What made Chambers Write?

© Larry Loc 1998

Introduction: Or why you should pay any attention to me

Many have asked me why I seem to be so fascinated with the works of Robert W. Chambers, a little known Gaslight writer with only one really memorable work to his name. That is precisely the reason. How could he write The King in Yellow and then turn around and write something like The Fighting Chance? This is something about the life and work of Chambers that has engaged my full obsession. My curiosity is two fold. Why did he stop writing in the style of his one great masterpiece? And why did he quit painting and take up writing in the first place? These answers are important to me for I, myself, am both painter and writer.

I think that I have some basis from which to conjecture about the life of Robert W. Chambers. I was born in up state New York about 200 miles from Chambers' beloved Broadalbin. My people are the people that he chose to spend his life among; the hunters, the fishermen, the farmers, and the dairymen who have for generations gained our livelihood by the sweat of our brows and by being one with his beloved forestlands.

The more I research the life of Chambers, the more strange similarities start to come into play. First I found that Chambers' good friend and fishing companion was one LeGrande Beers, the greatest fisherman in Fulton County. My father's fishing buddy was one Wilbur Beers, the greatest fisherman in the Allegany Valley. Were these two master fishermen related? Both have the same last name, both are from the same general area, and both have the same driving passion for dry fly-fishing. One on my earliest memories is Wilbur Beers seating in my parent's kitchen tying trout flies.

Next; I find that my father's, father's, mother was a full blooded Native American from one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, most likely a Seneca, and that the family has been hiding this fact for three generations. RWC loved the history of the Iroquois. The five books of his Cardigan series are peppered with phrases from the languages of the Iroquois. He spent years in the study of their language and history. Just like I spent years in the study of the languages and culture of the ancient Middle East. Strange?

Is there a very good reason that I am telling you all this strange stuff? Yes, this similarity between Robert W. Chambers and myself may give a little more credence to some of my conjectures, may add a little weight to some of my far-fetched shots in the dark, may fill in some of the blank spots where I don't have any facts. Chambers has been gone from the public eye for a long time. Not much is know about his life. But, Robert W. Chambers' life and background is close enough to my own early years that I feel like I know what it is like living inside his skin.

Larry Loc
Robert W. Chambers Research Project
Monday, February 23, 1998
El Toro, CA


What made Chambers Write?

© Larry Loc 1998


Part One: The pressure under which he wrote

There are two main questions about the enigma that is the young Robert William Chambers. And an enigma he truly is. Those two questions are;

    1. Why did he stop painting after spending a lifetime training to be an artist? and
    2. Why did he stop writing in the style of his one masterpiece?

These questions are interlinked in a way. The answer to either will shed some light on the other. These questions are also locked together in time. That time is 1891 to 1894, a very volatile time in the life of Mr. Chambers. Chambers is 26 years old in 1891. This is an age when a young man, even a young man of his class, should already be settled in a career. But Robert is a dreamer; he wants to be an artist.

The Chambers family has money. Robert's grandfather, Dr. William Chambers, was a physician in the Broadalbin, New York area, dealing much with the Scotch population of which he was a member. Robert's father, William P. Chambers, is a high powered lawyer who practices in New York City. The family mingles with the sons and daughters of the idle rich but is not by nature idle. From the earliest days there is no question that Robert will work for a living.

Robert seems to be the older of the two brothers for he will inherit the family estate, his grandfather's beloved Broadalbin House. If in truth he is the older then this puts even more pressure on Robert to find a career.

Robert's brother, Walter, is already established in his career as an architect by the time Robert returns from Europe. Walter also has the family touch of the artist, but Walter is the sensible one in the family. He goes to Yale and then on to study architecture with Blondel in 1889. By the time that Robert comes back from Europe, Walter is working in his field and well on the way to being a success.

Robert, the less practical child, studies art at the Art Student's League in New York where he is a classmate and good friend with Charles Dana Gibson. Chambers is two years the senior of Gibson and may feel a little bit superior.

There is a story that Gibson and Chambers both showed their portfolios at Life magazine and Chambers' work was accepted while Gibson's was rejected. The date of this happening is unclear. Some sources place it before Chambers goes to France and some say it is after. The fact that this story persists over the years speaks much of the ego of Mr. Chambers who tells this story often.

