TWAIN-L Archives

Mark Twain Forum


Options: Use Forum View

Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Condense Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
"D. Terrell Dempsey" <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 24 Jul 2001 09:11:48 -0500
text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
text/plain (102 lines)
I have been fascinated by the discussion regarding a definitive
biography of Clemens.  For the past two years I have been extensively
researching his life from 1839 to 1861, particularly regarding slavery.
I have been gathering original material, not doing a library search of
previous biographies -- which seems to make up the bulk of most work on
Clemens' early life.  I have more than a little sympathy for biographers
who have to attempt to interpret the "reminiscences" Clemens left us.
They are frequently akin to interpreting the oracle of Delphi.
    I have had to struggle repeatedly to interpret what Clemens meant.
For instance, although John Marshall Clemens bought & sold slave
property in every way imaginable, enforced Hannibal's slave code,
whipped slaves at home and ordered a slave whipped as a judge, Clemens
wrote that his father was opposed to slavery.  Dixon Wecter dismissed
the assertion as filial whitewashing -- but I am convinced Clemens meant
it. The colonization movement came in Missouri in 1845, was supported by
the Whigs (Henry Clay was national president for heaven's sake) and the
Marion County chapter organized in 1847.  The movement flourished for
about a year and a half -- until it was finally killed in the backlash
to the abolition movement.
    Similarly, Clemens said that he didn't recall many slave auctions in
Hannibal, but that perhaps he didn't recall them because auctions were
common.  Actually, his memory was right on this one.  The custom was to
hold auctions at the county seat in Palmyra.  There were only a couple
of auctions in Hannibal while Clemens was here.  There were five dealers
buying slaves and shipping them downriver -- but not having auctions.
    On the other hand, I strongly suspect that Clemens'  account of the
sale of the slave Jennie is a load of corn -- oh for the gift of
    I won't go on with the litany of ambiguities and hyperbole I've
encountered.  I'm sure you all have encountered as many and more. But I
did want to make this statement: The beauty of Clemens and Twain is the
continuing dialogue and passion he stirs a century-and-a-half after he
ventured out of Hannibal. There is a bounty of material unexplored.  I
suspect and hope there will never be a definitive biography.  In the
meantime, I am certainly tolerant of those who go out on a limb in their
interpretation of Twain.
    Terrell Dempsey
-----Original Message-----
From: Wesley Britton <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Monday, July 23, 2001 11:42 PM
Subject: "one page"

>Some notes on that "one page" currently under discussion. (Sigh,
>Firstly, that page carries considerable history with it.  Ironically,
it was
>at an Elmira conference eight years ago that the author first presented
>theories to the Twain community, so no one was surprised when he
>them in a lengthy article in AMERICAN LITERATURE. The process of
>began in earnest, for some, when the author stated in that article that
>those who disagreed with his conclusions must be bigoted regarding gay
>writers.  I don't recall if that is a direct quote, but I do recall
>stating they resented being branded something they weren't.  Many felt
>argument lacked merit for a number of valid reasons including a lack of
>credible evidence and a syllogism built on weak premises.
>It's my understanding that some readers of the books' MS advised the
>to tone down or delete the material in question, but as you know, this
>advice wasn't taken. Had this happened and the theory been left to the
>of AMERICAN LITERATURE for scholars to wrangle over, the long-term
>to the book could have been something quite different.  Rather,
>for the book centered on this "one page" which made the controversy the
>central issue in its promotions.  I watched one C-SPAN presentation in
>the author  told the audience, in response to a question, that the
>community agreed with his conclusions.  This was never the case and the
>claim further eroded the author's credibility. In short, the emphasis
>this "one page" came from the author himself.
>Eight years have gone by which has meant the controversy has long,
>long lost any importance and gratefully, rightfully so.    But the
>suggestion that anyone recommend the book despite this mostly forgotten
>"page" amounts to asking the Twain community to sanction a distortion
>know to be misleading. This is especially true when general readers
want to
>know what source is considered the best of the best. I'm not opposed to
>interpretative biography--my own dissertation is primarily
>and nothing in it can be called "definitive."  That's what the
gentleman was
>asking about, and that we don't have. There's nothing wrong with being
>speculative or interpretative, so long as the theory is stated as such
>not fact. That's why we have to be careful about using that word,