, one John S. Sumner of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice visited the publisher McBride & Co. with a warrant and seized the plates of Jurgen as preliminary to a public prosecution for selling this "lewd, lascivious, indecent, obscene and disgusting book entitled JURGEN ..." The resulting publicity greatly assisted the novel's sales when the obscenity charge was eventually dismissed in October 1922.
Cabell's technique of phallic double-entendre is indicated in a 1918 letter to his editor Guy Holt: "Much can be done by starting off the reader with the honest belief that a sword or a staff is actually being discussed, and then permitting the evil-minded, such as you, to become suspicious." Suspicious, that is, of the extravagant praises bestowed by women on Jurgen's sword, staff, lance or sceptre, during equivocal encounters in darkness. The Judging of Jurgen (1921), an additional episode incorporated into later editions of the novel, introduces Sumner as a malodorous tumble-bug or dung-beetle accompanied by pages carrying various weapons:
"You are offensive [...] because this page has a sword which I choose to say is not a sword. You are lewd because that page has a lance which I prefer to think is not a lance."
And so on. Jurgen might well have stayed under the ban had the judge in the case not apparently believed that Cabell's invented source, "the mediaeval legends of Jurgen," actually existed. The now notorious author had already given thanks for fame in his brief satirical squib Taboo (1921), in which Horvendile gets into trouble in Philistia (America), and which is dedicated at length to John S. Sumner for having "so glowingly advertised" Jurgen.
The next full-length novel, Figures of Earth (1921), is the earliest in the internal chronology of Poictesme, and tells the story of the perhaps cunning, perhaps dull-witted swineherd Manuel, who rises to power as Dom Manuel. As a boy he is obsessed with his mother's command that he should "make a figure in the world," which he interprets all too literally as an obligation to shape and animate clay images.
The reader is never told Manuel's actual thoughts. This hero is not a lovable figure and seems cursed to trick or betray almost everyone he deals with – beginning with his avowed true love Niafer, whom he gives to a personified Death to save his own skin. In accordance with the future motto of Poictesme, Mundus vult decipi or "the world wishes to be deceived," Manuel does very well for himself by deals wherein he makes no claims whatever for three ordinary goose-feathers whose purchasers convince themselves that these must be priceless talismans.
Naturally Manuel betrays a succession of women while pursing the secret of magically animating his figures, and repeating his catchphrase "I must follow after my own thinking and my own desires." His exploits are as fantastic and slyly witty as Jurgen's, and include some of Cabell's best poems disguised as prose passages. This is a darker novel than Jurgen, though, and for the sake of appearances (or so it seems) Manuel stubbornly pays high prices which he may not have anticipated: ageing thirty years in a month, for example, as a side effect of restoring Niafer to life.
There is a knowing nod to Sumner's prudery when Manuel and Niafer beget children by the orthodox magical procedure of drawing two lines on the floor, placing three star-shaped objects between them, and stepping across this row of asterisks from one line to the next – after which they await the stork. Manuel's "redemption" of Poictesme from heathen invaders is equally implausible. Under the terms of a deal whereby he will hold the land only as a fiefdom under Horvendile, he simply waits by the sea while the invaders are destroyed by obsolete deities conjured by a friendly wizard.
The years of fame and power are briefly told, with Manuel and his all-conquering henchmen defeating foes and winning prizes (including, in a typical Cabellian cross-reference, the Sigil of Scoteia). When at last Manuel's earliest and most magically mysterious lover demands what he calls "the one price I may not pay," the life or soul of his young daughter, he commits his final bloody betrayal. Death himself soon comes for the lord of Poictesme, and the story ends with a closing of the circle as Manuel becomes again the young swineherd who in Chapter 1 was told of "the famous Count Manuel that is so newly dead ..."
Cabell's next book was a romantic playscript, The Jewel Merchants (1921), set in Renaissance Italy – a rare theatrical venture. Mention should be made here of the bibliographic oddity Poor Jack, a one-act play supposedly privately printed in Richmond, dated 1906, and taking its dialogue from the story "Love-Letters of Falstaff", not as it appeared in 1902, nor as in The Line of Love (1905), but word for word from this collection's 1921 revision. There is a spurious introduction written in pastiche of the mannered Cabellian style and signed "J. B. C." Taking advantage of the author's notoriety, copies of this ingenious fraud were sold to many rare-book dealers in 1927, presumably the actual year of publication.