The younger Gibson is starting to succeed by the time that Chambers returns to the land of his birth. By the time of the publication of "The King in Yellow" in 1895 Gibson is an established star of the art world. This must have added to the feelings of unease of Chambers who was making very little money from his writing. If you believe what Chambers says about his publisher in "The Outsiders" then F. Tennyson Neely was a bit crooked.

Art is not a career that you take up lightly. I know this for a fact since I earn my living as an artist and a teacher of art. The preparation to become a commercial artist is as demanding, if not more so, than the preparation to become a doctor. Anatomy, perspective, layout, design, composition, color theory and then practice and refinement of style and skill, in truth you have to work harder and longer than a med. Student to become an artist. I tell my students that any fool who passes the medical board can get a job as a doctor but an art degree is no guarantee of a job as an artist.

His parents could not have been happy with him in 1893. They have supported his lifetime ambition to be a commercial artist. He is 28 years old and now he comes back from Paris with two books he has written and wants to be a commercial writer, not a painter.

Part Two: Why Train half a lifetime for one thing and then do another?

Chambers must have had a love of art from his earliest years. It is an act of love to try to become an artist, an act of love and faith and willpower. After his training at the Art Student's League he talks his parents into sending him to Julian's Academy in France.

He is there from 1886 to 1893. His work is accepted by the Salon in 1889, three years after he begins his studies in Paris. He is 24 years old when his first painting is accepted. For any student to accomplish this feat in that short time is remarkable. For a student from America to overcome the snobbery and prejudices of the old world/old guard establishment of art, speaks very highly of his talents.

Why did he walk away? Why did he give it all up? Think about it in these terms. A student studies his whole life to become a doctor. He passes all of his boards and completes his residence and is offered a partnership in one of the most prestigious practices, only to decide to practice law without the benefit of any formal training.

In effect this is just what Chambers has done. You just have to change the occupations from doctor and lawyer, to artist and writer. Why would someone do this? A Lifetime of training in not something you throw over on a whim. There has to be a real, deep felt reason to do this crazy thing. His family could not have been too happy with this action of their returning 28 year old son. He should be married and settled in a career not changing careers.

His picture. He could think of nothing else. It was a serious matter with Gethryn. Admitted to the Salon meant three more years' study in Paris. Failure, and back he must go to New York.1

The passage above is from Robert W. Chambers' first published work, "In the Quarter". It is the story of a young American art student in Paris in the 1880's and 1890's. Novelists pass off their lives as fiction. All fiction has an autobiography at its root. Writers write about what they know. Untrained writers write closer to their life than trained writers. Therefore, most earlier works are closer to fact than later books.

Chambers has worked hard to get his art work accepted. It is his goal. It means a career in fine arts. It means commissions. It means that he can stay in Paris with his friends. It is what he has dreamed about all of his life. Gethryn's aunt writes to him much as Chambers' parents must have.

"You have been in Paris three years, and as yet I have seen no results. You should be earning your own living, but instead, you are still dependent upon me. You are welcome to all the assistance I can give you, in reason, but I expect that you will have something to show for all the money I expend upon you. Why are you not making a handsome income and a splendid reputation, like Mr. Spinder?"

The artist named was thirty-five and had been in Paris fifteen years. Gethryn was twenty-two, and had been studying three years. 2

The way that Chambers writes about this scene, you can tell that he still feels the sting of these unfair comparisons.

Reginald Gethryn in the book is Robert W. Chambers without question. There are some changes of course. The main difference between RWC and Rex Gethryn is the replacement of parents with a rich distant aunt. Freedom from the control of parents is the wish of many a young man on his own for the first time.

"In the Quarter" falls into three parts. The first part, to my thinking, is straight autobiography. The pleasure turned to pain of the remembered first love rings true to the core. The life of the art student also has a ring of truth. So does the world he lives in and the friends that people that world.

The dedication of "In the Quarter" reads: "To my friend Reginald Bathurst Birch". The same Reginald Birch that did work for St. Nicholas magazine during the 1880s and illustrated Frances Hodgson Burnett's "Little Lord Fauntleroy" thus setting a style and gaining the hate of a generation of boys forced to wear velvet.

Chambers looks up to Birch, who is nine years his senior. Birch befriends him as a new student and stands beside him through the pain of his tragic first love. The book hints that Birch A.K.A. Braith has had his heart broken by giving it to a women unworthy of his love. In the book Braith is the older faithful friend to the love sick Gethryn.

