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The Quarry

The Quarry

Charles W. Chesnutt
Edited with introduction and notes by Dean McWilliams
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Quarry
    Book Description:

    Was Donald Glover really what he seemed--a handsome, dedicated, and clever African-American star of the Harlem Renaissance, whose looks made him the "quarry" of a variety of women? Or could the secrets of his birth change his destiny entirely? Focusing on the culture of Harlem in the 1920s, Charles Chesnutt's final novel dramatizes the political and aesthetic life of the exciting period we now know as the Harlem Renaissance. Mixing fact and fiction, and real and imagined characters,The Quarryis peopled with so many figures of the time--including Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey--that it constitutes a virtual guide to this inspiring period in American history. Protagonist Glover is a light-skinned man whose adoptive black parents are determined that he become a leader of the black people. Moving from Ohio to Tennessee, from rural Kentucky to Harlem, his story depicts not only his conflicted relationship to his heritage but also the situation of a variety of black people struggling to escape prejudice and to take advantage of new opportunities.

    Although he was the first African-American writer of fiction to gain acceptance by America's white literary establishment, Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932) has been eclipsed in popularity by other writers who later rose to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance. Recently, this pathbreaking American writer has been receiving an increasing amount of attention. Two of his novels,Paul Marchand, F.M.C.(completed in 1921) andThe Quarry(completed in 1928), were considered too incendiary to be published during Chesnutt's lifetime. Their publication now provides us not only the opportunity to read these two books previously missing from Chesnutt's oeuvre but also the chance to appreciate better the intellectual progress of this literary pioneer. Chesnutt was the author of many other works, includingThe Conjure Woman & Other Conjure Tales, The House Behind the Cedars, The Marrow Tradition,andMandy Oxendine.Princeton University Press recently publishedTo Be an Author: Letters of Charles W. Chesnutt, 1889-1905(edited by Joseph R. McElrath, Jr., and Robert C. Leitz, III).

    Originally published in 1999.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5161-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xviii)

    “Post-Bellum—Pre-Harlem” is the title that Charles W. Chesnutt gave to an autobiographical sketch written late in his career. But in this title, as in much else, Chesnutt was too modest. If we wish a phrase that describes the unique trajectory of Chesnutt’s life—and the special perspective it offers on black American history—we might better write “Pre-Bellum—Post-Harlem.” Chesnutt’s seven decades, which began in 1858 and ended in 1932, carried him from before the Civil War through the rise and decline of the Harlem Renaissance. Paul Laurence Dunbar, Chesnutt’s co-pioneer in the creation of black literary art, had...


      (pp. 3-10)

      One spring day early in the present century a small red two-cylinder automobile, one of the earliest models developed, turned into the yard of the Columbus City Hospital and drew up before the main entrance. The structure which faced the occupants of the car was built of dark red brick, pointed with black mortar. Along the cornice ran a terra cotta frieze set with metopes containing portraits in bas relief of Aesculapius, Hippocrates, Galen, Harvey, Jenner, Pasteur and others of the world’s great healers. The city was very proud of its new hospital, which had recently been erected at large...

      (pp. 11-15)

      The rearing of a modern infant is a complicated, and, for those who can afford it, an expensive process. Little Donald—they named him after Seaton’s grandfather—had all the attention any young child needed. The science of babiculture had not developed, at that time, to its present advanced stage. The specialist who comes to the house once a week with his little black bag, looks the baby over, makes suggestions as to diet and clothing and sanitation, vaccinates it for all imaginable diseases from infantile paralysis to senile dementia, and leaves each time with his minimum fee of five...

      (pp. 16-17)

      The seatons, upon their removal to Cleveland, had promptly formed neighborhood acquaintanceships which supplied them with an active and healthy social life. Among other connections, they became members of the Entre Nous Bridge Club, which met from week to week at the members’ houses.

      One evening in spring, when Donald was about twenty–two months old, Mrs. Seaton, at a meeting of the bridge club in her own home, heard from another room some of the women guests discussing little Donald. She held the dummy hand and had seized the opportunity to step into the adjoining sun room and look...

      (pp. 18-25)

      No matter how liberal one might be in the matter of birth, however one might decry heredity and rely upon environment for the development of mind and character, it would be unreasonable to expect, in the United States, that the suggestion that the adopted son of white foster parents might have some Negro blood should prove anything but disquieting, so the pedigree of little Donald became, instead of a negligible thing, a matter of very great importance to the Seatons. Seaton still had retained business connections in the state capital which required him to go there at stated intervals. The...

      (pp. 26-32)

      Seaton thanked the waiter, tipped him, and sent him away. He had shaved that morning, but he glanced in the mirror and decided that his hair would stand a trim. This would give him a better opportunity to talk to the barber than would a shave.

