Biography of the Life of Manuel
Biography of the Life of Manuel is a series of novels, essays and poetry by James Branch Cabell. It purports to trace the life, illusions and disillusions of Dom Manuel, Count of Poictesme (a fictional province of France), and of his physical and spiritual descendants through many generations.
The conceit of the series is that the life (or at least the expectations) of Dom Manuel 'the Redeemer', which is the subject of the novel Figures of Earth, did not end in his death but was continued in his heirs. The life of each follows the same pattern.
The comedy is always the same. In the first act, the hero imagines a place where happiness exists. In the second, he strives towards that goal. In the third, he comes up short, or what amounts to the same thing: he achieves his goal only to find that happiness lies a little further down the road.
The components of the Biography were written between 1901 and 1929; some of them were originally conceived before Cabell had thought of Manuel and had to be rewritten to a greater or lesser extent to enable them to fit into the sequence. Although the Biography is a mix of fantasies, historical romances, social satires, verse, plays, and essays, Cabell said that he considered it a single work.
A table of works comprising the Biography follows. These data are given for each title:
- the date of its first publication, and of its revision (if any);
- an 'S' number (thus: S01) representing the volume of the uniform Storisende Edition, prepared under Cabell's supervision, published by R. M. McBride in 18 volumes between 1927 and 1930 (an asterisk indicates that the listed work formed only part of the volume);
- a 'B' number (thus: B15) representing the number of the work in the official bibliography of Cabell, prepared with his assistance by F. J. Brewer in 1957.
|Title||Published||Index (Storisende)||Index (Bibliography)||Description|
|Beyond Life||1919||S01||B01||Essentially a non-fiction essay on life and fiction-writing.|
|Figures of Earth||1921||S02||B02||The tale of the rise of Dom Manuel himself from swineherd to count.|
|The Silver Stallion||1926||S03||B03||The story of the Lords of the Silver Stallion, Manuel's court, after his death.|
|Domnei: A Comedy of Woman-Worship||1913 as The Soul of Melicent; revised and retitled 1920||S04*||B05|
|The Music From Behind the Moon||1926||S04*||B45|
|Chivalry||1909, revised 1921||S05||B06||The 1909 edition had no references to Manuel.|
|Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice||1919||S06||B07||Cabell's most famous book, chronicling the fantastical adventures of the pawnbroker and "monstrous clever fellow" Jurgen.|
|The Line of Love||1905, revised 1921||S07||B08|
|The High Place||1923||S08||B09|
|Gallantry||1907, revised 1922||S09||B10||The 1907 edition had no references to Manuel or Jurgen.|
|Something About Eve||1927||S10||B11||Manuel's and Jurgen's descendant, the magician Gerald Musgrave, journeys towards the destination of gods and poets but finds other ends.|
|The Certain Hour||1916||S11||B12|
|The Cords of Vanity||1909, revised 1920||S12||B13|
|From the Hidden Way||1916, revised 1924; 1928 as Ballads from the Hidden Way||S13*||B14||Verse|
|The Jewel Merchants||1921||S13*||B15||Play|
|The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck||1915||S14||B16|
|The Eagle's Shadow||1904, revised 1923||S15||B17|
|The Cream of the Jest||1917, revised 1922||S16*||B18|
|The Lineage of Lichfield||1922||S16*||B19||A fantastic genealogy of the Biography.|
|Straws and Prayer-Books||1924||S17||B20||Essays, plus two fantasy stories.|
|Townsend of Lichfield||1930||S18||B21||Essays, stories, verses and bibliography.|
|Taboo||1921||S18*||B44||A thinly veiled fantasy-style recounting of the Jurgen obscenity trial.|
|Sonnets from Antan||1929||S18*||B49 (verse)|
|The Witch-Woman||1948||-||B04||Compiles three related books: The Music From Behind the Moon (1926; S04*, B45), The Way of Ecben (1929; S18*, B48), and The White Robe (1928; S18*, B47), plus a new introduction. Not in the Storisende Edition.|
|Preface to the Past||1936||-||B22||Prefaces and notes extracted from the Storisende Edition.|
|The Judging of Jurgen||1920||-||B42||Like Taboo, a parody of the proceedings against Jurgen.|
Some of Cabell's other books appear to have teasing references to the Biography. For example, the hero of Hamlet Had an Uncle (1927, B27) is the historical prince Horwendill, whose name suggests Manuel's nemesis, Horvendile.
Dave Langford reviewed The Silver Stallion for White Dwarf #49, and stated that "The Silver Stallion stands up well on its own: moving, erudite and very, very witty. [...] This and Jurgen are the best introductions to Cabell."
- Biography of the Life of Manuel series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- "Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books by James Branch Cabell" by Eric Walker, Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works
- The Cream of the Jest full text at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee