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The Marrow of Tradition

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The Marrow of Tradition

Bookseller Recommendation

The Marrow of Tradition

“Nearly every discussion of Chesnutt's 1901 novel, only recently acknowledged as one of the masterpieces of its time, focuses, understandably, on the real event it was inspired by: the white riot in Wilmington, NC, in 1898 that overthrew the biracial elected city government. And that's part of the reason to turn back to it over a century later (when it feels like times have hardly changed). But the other is Chesnutt's wizardry as a social novelist: his ability to trace the box limiting empathy and imagination that each character carries around, and then to construct scenes that force them to the edges of those boxes (where, almost always, they end up turning back toward convention). It's a funny, tragic, brutal, and deeply human story.”

Phinney Books image Tom, Phinney Books


Major Carteret is the white owner of the biggest newspaper in Wellington, a racially segregated city in the post-Civil War South. Carteret, along with other powerful white men in Wellington, are outraged that an editorial published the town's black newspaper has questioned the justification for lynchings. As racial tension mounts, Carteret struggles on the domestic front. His wife and child are unwell and his niece, Clara, is courted by Tom Delamer, a lush aristocrat. Meanwhile, William Miller, a young black doctor, returns to hometown of Wellington to set up a practice. Everything comes to a head, however, when a white woman is murdered.

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