      He descended to the barber shop, which was on the basement floor. An obsequious brush boy took his hat and asked him if he wished to be served by any particular barber. He mentioned the proprietor, and was told that he was engaged, but would be at liberty in about five minutes, and in...

      (pp. 33-43)

      A man destined to play an important part in shaping the destiny of young Donald Seaton was Senator James L. Brown,¹ the leading colored citizen of Cleveland. A member of the legal profession, he had built up such a practice as was open to a lawyer of his race, consisting mainly of criminal and police court work. At that time there was little profitable civil law business to be had from colored people. They were poor and had no large estates or businesses to handle or administer. Then, as to a large extent now, unlike the Jews, the only other...

      (pp. 44-51)

      Several times during the week following the Seatons’ visit, Mr. Brown mentioned to people of his acquaintance the story of little Donald. He said nothing about his parentage, except that he was colored, nor did he name Mr. Seaton, merely mentioning that the child had been adopted into a white family by mistake, and that he wished to find a colored family to take him over. The story spread, and one day a woman’s voice called Mr. Brown on the telephone. The speaker said that she had heard of Donald’s case, that she and her husband had no children and...

      (pp. 52-60)

      The first five years of Donald Glover’s life were spent in the city of Cleveland, and he was never conscious during that period that he was in any way different from any other little boy. His parents lived in a mixed neighborhood—most of the families were white, with a few colored people of the better class. It was a street of young families and Donald played with the children on the street, in their homes and in his own. The qualities which were to prove so potent in molding his future were already in evidence. He was amiable, truthful,...

      (pp. 61-70)

      Mrs glover was a dreamer. Like Savanarola and Joan of Arc she had prophetic visions. Whether a dreamer is visionary or prophet is determined by the future. St. Paul was a prophet; his dream of a great church came true. John Brown was a visionary—his scheme for freeing the slaves failed and, like Jesus, Savanarola, Joan of Arc, and all the “the noble army of martyrs,” he died for his dream. As Donald Glover, later on, beautifully and forcefully put it in his famousEssay on the Imagination, “Dreams are the filmy warp into which the substantial threads of...

      (pp. 71-82)

      When donald, who played the organ for the church choir, went to choir practice one Thursday evening in June, he found another member of the choir present in the Sunday school room, where there was a reed organ and where the choir practice was conducted. The usual hour for beginning was eight o’clock, but Donald as a rule went half an hour earlier, so as to get in some preliminary practice of his own. Upon this occasion he found another member of the choir present ahead of him.

      “Good evening, Mamie,” said Donald, “you’re early tonight.”

      “Yes,” she said, “I...

      (pp. 83-92)

      It was the year before the United States declared war on Germany. Donald had finished high school, and the question in Mrs. Glover’s mind was where and how she should send him to college. In the late spring of that year an easy solution of this difficult problem presented itself.

      Mr. Seaton had not lost his interest in the little colored boy who had smiled his way into his heart. He kept in touch with Mrs. Glover through an occasional letter, inquiring about the boy’s growth, his health and his progress in school, to all of which questions Mrs. Glover...

      (pp. 93-95)

      After the refusal of Mr. Seaton’s generous offer, Mrs. Glover realized that she must make up to Donald, as far as possible, for his lost opportunity. This meant that she must earn money. Her husband had a fair practice, entirely among his own people except for an occasional furtive white patient afflicted with an ailment he wished to keep a secret and shrank from making known to physicians of his own race or caste, or some shiftless poor white who had neither money nor credit. He provided adequately for his family, but the money to give Donald such an education...

      (pp. 96-103)

      As dr glover had intimated to Mr. Seaton, Mrs. Glover had decided that to train Donald for effective leadership, it was better that he be educated among his own people. She would have liked to send him to school in New England, but she was afraid that, with his personality, the obvious advantages of being white, in a community where race lines were less tightly drawn than in the South, might pull him away from the Negro. She never lost sight of the Biblical parallel between Donald and Moses. Moses, though of an enslaved race, was never himself a slave;...

      (pp. 104-121)

      During the summer following his enforced withdrawal from Bethany College, Donald taught the eight-weeks colored school in a rural school district not many miles from his home, and in the fall went to Athena University, one of a group of Negro schools situated on the hills outside the thriving metropolis of what was claimed to be the most progressive of the Southern states. There was no colored public school in the city above the eighth grade, but Northern philanthropy and Negro church enterprise had established four or five schools of secondary and college education in the environments of the city....