Birch does the frontis piece for the 1896 reissue of "In the Quarter" and signs it under his middle name. Most of the Chambers' early children's books are illustrated by Birch. The Outdoorland books most likely where conceived of as an excuse to work with his old Paris friend.

I come from much the same place in New York State as Chambers. American boys from the stock of Chambers and myself are raised in innocence and naiveté. Being the child of puritan beliefs means growing up without any mention of sex or the mysteries of men and women. First love is always a powerful force to conjure with. With us sons of the puritans the first sexual encounter must be cloaked in overwhelming love, there is no other way.


"In the Quarter" tells the story of such a boy's first love. "In the Quarter" is one the few Chambers' works that deals with sex outside of marriage practiced by the main characters without guilt and death. Remember the Puritan creed, everybody may do it but no one admits that they do.

Is this his first love and his first lover? I think so. He falls hard for her, in the nature of the innocent man child embracing longed for first love. The affair means more to him than to her, we can deduce that much from the story. He does not want to admit it to himself but the facts stick out of the sub text. This is not her first time, that is stated but glossed over quickly.

"Have you ever loved, -- before, -- a girl, here in Paris, -- like me?"

"There are none, -- like you."

"Answer me, Rex."

"No, I never have," he said, truefully. Presently he added, "And you, Yvonne?"

She put her warm little hand across his month. "Don't ask," she murmured.

"But I do ask," he cried, struggling to see her eyes, "won't you tell me?"

She hid her face tight against his breast. ""You know I have; this is why I am alone here, in Paris."

"You loved him?"

"Yes, -- not as I love you."

Presently she raised her eyes to his. "Shall I tell you all? I am like so many - so many others. When you know their story, you know mine."

He leaned down and kissed her.

"Don't tell me," he said.

But she went on.

"I was only seventeen - I am nineteen now. He was an officer at - at Chartres, where we lived. He took me to Paris."

"And left you."

"He died of the fever in Tonquin."


"Three weeks ago."

"And you heard?"


"Then he did leave you."

"Don't, Rex, -- he never loved me, and I - I never really loved him. I found that out." 3

What else can we find out about his time "In the Quarter"? One passage speaks straight to the art questions at hand.

Gethryn had made his debut in the Salon with a certain amount of eclat. True, he had been disappointed in his expectations of a medal, but a first mention had soothed him a little, and, what was more important, in proved to be the needed sop to his discontented aunt. But somehow or other his new picture did not progress rapidly, or in a thoroughly satisfactory manner. In bits and spots it showed a certain amount of feverish brilliancy, yes, even mature solidity; in fact, it was nowhere bad, but still it was not Gethryn and he knew that.

"Confound it!" he would mutter, standing back from his canvas; but even at such times, he could hardly help wondering at his own marvelous technique.

"Technique be d-ned! Give me stupidity in a pupil every time, rather than cleverness," Harringtron had said to one of his pupils, and the remark often rang in Gethryn's ears even when his eyes were most blinded by his own wonderful facility.

"Some fools would medal this," he thought; "but what pleasure could a medal bring me when I know how little I deserve it?"

Perhaps he was his own hardest critic, but it was certain that the old, simple honesty, the subtle purity, the almost pathetic effort to tell the truth with paint and brush, had nearly disappeared from Gethryn's canvases during the last eight months, and had given place to a fierce and almost startling brilliancy, never, perhaps hitting, but always threatening some brutal note of discord. 4

Here it is! The answer that I have been looking for. Or half the answer anyway. Chambers was in love with art. There was something inside him that cried out, that splashed in crude but pure tones onto his less trained canvases.

He won the battle but lost all. His goal was to get accepted by the Salon. His lifestyle also hung in the balance. He had to paint the way he was told to gain his goal and the judge's approval.

I had a friend in my Kubert School daze; a painter named Pete who had a studio down and across Blackwell Street from my studio. He was not at the school. He was just someone I knew from around Dover, New Jersey. He was responsible for getting me into my studio space. One day I was in his studio going through his stretchers when I came across these amazing abstracts. They where alive with motion and color and had these primal fetal shapes wrapping and twisting trying to free themselves from the surface of the canvas. "These are incredible, Pete. When did you do them? Why aren't you doing them now?"

