September 5 - No Love for Landry

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On September 5, 1900, a review published in a Boston newspaper criticized Paul Laurence Dunbar's third novel, The Love of Landry, because its main characters were not Black.  The story is about an affluent white woman from the East who is compelled to go to Colorado for her health.  This situation closely matched Paul's own experience, and he wrote the book while in the Rocky Mountains seeking relief from tuberculosis.

It is a great pity that Paul Laurence Dunbar could not have remained true to what seemed his literary mission.  When the press of the country gave him recognition, people said:  "Here is a man who shall be the mouthpiece and interpreter of his race.  Now we shall know the black man through the black man, and not through the white caricaturist or novelist."  And the little stories that came from his pen confirmed that belief.  But Mr. Dunbar has fallen.  His new book, "The Love of Landry," is a white man's novel, and no matter what its quality may be, it will be a disappointment to those who have watched the author's development and looked upon him as the modern literary Moses of his people.  Let us hope that this last venture is merely a temporary wandering from the path which the author's duty to himself and his race seems to have peremptorily marked out for him.

The Boston Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts).  September 5, 1900.

Other reviewers of The Love of Landry also seemed disappointed that Paul had written something besides stories and poems about Black characters.

Mr. Dunbar has made rather a bold venture in so departing from a line of work which has made him popular with his readers, and while he would probably be wiser in confining himself more steadily to poems of Negro life, his story is freshly and simply told and has many interesting points.

"The Love of Landry."  Home Journal (New York, New York).  December 20, 1900.

It is a matter of regret that Paul Laurence Dunbar should have essayed a novel, "The Love of Landry."  The verse he has given us was true to its source and expressive of its inspiration;  its note was characteristic, even if not very strong, but this new attempt does not add in any degree to the reputation of this young singer of songs for a people still in bondage.  We can assure the author that a single stanza of his verse will last longer than this new venture in the field of fiction.

The Churchman (New York, New York).  January 26, 1901.

Mr. Dunbar has forsaken his accustomed field, the delineation of Negro life and character, and has given us a Colorado tale, taking for his theme the fate of a cowboy in love.  It is rather a feeble attempt;  he would much better stick to his own line, in which his work shows a certain strength and raciness which this book lacks.

"The Love of Landry."  New York Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York).  December 1, 1900.

This book is not likely to be as popular as Mr. Dunbar's dialect work.  When talent is merely talent, it is interesting and nothing more.  When it lends itself to the expression of some great life-current, whether the current be the life of a race, the social or religious movement of an age, or the emotional development of a people, it becomes genius.  Hence in expressing the thoughts and feelings of millions of people in lyrics or sketches of Negro life, Mr. Dunbar is a genius;  when he writes a little romance recording the impressions which were made upon him by a winter in Colorado, he shows talent.

"Recent Fiction."  The Washington Times (Washington, D. C.).  December 23, 1900.

White characters in The Love of Landry use racial slurs to describe people of color, and the protagonist and her father treat a Black train porter like a buffoon.

"It's strange to me how little enjoyment the rich really get out of their wealth.  Talk about the slavery of the poor!  It's the rich who are really to be pitied, -- those people with enjoyment in their grasp, and yet with golden scales upon their eyes that keep them from seeing and grasping their opportunities."

Mildred asked, "But, papa, don't you think that even the life the wealthy drudge leads is better than the existence dragged out by that poor colored man who just came in here, trying to smile a little fee out of our pocket?"

"Poor colored man!  Why, Mildred, that man gets more out of life than I do.  He has a greater capacity for enjoyment, with the paradox that less satisfies it."

 *  *  *

"Why, you nearly startled that porter out of his wits.  He didn't say it, but he looked as if he thought you might be in a fit."

And, indeed, the colored man was still staring at them with wide, white eyes, and when he saw them burst anew into laughter, he left the door and went back to his place, in disgust no doubt with the thought in his mind that here was another instance of white people trampling on, and making a fool of, the black man.

"I didn’t mean to frighten him," said Mildred.  "I’ll give him an extra tip before we leave."

"You should make him pay you for turning him so near white, even for such a short space of time."

Excerpt from Chapter 3 of The Love of Landry, by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  1900.

A decade after it was released, a publisher's report indicates that sales of The Love of Landry were minimal.  The document says as many copies of the book were returned to the publisher as were sold.  During the six-month reporting period, sales of the book resulted in a royalty of less than a dollar.

REPORT OF SALES from Feb 1/10 to date


To Estate of Paul L. Dunbar

Of Love of Landry

As many returned as sold

Net sale 24

Royalty per copy .04

Amount $.96

Royalty report from Dodd, Mead & Company, August 1, 1910.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).