VCU Libraries Gallery

James Branch Cabell: Man of Letters and Libraries

James Branch Cabell was born in 1879 at 101 E. Franklin St., an address that would one day become the Richmond Public Library. The child of two affluent and well-known Virginia families, Cabell would become a man of letters, authoring 52 volumes of fiction and non-fiction in his lifetime. 

During the 1920s, Cabell enjoyed literary success and the high regard of his peers including writers as diverse as H.L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, and Carl Van Vechten. Much like his friend and fellow Richmond author Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945), Cabell was quick to point out the hypocrisy of the South through satire. His medieval romanticism and fantasy, which combined many classic mythologies in a fantasy world Cabell called Poictesme (pwa-tem), were in fact thinly disguised commentaries on the manners of those times. Considered a forerunner of American fantasy fiction, his work is applauded today by writers and artists including Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess.

Cabell was a man whose curiosity and imagination, and his network of literary friends and associates, lead him to collect nearly 3,000 volumes for his personal library. After his death, that library would come to Virginia Commonwealth University to seed what eventually became James Branch Cabell Library Special Collections and Archives.

His library legacy extended beyond his own personal collection. Soon after VCU was formed in 1968, when the Medical College of Virginia merged with Richmond Professional Institute, the university began plans for a new library for the Monroe Park Campus. Cabell's widow, Margaret Freeman Cabell, and the Associates of the James Branch Cabell Library, contributed time, energy, and financial resources to create the core of the new library. In 1970, the James Branch Cabell Library, named for one of Richmond's most respected writers, opened its doors.  


James Branch Cabell, 1923

James Branch Cabell, 1923