He told me of his master's degree in fine arts. There was a shake in his voice and pain in his eyes as he related how his faculty advisor let him know in no uncertain terms that he was not getting a degree painting "pompous shit like that". At the time I knew Pete he was painting photo-real trucks, an exercise in skill that produced cold, heartless painting, well executed but without a soul.

If I am right, then Chambers knew that his training had cost his work its soul and he turned from it. His teachers had killed the thing of beauty that he had tried to capture with his paints. They taught him how to paint just like they painted not how to paint more like he painted. They destroyed a love of a lifetime and left him a master of hollow techniques. He had the dignity and good sense to get out. But this is not something he could tell his Yankee parents who wanted results for their money.

Many are the critics who have blasted Chambers for his lack of training as a writer. Some even said he had contempt for the craft. I know for a fact that he held critics in no great esteem but I think their words hurt him.

He didn't just drop art and take up writing on a whim. I believe the joy of art was killed in him, beaten out of him; by the people he had trusted and paid to train him. He was not about to let anybody do that to him again with his new love, writing.

Here is what C. C. Baldwin said about Chambers writing style in his 1924 "The Men Who Make Our Novels":

He returned to New York in 1893, and for a time supported himself by doing illustrations for Life, Vogue, Truth, etc. Then it occurred to him, under the influence of Henri Murger's La Vie de Bohème, to make some use of his Latin Quarter experiences and he wrote In the Quarter. It was immediately accepted. It was successful in its way. And Mr. Chambers (who thought nothing of devoting seven years to learning the rudiments of black and white) decided overnight that he was a writer of parts. Discipline was unnecessary, form, coherence, accent and restraint. You merely babbled on and - there's your book. How different it all might have been had he been a student of literature as he was a student of the lesser arts - had he suffered, for a while, the agonies of refusal. But his instant acceptance by the public gave him a contempt for the craft of the novelist. It was just one of a dozen things that he could do and do well enough to earn a fair living. So he set to work on The King in Yellow; and before the year was out his second book had been published. His facility was his undoing. He became easy-going as his readers, as uncritical, as well-pleaded with any and everything. 5

This is unfair and untrue. The real reason that Chambers refused to take any formal training in the craft of writing is not that he had contempt for his new art form. No, he had nothing but love and he must have feared that the teachers would take this joy from him too. There was no way that he was going to let that happen to him again. And he did suffer rejection and paid his dues for a time, just like other members of this so called higher art, as we will see later on.

Part Three: Why did Chambers stop writing in the style of his one masterpiece?

I maintain that this is the wrong question. The correct question is why did he write that way in the first place? If you read more fully from his complete body of work you will soon find him a hopeless romantic, a writer of love stories tending to end with boy and girl living happily ever after. This is Chambers' true nature.

I also think, feel, and believe that it really was the first place. I believe that "The King in Yellow", or the core stories, was his first work and that "In the Quarter" followed. And I know that they were both written in Paris, not New York. Chambers tells us this in "The Outsiders" which I think was his third work and the first one written on American soil.

I have said four things here. That;

    1. "The King in Yellow" is an aberration written under great stress and reflects Chambers feelings and mental state at the time he wrote it but not his basic temperament.
    2. "The King in Yellow" and "In the Quarter" were both written in Paris or on the boat back from Paris.
    3. "The Outsiders, an Outline" was his third written work and it was created in New York City under adverse conditions and family disapproval.
    4. "The King in Yellow" was his first book followed by "In the Quarter".
  1. Supposition Number One; "The King in Yellow" is an aberration, will not be that hard to prove. All you have to do is read it and then read a large number of his other works. But since all the other points in this section as well as the points in Part One and Part Two will be needed to truly support this supposition it will be saved for the last.
  2. Supposition Number Two; "The King in Yellow" and "In the Quarter" were both written before Chambers returned to New York.
  3. Robert W. Chambers tells us this himself in "The Outsiders":

    Into the universe of merchants with their merchandise he had been born to fashion merchandise as well as they; and he had come to the city with wares that no man understood or wanted.

    So, if he could not make anything, and if he could not idly stand and watch the strife for life, what was left?

    He turned and struck the brick wall behind him with his clenched hand and shook his bleeding, naked fist at the ocean of shadow. 6

    In "The Outsiders" Chambers calls the two works he brings to the city "The Winged Boy" and "The Self-Satisfied" with no little helping of irony. These must be "The King in Yellow" and "In the Quarter" for these are the first two books that he published.

  4. Supposition Number Three; "The Outsiders, an Outline" was his third written work and it was created in New York City.
  5. "The Outsiders" is an attack on what passes as American culture. The hero, Oliver Lock, is a writer returning to the land of his birth with two novels in tow "The Winged Boy" and "The Self-Satisfied".

    He hates the city and finds it a monster of iron. There is much here to make the case that "The Outsiders" was his first novel on American soil. He rants about the lack of culture and the rusty ribs of the iron thing. This is not the voice of a man about town, well settled in the club and social life of New York City. This is the voice of a young man returned to his country. I felt much the same way when I returned to the United States, in 1972, after only six months absence. What was it like for Chambers after 7 years?

    The hero, plainly RWC, has no family. This again is the mark of a young Chambers. At this time Chambers might well have wished to be free of family, and the pressure from his parents. He has returned after years of training with two books and an announcement that he is not going to do what he has spend the family's money to study for.

    Oliver Lock tries to sell his books, just like Chambers had to do, but he finds that the publishing houses are run by fools and worse than fools.

    Oliver loses his room and almost starves, and is sick unto death and homeless. Chambers was never homeless, he was living at Washington Square at the time, but exaggeration makes for better drama and he may have felt that put upon. He may have been without parental support for the first time in his life. Whatever the reason, Chambers is starting to exaggerate his experiences and move a little bit away from straight autobiography.

    But for the kindness of some members of the unclassed, the outsiders, Oliver Lock would have died in the street. I am sure that Chambers was never in danger of dying in the street must less living there, but I am also sure that his friends among the so-called unclassed are all that kept him going.

    The first of the book is bitter and unrelenting. It is my belief that it was left unfinished for some time while Chambers turned to magazine serials and short stories to make a living. These serials and short stories becoming "The Red Republic"; "With the Band"; "The Mystery of Choice"; "Lorraine"; "A King and a Few Dukes"; "The Haunts of Men"; and so on.

    It is also my belief that at some later date Chambers returned to this third, unfinished, work. There is a big difference in style after page 165, when the standard Chambers love interest hits in full force.

    This love story seems to be graphed on to the body of the book not written into it. By page 238 she is gone and after a chapter of regret it is like she never was. He goes off to the Author's Club to take a shot or two at the critics who have shot so often at him. This also seems a later addition.

    There is something incomplete about the book. The front 2/3's is a work of pain and madness, the product of the returned Chambers. It was too good to be left unfinished. The middle part is early Chambers love story with a bit of the writer coming into his own and joining the Author's Club. He takes a few shots at his first publisher and quite a few shots at all the critics. He pretends that their words mean nothing but he is hurt and strikes back.

    To the point, in 'The Outsiders, an Outline" there are only three books mentioned. The two books that he brings to the city and the book that he is writing in the book. This is another reason that I think it is his third work. The third book mentioned in the book "The Outsiders" is called "The Iron City" and it is clearly "The Outsiders".

    The book was the story of one who, like himself, had come into his empty heritage, with the blue sky over him and the gray sea behind him, and before him, the iron ramparts, rusting in the sun.

    He wrote of the hell of wound ringing, increasing, flung across the arched sky; he wrote of the sheer brick cliffs, the cañons, the slitted clefts, the iron crags set with windows; he wrote of the black flood pouring through iron ravines, now north, now south. And over all, high up among the bright sunbeams tipping the crests of iron-shod spires, always fluttered a little flag - a tiny rainbow thing, brilliant in the blue well of heaven. 7

    The book within a book is classic Chambers. He did the same thing in "The King in Yellow".

  6. Supposition Number four; "The King in Yellow" was his first book followed by "In the Quarter".

Something happened to Robert W. Chambers in Paris to turn him from a painter into a writer. This is not the whim that C. C. Baldwin insults him with. This is a deep and fundamental change, a blinding light on the road to Damascus.

Here is what I think happened to Chambers in Paris. He was pushed to change his style by both his teachers and by his parents, who wanted results for their money. He forced his style to the whim and will of the Salon.

He was up against it. On one side the judges and what the judges wanted, and on the other his parents that were threatening to cut off his support if he did not make the Salon in record time. If that happened his beloved lifestyle in the Latin Quarter would come to an end.

I spent 11 years in total at college and art school, I know how seductive the Bohemian lifestyle can be. I earned my way, Chambers never had to.

He made the Salon, but something went very wrong. The more he painted for the judges of the Salon the less he liked what he painted. The old joy was gone. The reason he wanted to paint was dying before his eyes and under his fingers. Even as he succeeded his victory turned to ashes in his mouth.

Here is what C. C. Baldwin says about the Salon. He uses it as an attack on Chambers but it is none the less true.

In Paris Chambers studied at the École des Beaux Arts, and at Julian's, from 1886 - 1893. In 1889, at the age of twenty-four, he had his first painting accepted by the Salon - and he has been a Salon painter ever since.

If you have ever been in Paris you will know what that means. Sentiment and anecdote set up as the noblest end of art; a catering to every taste; smooth surfaces; imbecile smiles; learn what the public wants - and give till it hurts. Nothing of the pity of Rodin, the deep shadows of Brangwyn, the open-eyed wonder of Whistler; no excursions with Odilon Redon into the unknown, no attacking of convention with Augustus John or Jack Yeats; no freedom, no robust rebellion against an effeminate age - just something pretty, like a soap ad. 8

If Chambers has a tragic flaw it is his desire to please. It leads him in his later work into some pretty awful writing. Much of his World War I and social fiction is very bad.

He was more than a bit obsessed with his artwork in Paris. He was driven to obtain his goal from within and without. Once he reached that goal he finds it is hollow. The cost of pleasing the judges is the very soul of his beloved art.

Now he enters more freely into the nightlife. The painting comes easy, but he finds no pleasure in art any more. But he still has Paris.

Then she comes into his life and his first love gives him back some beauty. He is swept away. She becomes the center of his now hollow life. She fills the hole left by the death of his art. He has wings. He is too innocent to listen to his friends. She has been around the block a time or three but he can not see it.

His friend, Reginald Birch, tries to warn him. Maybe the same thing has happened to Birch and he fears for his friend. Others tell him that she is not what he thinks she is. Most don't see how completely he has fallen for her. Birch avoids him knowing that there is nothing he can say. She has been around but it means nothing to him in his eyes she is a goddess. He will not hear a word against her.

Most of his friends don't give it a thought. Romance in the Latin Quarter at that time is a shallow thing of convenience. A game to play between drinking and study.

And then it ends. Why and how? I don't know. It is his lover's sister that plots the death of his romance in "In the Quarter". His parents could have had much to say about his lover. They would have seen him on their many vacations in Europe

Whatever the reason, it is over and he is desolate. All is gone, his love, his art, and even Paris. He cannot paint, he cannot stay in Paris for she is still there, maybe with another. Maybe even a friend, like in "The Mask". And he cannot return to the land of his birth for there is nothing there for him to do.

Day was breaking. He opened the window and looked into the white street. Lamps burned down there with a sickly yellow; a faint light showed behind the barred windows of the old gray barracks. 9

The grief is overwhelming. He cannot stand the company of friends. He somehow feels shame. In his sorrow he cannot look into the eyes of those who have witnessed his happiness. He turns all his friends away from him. Shuts them out. All but Birch, who may have had his world end in much the same way.

Back "In the Quarter", Rex Gethryn becomes ill. He walks around in the cold of night and day, after he puts his lover on a train, not caring if he lives of dies. Maybe this happened to Chambers too, maybe he just wishs that it would.

Then, at the darkest hour Chambers finds the writer's pen. His pain and madness pores onto the page. The evil yellow "sickly yellow" light on the morning that he lost his lover is translated into short stories, just as dark and mad as his pain. But something happens. The old joy of creativity, that he once found in art but can no longer find there anymore, is returned to him. It is his again with the writer's pen.

1. Return to Supposition Number One; He writes because he has to write. It is all that keeps him going, keeps him sane. But he does not write a novel about his first love. That is too painful. He writes about the madness. In "The King in Yellow" everything is darkness, madness, and death.

"In the Quarter" is not the type of work that would save the sanity of its writer. The writer is already on his way to being healed by the time he wrote Quarter.

In the book "The King in Yellow" the play, "The King in Yellow" comes into the lives of his characters as a madness, a sickness, an unwanted curse. It is love and it destroys all it touches. This is the work of a man in pain, a man working out his return to the human family.