The Lineage of Lichfield (1922) is a playful exercise in invented genealogy, of interest only to devoted Cabell fans. It laboriously traces the descendants of Manuel and the three women who gave him children, from the thirteenth century to the twentieth. One line of descent is metaphorical, with the poets of The Certain Hour supposedly being images made by Manuel and infused with a divine spark, thus dragging Shakespeare, Herrick, Pope, and others into the family.
We return to Poictesme in The High Place (1923), a story that frequently reeks of brimstone. The protagonist Florian is an aristocratic descendant of Jurgen with more elegance and fewer scruples, who at age 36 has already murdered four wives. A bargain with the prince of this world (later revealed as Pan) allows Florian to enter Poictesme's equivalent of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, there waking and winning his dream woman. Unlike Jurgen with Helen, he does not refrain, and learns the Cabellian maxim that "the people who wanted things did not want them any longer once they had got them." But they must still be paid for, and Florian's firstborn child is forfeit. The twisted comedy is complicated by a most unsaintly saint who was canonized in error, and by angelic intervention.
Only supernatural meddling with time can untangle matters. Florian finds himself ten years old again, with all his sins and diabolism reduced to a prophetic dream which guides his life in a highly practical fashion:
Therefore, as the boy grew toward maturity, he reduplicated in action all the crimes he had committed in fancy, and was appropriately grateful for his foreknowledge that all would turn out well. But when he had reached the thirty-sixth year of his living ...
Forewarned, he then avoids the road leading to the Sleeping Beauty and onward to Hell, and instead lives out his days "piously and edifyingly" with a fifth wife.
Fairytales and devilry recur in stories describing the fates of Dom Manuel's nine captains, those "genial murderers," in Straws and Prayer-Books (1924) and The Silver Stallion (1926). The first is chiefly a collection of literary essays and reminiscences, but includes two allegorical tales. The second deals with the remaining seven lords of Poictesme and their bewilderment as the grim war-leader they knew is eclipsed by the ornate, Christianized and largely false legend of Manuel the Redeemer. Some of Cabell's best shorter pieces appear here. In his witty reworking of the quest to win a princess's hand, the winner is the injured suitor who must stay behind with the lady. In the tale of three misapplied wishes, the reverberations threaten the entire cosmos. When a bullying, overbearing saint comes into conflict with a home-loving demon, the outcome is highly unexpected. When a captain falls in battle and is accidentally carried off by the Valkyrie sent for his pagan foe, he is adopted into a Nordic pantheon of which Koshchei himself is a minor member, and (without ever wavering in his Christian faith) learns how to create worlds....
Again and again, there proves to be only one ultimate truth, the sole certain fact found in the infernal, Borgesian library where another captain wastes his life: that time ruins everything. Still there remains surprising resilience in the bond between men and women, which Koshchei (who made all things as they are) calls "that cord which I wove equally of love and of disliking [...] a strong cord, and though all things that are depend upon it, my weaving holds."
The brief The Music from Behind the Moon (1926) is a prose poem of some beauty, concerning the unattainable Ettarre from The Cream of the Jest and another of her eternal pursuers, Madoc. At its heart, though, is an outrageous quibble. In the literal book of destiny, of which "no man nor any god may alter any word," it is written that Ettarre will be imprisoned in the Waste Beyond the Moon for 725 years. At the climax, without altering any word, "Madoc inserted after the digit seven a decimal point."
Although the prose is elegant as ever and the text heavily larded with erudition, a certain ebbing of creative energy is detectable in Something about Eve (1927), the last substantial novel of the Poictesme sequence. Encouraged by a revenant spirit from The Silver Stallion, Gerald Musgrave leaves his physical body and the real world of 1805 to seek glory in the land of Antan, where all wonderful things go. Antan is of course the past, and Gerald never gets there despite eluding the snares of three versions of Eve, and hearing the stories of travellers bound for Antan, including Nero, Villon, Odysseus, Solomon, Merlin and many more. Instead Gerald fritters away his life on Mispec Moor (anagram: "compromise"), dallying with a woman called Maya (Sanskrit: "illusion"), and finally returns home to embrace old age.
