The Marrow of Tradition

The Marrow of Tradition

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Inspired by the 1898 Wilmington Riot and the eyewitness accounts of Charles W. Chesnutt's own family, Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition captures the astonishing moment in American history when a violent coup d'etat resulted in the subversion of a free and democratic election.

The Norton Critical Edition text is based on the 1901 first edition. It is accompanied by a note on the text, Werner Sollors's insightful introduction, explanatory annotations, and twenty-four photographs and illustrations.

"Contexts" connects the novel to the historical events in Wilmington and includes a wealth of newspaper articles, editorials, and biographical sketches of the central players.

The account of riot instigator Alfred Moore Waddell, published just weeks after the event, is reprinted, along with three rarely seen letters: W. E. B. Du Bois's and Booker T. Washington's comments on the novel and Walter Hines Page's letter to Chesnutt. Rounding out the historical record is a selection of 1890s sheet music, a poem, and newspaper articles on the Cakewalk, a popular dance of the period with roots in slavery.

"Criticism" begins with twelve contemporary reviews, including those by Hamilton Wright Mabie, Katherine Glover, William Dean Howells, and Sterling A. Brown. Fifteen recent assessments focus on the novel's characters, history, realism, and violence. As scholarship on The Marrow of Tradition and on Wilmington in 1898 has been especially active since the 1990s, ten assessments are from this period.

A Chronology and Selected Bibliography are also included.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 576 pages
  • 132 x 213 x 30mm | 539g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Critical
  • Critical edition
  • 0393934144
  • 9780393934144
  • 1,151

Table of contents

Introduction by Werner Sollors
Charles W. Chesnutt's Own View of His New Story, The Marrow of Tradition (1901)
The Text of The Marrow of Tradition



Frances Richardson Keller o [Chesnutt's Parents]


To Walter Hines Page, Nov. 11, 1898
To Walter Hines Page, Mar. 22, 1899
To Booker T. Washington, Oct. 8, 1901
To Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Oct. 26, 1901
From Booker T. Washington, Oct. 28, 1901
To Booker T. Washington, Nov. 16, 1901
To Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Dec. 30, 1901
To William Monroe Trotter [Jan. 1902]
From W. E. B. Du Bois to Houghton Mifflin, Mar. 8, 1902
To Mrs. W. B. Henderson, Nov. 11, 1905


Charles W. Chesnutt o [Plot Notes]
Sample Pages from Chesnutt's Hand-Corrected Proof Sheets of The Marrow of Tradition


From The Courts and the Negro
From What Is a White Man?
The White and the Black
The Disfranchisement of the Negro


Rebecca Latimer Felton, Alexander L. Manly, and the Daily Record Editorial
John E. Talmadge o [Biographical Sketch of Mrs. Felton]
Rebecca Latimer Felton o Mrs. Felton Speaks
Biographical Sketch of Alex Manly
Alex Manly o Editorial
From Cause of Carolina Riots
The North Carolina Race Conflict
From Takes Mrs. Felton to Task for Speech
Mrs. W. H. Felton's Reply to Dr. Hawthorne's Attack
Nov. 10, 1898: A Day of Blood
North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources o Wilmington Race Riot Draft Report
1898 Wilmington Riot Commission o Findings
Hell Jolted Loose
White Declaration of Independence Negro Rule Ended, Washington Post (Nov. 11, 1898)
The Riot at Wilmington, Washington Post (Nov. 22, 1898)
A Forgotten Issue, Boston Globe (Nov. 20, 1898)
Is It Negro Rule? Independent (Nov. 24, 1898)
The South and Negro Suffrage, New-York Tribune (Nov. 25, 1898)
Portrait of Alfred Moore Waddell
Alfred Moore Waddell o The Story of the Wilmington, N.C., Race Riot, Collier's Weekly (Nov. 26, 1898)
Black Side of the Race Issue, Washington Post (Dec. 4, 1898)
The Wilmington Riot, Cleveland Gazette (Dec. 10, 1898)
Letter by a Negro Woman to President William McKinley (Nov. 13, 1898)
African Americans Killed or Wounded
Men Banished from Wilmington during and after the November 10 Violence
The Wilmington Riot, Chesnutt's Relatives, and African American Fiction
Sylvia Lyons Render o [Violence]
Richard Yarborough o Violence, Manhood, and Black Heroism


