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About this collection

The Special Collections and Archives at Virginia Commonwealth University’s James Branch Cabell Library proudly houses the library of writer James Branch Cabell, originally cataloged by Dr. Maurice Duke’s 1968 dissertation from the University of Iowa (James Branch Cabell's Library : A Catalogue). Created by VCU Department of English Professor Emeritus Maurice Duke, the Catalogue was the first attempt to fully represent the contents of James Branch Cabell’s library in 1967: its organization, contents, and functions. This collection consists of digital presentations of the two copies of this dissertation currently held by VCU Libraries, as well as a dataset containing other information about each entry.

Cabell bookplate

Each entry in the Catalogue provides the author, title, publisher information, and year, as well as other descriptive elements. Notably featured are signifiers which represent the location of each book, pamphlet, or magazine within Cabell’s home, as his library was largely organized by genre and utility. In a 2005 interview, Maurice Duke remarked that “Cabell used his books, personal books, as filing cabinets for letters from his friends. You open up The Great Gatsby and there is a letter from Scott Fitzgerald, and so on and so on. [There were] many letters such as that and they all came to us” (19). The Catalogue also provides descriptive information regarding the contents of each book in Cabell’s library, including the bookplate, any autograph or dedication, and the objects enclosed.


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The two copies of Duke’s Catalogue consist of identically photocopied pages, though they are dissimilar in binding and annotations. The ‘unannotated’ copy features light corrections from Edgar McDonald, longtime James Branch Cabell scholar in residence, and other librarians and library staff. McDonald’s edits in the introduction amplify the content of Duke’s description of Cabell’s house and the history of his library—including a clarification that Cabell’s first library was not destroyed in a fire. This copy has been imaged in grayscale. The annotated version was used by VCU Libraries Special Collections as a working catalog, revised to update information regarding the nature, state, and location of the books. This version features multiple symbols in varying colors drawn from a variety of sources as part of multiple cataloging efforts; one, for example, to make sure that all of the contents of the library were preserved during its move to the new Cabell room. This copy has been imaged in full color. Some annotations across these two versions are explicitly contradictory (see p. 18, entry 54).

This collection also features a dataset compiled from MARC records of the current holdings of the Cabell collection. The dataset provides OCLC number, author name, title, publisher information, date, extent, series, notes, the number which Maurice Duke assigned to each entry, and an indicator for the location within Cabell’s house where each object was found by Duke in 1967.


The dissertation is © Maurice Duke, who has kindly given permission to reproduce it here. The dataset is is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Additional research information

Almost all of the original books from Cabell’s library, as well as both copies of Duke’s dissertation (PS 3505 .A153 Z5582 1968), are housed in Special Collections and Archives at James Branch Cabell Library and are available for researchers. Please direct reference and research inquires to or call (804) 828-1108.

Duke, J. Maurice. "Maurice Duke Interview 1 (2005-05-31)." Interview by Kathryn Colwell Hill. Maurice Duke Interview 1 (2005-05-31). VCU Libraries Digital Collections. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

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