For the rest, The White Robe (1928) is a grim werewolf story where, for once, the deserved damnation of a particularly unpleasant cleric is not magicked away by tricks with time. In The Way of Ecben (1929), yet another chivalrous young man is drawn after the irresistible witch-woman Ettarre, earning the wrath of his country's gods and ultimately – which turns out to be worse – their forgiveness. Sonnets from Antan (1929) comprises six annotated sonnets, supposedly written by Gerald Musgrave of Something About Eve; the last, "made for Maya", contains the acrostic message THIS IS NONSENSE.
By the late 1920s, as though marking an end to his career, Cabell had laboriously revised virtually all his significant published work as the monumental eighteen-volume Storisende Edition of "The Biography of the Life of Manuel." The overall conceit – as in The Lineage of Lichfield – is that the essence of Manuel's life, either through direct descent or through images created by him, flows down the years to link all the chevaliers, gallants and poets whose stories Cabell told, from medieval and legendary eras to the contemporary novels.
The Biography sequence officially runs as follows: Beyond Life, Figures of Earth, The Silver Stallion, Domnei / The Music from Behind the Moon (packaging the revised The Soul of Melicent with the shorter novella), Chivalry, Jurgen, The Line of Love, The High Place, Gallantry, Something about Eve, The Certain Hour, The Cords of Vanity, From the Hidden Way [and] The Jewel Merchants, The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck, The Eagle's Shadow, The Cream of the Jest / The Lineage of Lichfield, Straws and Prayer-Books, and Townsend of Lichfield. The last volume is a ragbag assembly of shorter items, most notably The White Robe, The Way of Ecben, Taboo, and Sonnets from Antan, plus nonfiction including the bibliographical "Evolution of the Biography" and Guy Holt's compilation of the documents in the Jurgen case as Jurgen and the Law (1923).
Cabell wrote forewords for all eighteen volumes, thriftily republishing these as Preface to the Past (1931). Years later he was to reissue the thematically linked The Music from Behind the Moon, The White Robe and The Way of Ecben as The Witch-Woman (1948). But for now, he declared in the introduction to These Restless Heads (1932), the career of James Branch Cabell was complete and his new byline was "Branch Cabell":
"The main cause of this change is my desire [...] to distinguish as sharply as may be between those volumes which make up the Biography of the life of Manuel and such other publishings as under the dictates of chance I may or may not emit; and thus in some sort to emphasize still again the circumstance that the Biography is one single, one continuous and one indivisible book."
The first Branch Cabell book, These Restless Heads, consists mostly of essays but is framed by brief fictions about Prospero from The Tempest, and True Thomas who loved the queen of Faerie. Further nonfiction collections followed, the most amusing being Special Delivery (1933), Cabell's unsent replies to "the ten letters by which every male writer, I believe, is pestered most often." He concedes, though, that few other authors are plagued by enquiries about the meaning of "an odd alliance between white pigeons and a small mirror (three inches square, to be precise) which appears time and again in so many of my books" – and which needless to say he does not explain.
Cabell returned to fantasy with "The Nightmare Has Triplets", comprising Smirt (1934), Smith (1935) and Smire (1937), eventually gathered into the single volume The Nightmare Has Triplets (1972); this re-used the title of his 1937 pamphlet about the trilogy. Several episodes of the Biography had been cancelled in retrospect by transposing them into dreams; Cabell now attempted to "extend the naturalism of Lewis Carroll" with a three-part story which would convey the logic and atmosphere of a real rather than a merely literary dream.
Thus the storyline rambles engagingly, with an overall movement suggesting that exasperating loss of control so common in dreams. The dreamer is a romantic novelist who begins by making (under the dream-name Smirt) a Jurgen-like progress through the universe, but can never quite escape the general public that reads his books. In Heaven, for example, where he shows the divine Stewards how to construct a greatly improved world modelled on the best romances, each angel in turn greets him with all too familiar phrases.
Then Och asked: "What author has most influenced you? Do you compose on a typewriter? If I were to tell you a perfectly true story about what happened to an aunt of mine would you like to make a book of it? Why do you not write for the moving pictures?"
A similarly banal chorus of newspaper headlines ("Zero Weather Creeps South") is heard whenever the dreamer strays close to wakefulness. Smirt eventually settles to uneasy domesticity with Arachne the Spider Woman, and dwindles to the second volume's Smith. No longer omnipotent, Smith is a woodland deity controlling only the enchanted forest of Branlon, where almost anything may happen – this saga's functional equivalent of the imaginary land Poictesme. Smith is divided into long, picaresque episodes featuring children of the venerated SMIRT (now capitalized thus). In Smire, the dreaming novelist is further diminished to a rootless wanderer whose sole remaining power is the conjuration of Virginia cigarettes and matches. Finally, on the brink of waking, he comes to accept that the ultimate power in his universe is the reading public. This was the author's last major fantasy.
Three historical novels are linked only by the overall title "Heirs and Assigns:" The King was in His Counting House (1938), set in Renaissance Italy; Hamlet Had an Uncle (1940), exploring a Hamlet somewhat closer to actual history than Shakespeare's; and The First Gentleman of America (1942), told from a Native American viewpoint in the cruel early days of colonization.
Resuming his full name, Cabell published two final fantasy novels, geographically grouped with the nonfiction collaboration The St Johns (1943; about the titular river) as "It Happened in Florida." There Were Two Pirates (1946) is the brief autobiography of an eighteenth-century Spanish "King of Pirates" who like Peter Pan is magically separated from his shadow. The shadow assumes the role of Pirate King, releasing the man into virtuous if unexciting married life. A magic talisman from this story reappears in The Devil's Own Dear Son (1949), whose protagonist – a modern gallant entering middle age – discovers his unexpected, demonic parentage. Visiting this new-found father in Hell, he is offered anything he wishes; when his first choice, a childhood dream, proves to have lost its savour, he confines himself to modest home improvements. In this slight yet long-winded story, extensive links to Poictesme and Branlon serve no useful purpose; the effect is of weary self-indulgence.
As I Remember It (1955) is autobiographical.
James Branch Cabell was a born romantic who was too clear-sighted ever to be seduced by romantic ideals. He wrote fruitfully of the tensions between impossible dreams and the real world of (to use two of his favourite words) economics and compromise. In his heyday Cabell was acknowledged as a great American man of letters, on a level with his correspondents like Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis and H.L. Mencken. This high reputation began to fade in the later 1920s, perhaps owing to the vogue for Hemingwayesque "realism." Now Cabell is long out of fashion, but his masterpiece Jurgen survives, and other fantasies of that period retain their witty charm.
The Eagle's Shadow (New York: Doubleday, 1904; London: Heinemann, 1904; revised edition, New York: McBride, 1923);
The Line of Love (New York: Harper, 1905; revised edition, New York: McBride, 1921; London: Lane, 1921);
Branchiana (privately printed, 1907);
Gallantry (New York: Harper, 1907; revised edition, New York: McBride, 1922; London: Lane, 1928);
Chivalry (New York: Harper, 1909);
The Cords of Vanity (New York: Doubleday, 1909; London: Hutchinson, 1909);
Branch of Abingdon (privately printed, 1911);
The Soul of Melicent (New York: Stokes, 1913); revised edition as Domnei (New York: McBride, 1920; London, Lane, 1927);
The Majors and Their Marriages (Richmond, VA: Hill, 1915);
The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck (New York: McBride, 1915; London: McBride Nast, 1915);
The Certain Hour (New York: McBride, 1916; London: McBride Nast, 1917);
