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Wesley Britton <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 24 Jul 2001 00:42:23 -0500
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Some notes on that "one page" currently under discussion. (Sigh, again.)

Firstly, that page carries considerable history with it.  Ironically, it was
at an Elmira conference eight years ago that the author first presented his
theories to the Twain community, so no one was surprised when he published
them in a lengthy article in AMERICAN LITERATURE. The process of alienation
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 many
stating they resented being branded something they weren't.  Many felt the
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 author
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 pages
of AMERICAN LITERATURE for scholars to wrangle over, the long-term response
to the book could have been something quite different.  Rather, publicity
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 which
the author  told the audience, in response to a question, that the Twain
community agreed with his conclusions.  This was never the case and the
claim further eroded the author's credibility. In short, the emphasis on
this "one page" came from the author himself.

Eight years have gone by which has meant the controversy has long, 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 most
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 interpretative
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 and
not fact. That's why we have to be careful about using that word,