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"Sheldon L. Craig Jr." <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 24 Oct 1994 17:24:05 -0700
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I believe in the case of *HF*, Clemens did indeed create a valuable
social and literary document. With the exception of *Uncle Tom's Cabin*
and other abolitionist literature of the times, Clemens brought the
question of granting humanity to slaves closer to the average American
through his use of characters that reflected everyday life with all the
sham and cant it contains. There was an identifiability in *HF* that
didn't exist in so much of the other literature of his day, and, I
believe, marked a turning point in our approach to literature in many ways.

I don't think there's any way to escape this: Few, if any writers prior
to the 1880s took as natural, or organic an approach to both narrative and
dialogue that Clemens did -- at least as far as novels were concerned.
Louisa May Alcott roundly criticized him for this as did many of the
eastern literati whose favor he courted. Nevertheless, he had to "succumb
to the law of his make," and continued to reflect life as he honestly saw
it, proverbial warts and all.

Fortunately, however, there is a large enough body of knowledge regarding
SLC's life that puts the lie to any notions that he was anything other
than what he said he was, "a scribbler of books..." and a refreshingly
human character who not only championed the underdog, courted kings and
princes -- but also acknowledged his own hypocrisy in that regard.

So, have I killed my argument? Hardly. Life is not an exact science, and
the definition of hypocrisy, in my view, is a steadfast refusal of one to
acknowledge his or her *own* hypocrisy. Clemens faced that, but he also
backed up many of his expressed opinions (literary and otherwise), with
deeds that are a matter of public record.

For that reason, therefore, I believe Clemens to be one of the best -- if
not the best -- chronicler of life in the 19th century by virtue of his
honest as well as his unique literary skill. That's value, to me, at least.

To the ongoing discourse,

Sheldon Craig