From the Hidden Way (New York: McBride, 1916; revised edition, 1924); reissued as Ballades from the Hidden Way (New York: Crosby Gaige, 1928);
The Cream of the Jest (New York: McBride, 1917; London: Lane, 1923);
Beyond Life (New York: McBride, 1919; London, Lane, 1925);
Jurgen (New York: McBride, 1919; revised edition, London: Lane, 1921);
The Judging of Jurgen (Chicago: Bookfellows, 1920);
Jurgen and the Censor (privately printed, 1920);
Figures of Earth (New York: McBride, 1921; London: Lane, 1922);
The Jewel Merchants (New York: McBride, 1921);
Joseph Hergesheimer (Chicago: Bookfellows, 1921);
Taboo (New York: McBride, 1921);
The Lineage of Lichfield (New York: McBride, 1922);
The High Place (New York: McBride, 1923; London: Lane, 1923);
Straws and Prayer-Books (New York: McBride, 1924; London: Lane, 1926);
The Silver Stallion (New York: McBride, 1926; London: Lane, 1926);
The Music from Behind the Moon (New York: Day, 1926);
Something about Eve (New York: McBride, 1927; London: Lane, 1927);
The White Robe (New York: McBride, 1928; London: Lane, 1928);
The Way of Ecben (New York: McBride, 1929; London: Lane, 1929);
Between Dawn and Sunrise, ed. John Macy (New York: McBride, 1930; London: Lane, 1930);
Some of Us (New York: McBride, 1930; London: Lane, 1930);
Sonnets from Antan (New York: Fountain Press, dated 1929 but 1930);
Townsend of Lichfield (New York: McBride, 1930);
These Restless Heads, as Branch Cabell (New York: McBride, 1932);
Special Delivery, as Branch Cabell (New York: McBride, 1933; London: Allan, 1934);
Ladies and Gentlemen, as Branch Cabell (New York: McBride, 1934);
Smirt: An Urbane Nightmare, as Branch Cabell (New York: McBride, 1934);
Smith: A Sylvan Interlude, as Branch Cabell (New York: McBride, 1935);
Preface to the Past (New York: McBride, 1936);
The Nightmare Has Triplets: An Author's Note on Smire (New York: Doubleday, Doran 1937)
Smire: An Acceptance in the Third Person, as Branch Cabell (New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1937);
The King was in His Counting House, as Branch Cabell (New York: Farrar, 1938; London: Lane, 1939);
Of Ellen Glasgow (New York: Maverick Press, 1938);
Hamlet Had an Uncle, as Branch Cabell (New York: Farrar, 1940; London: Lane, 1940);
The First Gentleman of America, as Branch Cabell (New York: Farrar, 1942); retitled The First American Gentleman (London: Lane, 1942);
The St Johns, as Branch Cabell, with A.J. Hanna (New York: Farrar, 1943);
There Were Two Pirates (New York: Farrar, 1946; London: Lane, 1947);
Let Me Lie (New York: Farrar, 1947);
The Witch-Woman (New York: Farrar, 1948);
The Devil's Own Dear Son (New York: Farrar, 1949; London: Lane, 1950);
Quiet, Please (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1952);
As I Remember It (New York: McBride, 1955);
The Nightmare Has Triplets (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1972).
James Blish, "The Long Night of a Virginia Author," Journal of Modern Literature vol. 2 no. 3 (1972);
Padraic Colum and Margaret Freeman Cabell, ed., Between Friends: Letters of James Branch Cabell and Others (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1962);
James N. Hall, James Branch Cabell: A Complete Bibliography (New York: Revisionist Press, 1974);
Guy Holt, ed., Jurgen and the Law (New York: McBride, 1923), reprinted in Townsend of Lichfield;
David Langford, "James Branch Cabell," The Encyclopedia of Fantasy ed. John Clute and John Grant (London: Orbit, 1997; New York: St Martin's Press, 1997): 155-7;
Warren A. McNeill, Cabellian Harmonics (New York: Random House, 1928);
Darrell Schweitzer, "James Branch Cabell," St James Guide to Fantasy Writers ed. David Pringle (Detroit, MI: St James Press, 1996): 91-3;
Desmond Tarrant, James Branch Cabell: The Dream and the Reality (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967);
Carl van Doren, James Branch Cabell (New York: McBride, 1925; revised 1932);
Edmund Wilson, "The James Branch Cabell Case Reopened," The Bit Between My Teeth (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1965; London: Allen, 1965).