      (pp. 122-134)

      In columbia University, where Donald entered the College of Arts as a sophomore, he found a seat of learning comparable in spirit with the great universities of Paris and Bologna, which during the Middle Ages kept alive the flickering torch of learning, and to which during the Renaissance students of all nations and all races flocked to study the humanities, philosophy, theology, rhetoric, mathematics and dialectics. The advance of science, of course, had widened the scope of the modern university. Philosophy had become only one and not the greatest of many subjects, and dialectics had yielded to the test tube...

      (pp. 135-147)

      Donald’s vivid and striking personality broke through, to a great extent, the crust of constraint which is seldom absent anywhere in America when white and colored people meet on any plane but that of master and servant. He occupied a room in Livingston Hall, looking out on the Van Am Quad. A used piano of excellent tone, purchased outright at a bargain, constituted one article of his furniture. He had a good, though not robust tenor voice, and could play his own accompaniments. He had taken piano lessons from time to time, had learned music without effort and sang almost...

      (pp. 148-153)

      Donald was strolling along Seventh Avenue one afternoon on his way to make a social call. He always found it interesting to walk through Harlem. The dark faces, the little black babies in their carriages, the black policemen, the dandy in high hat and spats, the pretty brown girls dressed cheaply but effectively in the latest styles, the self-possessed, not to say impudent Jamaicans, the crude and as yet bewildered recent importations from the far South, even the occasional old mammy in a head handkerchief, all appealed pleasantly to his race consciousness. They were his people, in their own milieu,...

      (pp. 154-158)

      The house at which Donald was going to call in Harlem was that of Senator James F. Brown—the title had long survived the office and had become a mere term of courtesy—the Cleveland lawyer who had played a part in the adoption of Donald by the Glovers. Mr. Brown had made money in Cleveland real estate, had invested it in a promising Negro life insurance company and had moved to New York to take charge of the legal work of the company at its New York office. He had also bought some property in Harlem, and, with the...

      (pp. 159-170)

      Donald met Link, pursuant to their agreement, at Martin’s restaurant on Lennox Avenue. The dining room was clean and attractive and the food excellent. They had a small table to themselves, a little to one side, where they could eat their chicken à la Maryland and talk freely without disturbing others or being themselves disturbed. Most of the guests were talking and laughing, more or less noisily, and there was little likelihood of their being overheard, though several men came over and spoke to Link and several of the women looked at Donald with interest. Had Donald been at all...

      (pp. 171-177)

      Mamie wilson,¹ like so many of her race, had succumbed to the lure of Harlem. She had left Booneville, shortly after Donald had gone away to college, to join the Creole Belles, a troupe of colored entertainers. She had become, very soon, a popular singer and dancer, and later, though she had not yet reached Broadway, had formed and headed The Ravens, a Negro company which had played their revue in the Lafayette Theater in New York, and in the Negro theaters of Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore and other cities. Though she was fond of pleasure and absolutely without sex...

      (pp. 178-185)

      Donald’s thesis for his master’s degree, like most of those by Negro candidates, dealt with the race question. There is so much to be said on the subject in its various aspects, so much that has not been presented intelligently from the Negro’s side, that the intellectual student of that group invariably turns to the problem always foremost in his mind; or should he not, his professor or student advisor is sure to suggest it. Donald’s thesis presented a simple, clear, rational and humane solution of this vexed question. Of course, to make it practicable would have required the scrapping...

      (pp. 186-195)

      TheEssay on the Imaginationwas published in a popular series of works on philosophy, and welcomed among discerning scholars as a real contribution to realistic, or idealistic philosophy, both schools claiming it. Following their lead, the Negro press acclaimed Donald as the brightest intellect of the race and clearly predestined to leadership. The Negro, it was asserted, had proven his quality in music, art, and polite literature, to the confusion of his detractors, and it had only remained for him to establish his equality on the highest intellectual plane.

      Donald’s fitness having thus been squared with his ambition, he...

      (pp. 196-204)

      Donald called at the Ambassador shortly before six the next evening, and a taxicab delivered them at the Grand Central Terminal in a few minutes. They checked their luggage and found their places in the car, and at seven o’clock went into the dining car for dinner. The journey through the night was uneventful, and when they got up in the morning they were in the South. As the train rolled through the countryside, Donald indicated occasionally points of interest—universities, Civil War battlefields, and as they would whirl through some town, a public building of some sort.

      “I like...

      (pp. 205-209)

      Several months after the visit of Mr. Bascomb to Tuscaloosa Institute, Dr. Dean of Columbia and Donald’s friends among the Negro intelligentsia in New York were instrumental in securing for him a Morganheim fellowship. The founder of this fund had made an immense fortune in lead mines and the manipulation of their stocks. When merely being a multimillionaire had ceased to be interesting, he sought relief from the monotony of simply watching his money grow and acquired a United States senatorship. When this was no longer exciting, he looked over the field of philanthropy and established the Morganheim Foundation, with...