In "The King in Yellow" everybody dies. In "In the Quarter" Chambers kills himself. In "The Outsiders" he curses his country and kills his lover in a train wreck in the last few pages of the book. This is a psychologically sound progression.

Not all of the book "The King in Yellow" is written in Paris. Just the core. This is my guess;

The Mask

The Court of the Dragon

The Yellow Sign

The Damoiselle D'Ys

The Streets of the Four Winds

And maybe

The Prophets' Paradise

This is the core of "The King in Yellow" and his cure. He kills off everyone that love touches, or almost everybody. It is only in "The Mask" that the rival dies and the young lovers are reunited.

Once he stays the hand of madness with the pen he is hooked. Writing is his new drug of choice, taking the place of his old love painting.

There is no longer any reason to stay in Paris. He has used it up. But he shuts himself off and writes and writes, for there is no reason to return to America either. There is a joy in writing and he will stay true to it for the rest of his lifetime. Once he has the beginning of his new life it is safe to return to the land of his birth.

"In the Quarter" may have been started in Paris, I tend to think so. It may have been started on the boat back to America. When and where ever it was started, it was finished by the time he returns to the land of his birth.

This is not true of the stories that have freed him. They are short stories, not a complete novel. The core of a work but not the completed work.

"The Repairer of Reputations" is set in New York City and I therefore think that it was written in New York City. Chambers was living at Washington Square at the time that he was said to be writing "The King in Yellow" and "The repairer" is set in and around Washington Square.

Many think that the last three stories of TKIY do not fit. They have neither the madness nor the style of the rest of the book. This is true. I can almost hear some editor saying "you just don't have a book here, you need two, three more stories. Give me 60, 70 more pages and then we got us a book", like the editor is ordering a sandwich at the corner restaurant.

It is hard for me to believe that Chambers could start out with "In the Quarter", then write "The King in Yellow" and then go on to write some of the stuff that follows. It makes more sense if he started with "The King in Yellow", his masterpiece. Many others have started at the top and then worked their way down. Few start low, work their way up in one jump, and then start a decline.

The style flows in that way too. King to Quarter to Outsiders makes sense, Quarter to King to The Red Republic just doesn't make any sense at all. Writers write as they have to and publishers publish as they see fit.

I am pretty sure that Chambers knew in his later life that "The King in Yellow" was some of his best work, if not his best. He must have known that his later writing was not of the same caliber. With Chambers the writing was the thing. This was art for art sake. He enjoyed writing. He enjoyed it so much that he had a secret studio in New York City that no one knew the where abouts of so that no one could disturb his writing. No one could write as much as Robert W. Chamber did without being in love with the act of writing.

Chambers was a self-trained writer. He always wrote what he was at the time. In his first works it is his wounded soul leaking through the pages that make him so good. "The King in Yellow" is an aberration, a fluke. He was strange at the time he wrote most of it so it was strange. He could never recapture the state of mind that made it possible. And who would want to?

When he returned to sanity his writing returned with him. For a time he tried to write in the same vein and then gave up and wrote romance and history. His history is well researched and really quite good.

He wrote what sold because that was what would let him make a living so he could write and be a man about town. He was after the good life. He liked to fish and hunt and collect butterflies.

There are thousands of hack writers turning out commercial copy just to make a living; no one gives them a hard time. It is Chambers' near greatness that makes people want to shake him and make him work up to his promise. He can't, not without chancing the loss of everything. The irony is that if he lost everything he could return to the state of mind that let him create "The King in Yellow".


  1. In the Quarter - F. Tennyson Neely publisher 1896 edition - Page 16
  2. In the Quarter - F. Tennyson Neely publisher 1896 edition - Page 16 and 17
  3. In the Quarter - F. Tennyson Neely publisher 1896 edition - Page 127 and 128
  4. In the Quarter - F. Tennyson Neely publisher 1896 edition - Page 134 and 135
  5. The Men Who Make Our Novels - C.C. Baldwin - Dodd, Mead & Co. 1924
  6. The Outsiders, an Outline - Frederick A. Stokes Company - 1899 1st edition - page 30
  7. The Outsiders, an Outline - Frederick A. Stokes Company - 1899 1st edition - page 248
  8. The Men Who Make Our Novels - C.C. Baldwin - Dodd, Mead & Co. 1924
  9. In the Quarter - F. Tennyson Neely publisher 1896 edition - Page 169