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Biography of the Life of Manuel

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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 High Place : A Comedy of Disenchantment (1923)


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.[1]
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.


  1. ^ Frances Joan Brewer, James Branch Cabell: A Bibliography of his Writings, Biography and Criticism, University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 1957

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