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Alan Gribben <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 14 Dec 1999 09:46:18 -0600
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Horn, Jason Gary.  _Mark Twain:  A Descriptive Guide to Biographical
Sources_.  Lanham, Maryland:  Scarecrow Press, 1999.  114 pp. + index.
ISBN 0-8108-3630-0.

Many books reviewed on the Forum are available at discounted prices from
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Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
         Alan Gribben <[log in to unmask]>
         Auburn University Montgomery

Copyright (c) 1999 Mark Twain Forum.  This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

To begin with a final but crucial feature, Jason Gary Horn's book boasts an
index, and it is an ample index.  Reference works like this one are largely
useful in accordance with how complete their indexes prove to be, and
Horn's contains entries for everything from "Major James B. Pond,"
"Nevada," and "Katy Leary" to "Humor," "Psychology," "Creativity,"
"Politics," and "Women," aside from the names of numerous scholarly
authors, editors, and titles.  His aim is to present "an organized guide"
to studies devoted to all aspects of the life of Mark Twain.  Horn's
coverage even includes certain of the biographical sources written during
Twain's lifetime.  He admits, given the limitations of space, to being more
generous with his attention to books than articles.  That being the case,
one might argue with his inclusion of a year-by-year chronology of Twain's
life events and another chronology that merely lists Twain's works by their
publication date, thereby giving up eight pages that could have introduced
further books and (especially) more articles rather than repeating familiar
listings easily found in the appendixes of various other works.

What especially sets Horn's book apart is the reach of its range.  Among
the categories, there are separate sections set aside for dictionaries and
encyclopedias; guides, companions, and related reference books;
biographies; critical biographical studies; autobiographical material;
letters, notebooks, and speeches; essay collections; and special reference
sources.  In the latter group, for example, Horn lists and describes J. R.
LeMaster and James D. Wilson's _The Mark Twain Encyclopedia_, R. Kent
Rasmussen's _Mark Twain A to Z_, Thomas A. Tenney's _Mark Twain:  A
Reference Guide_, and James D. Wilson's _A Reader's Guide to the Short
Stories of Mark Twain_, along with others.

I tried out Horn's scope by looking for a disparate set of items:  _Mark
Twain Circular_ ("published quarterly by the Mark Twain Circle of
America"), the Mark Twain Project ("twenty-three volumes have been
published"), Guy Cardwell's _The Man Who Was Mark Twain_ ("his biographical
housecleaning leaves readers with both a highly talented writer and a man
with numerous personality problems"), Everett Emerson's _The Authentic Mark
Twain_ ("draws an image- and career-conscious Twain capable of being . . .
either authentic or highly pretentious"), Victor A. Doyno's _Writing Huck
Finn_ ("moves in two directions toward a single goal:  an understanding of
Mark Twain's artistic mind"), and Peter Stonely's _Mark Twain and the
Feminine Aesthetic_ ("describes Twain's relationship with women in complex
and often ironic terms").  In brief, I was unable to stump Horn's listings,
however diligently I ransacked my personal library.  He had entries for
John Lauber, Hamlin Hill, Andrew Hoffman, Robert Gale, Frederick Anderson,
Laura Skandera-Trombley, and just about every other scholar I could think

Sometimes one might wish for a little more characterization or opinion in
the thumbnail description of each item.  I mean, is it enough simply to say
that Walter Blair's _Mark Twain and Huck Finn_ (1960) "provides a literary
and historical account of the forces that influenced the author's composing
process" and that it "usefully traces the publication life of the book
itself"?  Shouldn't Blair's bold, pioneering role in understanding and
appreciating the artistry of Twain's novel be stressed as well?  Likewise
with Henry Nash Smith, whose _Mark Twain:  The Development of a Writer_
(1962), arguably one of the five or six most influential books to appear on
Twain, receives a relatively perfunctory four-sentence treatment that
cannot possibly do justice either to Smith's thesis or his examples.  James
M. Cox's _Mark Twain:  The Fate of Humor_ (1966) fares somewhat better,
being recognized as a book that "carries Mark Twain studies to yet another
level."  Most of the 278 entries, however, eschew critical interpretation
entirely and even avoid offering historical perspectives.  This neutral
tone is presumably what the publisher preferred, but the author undoubtedly
would have been better served if he had been given permission to introduce
occasional editorial remarks, whatever the guidelines for a Scarecrow Press

Otherwise, only a few minor slips are detectable.  For example, Robert
Keith Miller, author of _Mark Twain_ (1983), is merely cited as "Keith
Miller."  Also, the index mistakenly lists the entry number for Horn's own
_Mark Twain and William James_ as "67" rather than (correctly) "69."  But
such errors of fact, let it be emphasized, are both rare and trivial.

In sum, then, despite a couple of imaginable improvements Horn has produced
an immensely helpful and valuable addition to the burgeoning shelf of
reference works about Mark Twain.  It will save both the novice and the
expert considerable time and effort in remembering to check a variety of
relevant sources.  Indeed, this guide functions admirably to knit together
several generations of research on Twain's life and writings.  All scholars
owe Jason Gary Horn a vote of thanks for conceiving and executing his well
focused and fully annotated bibliography.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER:  ALAN GRIBBEN is in his ninth year as head of the
Department of English and Philosophy at Auburn University Montgomery.  He
writes the Mark Twain chapter for _American Literary Scholarship:  An