Octavus Roy Cohen. Polished Ebony. Dodd, Mead & Company: New York: 1919. First Edition. Blue cloth with yellow decorations to spine and front, with very scarce dustjacket. 8vo. 309pp. 4 illustrations by H. Weston Taylor.
Polished Ebony (1919) is a collection of short humourous stories all written in "negro" dialect. This was not a new concept by any means; in the late 19th century a number of works (chiefly poetical) emerged from the pens of white southern gentlemen who pined for the good ole days, when everyone knew their place in the social order and life was thus simpler, and happier. (There will be a posting on these items reasonably soon, I promise.)
Well, this first published collection of Mr. Cohen's negro stories represent the early twentieth century evolution of that literary tradition. They introduce a number of characters (caricatures?) of which the most endearing and enduring (!) was Florian Slappey, sometime detective and full-time "negro". However, to forego excessive pontification on the part of yours truly, I will let the inside dust-jacket promotional text speak for itself.
"In Polished Ebony, Mr. Cohen has given to the public a new and rich humor; a humor which provokes smiles, then chuckles, then hearty laughter. His portrayal of the modern Southern society negro does not in any way border on the burlesque. He writes with a sympathetic, tolerant, understanding hand. Other writers have entertained the public with stories of the ante-bellum negro and the plantation darkey. It has fallen to Mr. Cohen to give the Southern city negro of today his place in literature. He has accomplished his task with distinction and infectious good humor. His characters are live and vital. His stories are rich in laugh-compelling situations, cleverly conceived plot, scintillating dialogue and masterfully drawn character. We feel sure that Florian Slappey, Lawyer Evans Chew, Sally Crouch, Semore Mashby and the other happy-go-lucky characters to whom we are introduced by Mr. Cohen are destined to perpetual life."
Oh, racially motivated humour... what deliciously horrible gifts you leave to posterity.
For Further Research:
About Octavus Roy Cohen
About Florian Slappey
About Negro Dialect