Sheet Music from the 1890s
Dusky Dinah: Cake-Walk and Patrol
Sambo at the Cake Walk
Remus Takes the Cake
Way Down South: Characteristic March, Cake-Walk and Two-Step
Cakewalk in the Contemporary Press
A Negro Festival, New-York Tribune (July 20, 1870)
A Cake Walk, San Francisco Chronicle (Oct. 6, 1873)
H. S. Keller o The Cake Walk," Puck (Sept. 7, 1887)
They Walked for a Cake and Glory, Chicago Daily Tribune (Feb. 18, 1892)
The Cake Walk, New York Times (Feb. 18, 1892)
Took the Cake, Boston Globe (Aug. 23, 1892)



The Race Question in Fiction, The Sunday Herald [Boston] (Oct. 27, 1901)
Hamilton Wright Mabie o The New Books, The Outlook (Nov. 16, 1901)
Our Holiday Book Table, Zion's Herald (Dec. 4, 1901)
Mr. Chesnutt's Marrow of Tradition, New York Times (Dec. 7, 1901)
A New Uncle Tom's Cabin, St. Paul Dispatch (Dec. 14, 1901)
Katherine Glover o News in the World of Books, Atlanta Journal (Dec. 14, 1901)
Charles Alexander o Our Journalist and Literary Folks, The Freeman [Indianapolis] (Dec. 28, 1901)
Mr. Chesnutt and the Negro Problem, Newark Sunday News. (Dec. 29, 1901)
A. E. H. o Fiction, The Chautauquan (Dec. 1901)
William Dean Howells o From A Psychological Counter-Current in Recent Fiction, North American Review (Dec. 1901)
T. Thomas Fortune o Note and Comment, The New York Age (July 20, 1905)
Sterling A. Brown, Arthur P. Davis, and Ulysses Lee o [Racial Conflict in Fiction]


Sylvia Lyons Render o From Charles W. Chesnutt
William L. Andrews o From The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt


John Edgar Wideman o Charles W. Chesnutt: The Marrow of Tradition
P. Jay Delmar o Character and Structure in The Marrow of Tradition
Ernestine Williams Pickens o White Supremacy and Southern Reform Samina Najmi o From Janet, Polly, and Olivia: Constructs of Blackness and White Femininity in The Marrow of Tradition


Marjorie George and Richard S. Pressman o From Confronting the Shadow: Psycho-Political Repression in The Marrow of Tradition
Ryan Jay Friedman o From "Between Absorption and Extinction": Charles Chesnutt and Biopolitical Racism


U.S. Supreme Court o Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U. S. 537 (1896)
Brook Thomas o The Legal Argument of Charles W. Chesnutt's Novels


Joyce Pettis o The Literary Imagination and the Historic Event: Chesnutt's Use of History in The Marrow of Tradition
Jae H. Roe o From Keeping an "Old Wound" Alive: The Marrow of Tradition and the Legacy of Wilmington
Eric Sundquist o From Charles Chesnutt's Cakewalk


Ryan Simmons o From Simple and Complex Discourse in The Marrow of Tradition
Stephen P. Knadler o From Untragic Mulatto: Charles Chesnutt and the Discourse of Whiteness
Bryan Wagner o Charles Chesnutt and the Epistemology of Racial Violence
Charles W. Chesnutt: A Chronology
Selected Bibliography
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About Charles W. Chesnutt

Werner Sollors is Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Professor of English Literature and African American Studies at Harvard University. He previously taught at Columbia University, the Free University of Berlin, and the Universita degli Studi di Venezia. He is the author of Ethnic Modernism, Neither Black Nor White Yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature, Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture, and Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones: The Quest for a "Populist Modernism." His edited works include A New Literary History of America (with Greil Marcus), African American Literary Studies: New Texts, New Approaches, New Challenges (with Glenda R. Carpio), The Multilingual Anthology of American Literature: A Reader of Original Texts with English Translations (with Marc Shell), Multilingual America: Transnationalism, Ethnicity, and the Languages of America, The Return of Thematic Criticism, Theories of Ethnicity: A Classical Reader, The Invention of Ethnicity, and the Norton Critical edition of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself.
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Rating details

2,377 ratings
3.88 out of 5 stars
5 31% (728)
4 38% (892)
3 23% (556)
2 7% (167)
1 1% (34)
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