      (pp. 210-226)

      It was donald’s first ocean voyage, and he had looked forward to it with pleasurable anticipation. TheCampaniawas a seven-day boat, and therefore not overcrowded with millionaires, prize fighters, movie actors andprime donne. The passengers were mostly Americans, among them many teachers—one of these a friend of Donald’s—with a few Europeans, an Egyptian, an Arab and a Turk. There were some minor notabilities, such as judges, small-town mayors and an economical Texas congressman with a large family.

      One unpleasant incident threatened to mar the serenity of the passage for Donald. He noticed on the deck, shortly...

      (pp. 227-246)

      They landed at Liverpool next day, and Donald took the boat train to London. He kept with the Lawrences until they reached Paddington Station, where a friend staying in Bloomsbury was to meet them and put them up for a few days. They were to spend a couple of weeks traveling in Holland, Belgium and northern France, and then settle down for a month or so at Avignon, in the Provençal. Donald got several addresses and promised to keep in touch with them.

      Bertha and he were the last to leave the train.

      “When you’ve made up your mind, Bertha,...

      (pp. 247-254)

      Donald slept little that night, and it is not unjust to say that he was strongly tempted. He had never thought very highly of people who sought the easy way, nor yet had he severely criticized them. As a philosopher, he knew that life, to be at all tolerable, was a matter of compromise, and that no one could be sure that one would be always wise, always just, always honest, always loyal.

      He had thought himself loyal to his race, but how far did that loyalty go, and was it consistent with the life of a wealthy Englishman? He...

      (pp. 255-261)

      Coincidentally with these happenings in Europe, certain other events vitally bearing upon Donald’s past and future, were transpiring in America, which it were well to review at this point.

      A few days after Donald had sailed, Dr. Douglas Freeman, former superintendent of the Columbus, Ohio, City Hospital, while attending a meeting of the American Medical Association in New York, read in theTimesone morning at the breakfast table in his hotel, that Mr. Angus Seaton was in the city, and having looked up the millionaire’s New York address, called him on the telephone to arrange for an interview, saying...

      (pp. 262-268)

      Next day Mr. Seaton called on Senator James L. Brown at the office of the Invincible Life Insurance Company, on lower Fifth Avenue, and repeated the story told him by Dr. Freeman.

      “And now,” asked Mr. Seaton, “what shall I do about it? I won’t promise to adopt your views, but I should like to know what they are. I’ve a very high regard for your opinion. I think that in justice to Donald he ought to be told of his origin. What do you think about it?”

      “You consulted me more than twenty years ago about Donald,” replied Senator...

      (pp. 269-271)

      Mr. seaton had retired from active business and was devoting much of his means and leisure to good works. He was not at all an easy mark for professional uplifters, but a genuinely good cause could always command his support. Of course, no one man is rich enough to finance every philanthropy, but Seaton’s range of sympathies was broad, and his name could be found in the list of contributors to many colleges and schools, including several Negro institutions. He had built and presented to the congregation the imposing John Knox Presbyterian Church in Cleveland, and his benefactions to hospitals...

      (pp. 272-280)

      Alighting from the train at the London station, Donald took a taxi to Mr. Bascomb’s office, where he was informed by the managing clerk, Mr. Peters, that Mr. Bascomb was attending a meeting of the West African Importing Company, Ltd., of which he was president, and would be engaged for an hour or more.

      “By the way, Mr. Glover,” said the clerk, “there’s a letter here for you. Mr. Bascomb meant to take it out this afternoon, but you may as well have it now.”

      Donald thanked him and opened the letter. It was from Mr. Seaton. He was in...

      (pp. 281-283)

      Upon leaving the Savoy, Donald returned to 10 Fenchurch Street, where he saw Mr. Bascomb, thanked him for his kindness and explained the reason for his absence. He hoped it would not be protracted and said that he would see Mr. Bascomb on his return.

      He crossed the channel late that afternoon, stayed at a hotel in Paris overnight, took the Mediterranean express the following morning, and the afternoon found him in Avignon, the old pontifical seat of the French popes, in the Provençal, not far from the city of the immortal Tartarin. He had telegraphed Bertha the hour of...

      (pp. 284-286)

      Upon his return to America, Mr. Seaton called once more upon Senator Brown and informed him of Donald’s decision.

      “It is what I hoped for,” returned the lawyer, “though it may not prove easy to carry through. While he is young and full of hope it will be comparatively simple. He has the opportunity to become the intellectual leader of our people, which may win him fame and honor. Because of his complexion and talents he will get many things even as a Negro that few of us can expect. But as the years go on there may come times...

    (pp. 287-296)
    (pp. 297-298)