The Mark Twain Forum needs a competent reviewer for the following book:
J.D. Stahl. _Mark Twain, Culture and Gender: Envisioning America
Through Europe_. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press,
1994. Pp. xvii + 231. Illustrations, index. $35.00. Cloth,
5-3/4" x 8-3/4". ISBN 0-8203-1559-1.
This book is described by the jacket as follows:
Often regarded as the quintessential American author, Mark Twain in
fact mined his knowledge and experience of Europe as assiduously as
he did his adventures on the Mississippi and in the American West.
In this challenging and original study, J.D. Stahl looks closely at
various Twain works with European settings and traces the manner in
which the great writer redefined European notions of class into
American concepts of gender, identity, and society.
Stahl not only examines such famous writings as _The Innocents
Aborad_, _The Prince and the Pauper_, _A Connecticut Yankee in King
Arthur's Court_, and the "Mysterious Stranger" manuscripts, but
also treats a number of neglected works, including _1601_, "A
Memorable Midnight Experience," and _Personal Recollections of Joan
of Arc_. In these writings, Stahl shows, Twain utilized the terms
and symbols of European society and history to express his deepest
concerns involving father-son relationships, the legitimation of
parentage, female political and sexual power, the victimization of
"good" women, and, ultimately, the desire to bridge or even destroy
the barriers between the sexes. The "exoticism" of foreign
culture--with its kings and queens, priests, and aristocrats--
furnished Twain with some especially potent images of power,
authority, and tradition. These images, Stahl argues, were
"plastic material in Mark Twain's hands," enabling the writer to
explore the uncertainties and ambiguities of gender in America:
what it meant to be a man in Victorian America; what Twain thought
it meant to be a woman; how men and women did, could, and should
relate to each other.
Stahl's approach yields a wealth of fresh insights into Twain's
work. In discussing _The Innocents Aborad_, for example, he
analyzes the emergence of the "Mark Twain" persona as part of a
quest for cultural authority that often took the form of sexual
role-playing. He also demonstrates that _The Prince and the
Pauper_, even more strikingly than _The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn_, embodies the writer's central myth of orphaned sons
searching for surrogate fathers. His reading of _A Connecticut
Yankee_ is a tour de force, uncovering the psychological
contradictions in Twain's political aspirations toward democratic
Stahl's book is an important contribution to literary scholarship,
informed by psychology, gender study, cultural theory, and
traditional Twain criticism. In confirms Mark Twain's debt to
European culture even as it illuminates his re-envisioning of that
culture in his own uniquely American way.
J.D. Stahl is an associate professor of English at Virginia
Polytechnic Institute and State University.
As always, the book review should be of publishable quality, and the
deadline for sending me your review would be two months after your
receipt of the book.
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Coordinator, Mark Twain Forum