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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
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Wed, 6 Feb 2008 17:08:07 -0600
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The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Tracy



Many books reviewed on the Forum are available at discounted prices from
the TwainWeb Bookstore, and purchases from this site generate commissions
that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit <>.

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
By Tracy Wuster
University of Texas, Austin

Copyright (c) 2008 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

_Confronting Imperialism: Essays on Mark Twain and the Anti-Imperialist
League_. By Jim Zwick. Infinity Publishing, 2007, softcover, 246 pages, 57
illustrations, notes, index. $16.95. ISBN 0-7414-4410-0.

This collection of eleven essays on the anti-imperialist movement and Mark
Twain in _Confronting Imperialism_ gives readers access to much of the
scholarly work that Jim Zwick published between 1992 and 2002 in books,
journals, and Zwick's sorely missed website. The essays vary in approach
and content, but all focus on the larger questions of the history of the
anti-imperialist movement and Mark Twain's views of empire, government, and
politics. These essays constitute, in Zwick's words, "my continuing effort
to trace and interpret his anti-imperialist writings, his involvement with
the Anti-Imperialist League, and the history and continuing relevance of
the Anti-Imperialist League itself" (x). They are a testament to the
scholarly contributions of Jim Zwick to both Mark Twain and American

The first four essays of the book explore the general topic of
anti-imperialism as an important social movement, with only minimal
reference to Mark Twain. These essays do not seek to provide a
comprehensive argument, but rather they attempt to revise some outdated
historiographical notions about the meaning of anti-imperialism in the
United States.

The first essay, "The Anti-Imperialist Movement, 1898-1921," argues against
the popular view, adopted from Theodore Roosevelt and others, that the
anti-imperialist movement was short-lived, minimally influential, and
largely unsuccessful. Instead, Zwick argues that the Anti-Imperialist
League should be viewed as part of a larger social movement whose
leadership and members were continuous with later anti-imperialist
movements stretching at least into the 1930s (2). Zwick traces the
institutional history of the Anti-Imperialist League through three periods
(from its founding in 1898 to the election of 1900, through a major split
in 1904-1905, and into its final years from 1912-1921), showing that the
League changed with its political context while continuing to play a key
role in American culture well past its period of initial influence.  Also
included in this group of essays are "The Anti-Imperialist League and the
Origins of Filipino-American Oppositional Solidarity," "What's Age Got to
Do With It? The Generation Gap Theory of American Imperialism," and "Oswald
Garrison Villard and American Anti-Imperialism: A Biographical Excursion
from 1900 to the 1960s."

The final seven essays of this collection focus on Twain's views of
different international questions. "Mark Twain's Hawaii" examines Twain's
first excursion outside the United States, a four-month visit to the
Hawaiian Islands in 1866, and the importance of his writings and speeches
on the subject. Zwick writes: "Much of what made Mark Twain a
'quintessentially American' writer did not start to develop in America but
in the independent nation of Hawaii in 1866" (67). The subject of Hawaii
influenced Mark Twain's thinking on questions of politics, human nature,
and America's role in the world for decades after his visit. By tracing the
evolution of his thinking on the islands, Zwick illustrates an important
foundation for Twain's later views on American empire.

"Mark Twain and the Russian Revolution" discusses his first official public
participation in a political cause, when Twain's opposition to the Russian
Czar led him to join "The Society of Friends of Russian Freedom" in 1891.
Twain wrote several pieces that roundly condemned the Russian monarchy in
similar terms as his later anti-imperialist writings. Like his
participation in the Anti-Imperialist League, the importance of Twain's
writings on Russia have remained largely ignored in Twain studies, apart
from Twain's unfortunate sponsorship of Maxim Gorky's visit to New York in
1906, when the "Mrs. Gorky" who had accompanied the Russian writer and
activist was discovered to be an actress, not his wife. An essay on Mark
Twain's response to the Dreyfus Affair in France further argues for Twain's
ability to link abstract questions of freedom and repression with concrete
examples of imperialism and racism.

For Mark Twain scholars, the centerpiece of the book will undoubtedly be
the essay "'Prodigally Endowed with Sympathy for the Cause': Mark Twain's
Involvement with the Anti-Imperialist League."  First published in 1994,
the essay recovered Twain's contributions to the Anti-Imperialist
League--as a vice president of the League from 1901 to 1910, as a
participant in the League's propaganda efforts, and as an essayist and
speaker who used his fame to promote his political views. Twain did not
take an active role in the day-to-day activities of the League, but instead
used his name and his writings to express his sympathy with the cause.
Twain's anti-imperialist views influenced much of his writing during his
final years, in both direct pieces such as "To the Person Sitting in
Darkness" and as a theme in writings such as "Extract from Captain's
Stormfield's Visit to Heaven," _The Mysterious Stranger_, and _What Is
Man?_ (128). As Zwick points out, Mark Twain's social and political
writings were often viewed with confusion by those who viewed his role as a
humorist as antithetical to serious writing. This essay recontextualizes
Mark Twain's political activities within the larger history of
anti-imperialism at the time.

Zwick also provides two brief essays on Mark Twain's connections with
various figures related to the imperialist question. The first traces out
the links between Twain, the anti-imperialist writer and activist Ernest
Crosby, and the illustrator Dan Beard. The second discusses the connections
between Twain and Andres Bonifacio, the first leader of the Philippine
Revolution, and between Twain and Winston Churchill.  These two essays,
while not making large historical points like other essays in this book,
are interesting to read and point to the historical figures who are linked
with Twain through his anti-imperial work.

The final essay of the book, "Mark Twain's Anti-Imperialist Writings in the
'American Century," traces some of the reasons why Mark Twain's
anti-imperialism was forgotten in the twentieth century. The historical
amnesia about Twain's anti-imperial views can be seen, in Zwick's view, as
part of the larger denial of empire in American culture (156). Twain's
position as a uniquely American icon makes the cultural status of his
anti-imperialist writings "a good reference for understanding the contours
of the public debate about imperialism in the twentieth century" (158).
While he actively supported anti-imperialist causes and used the theme of
anti-imperialism in many of his later writings, Twain chose not to publish
certain pieces he viewed as too controversial, and his publisher, Harper
and Brothers, refused to publish some that he did submit for publication.
After his death, the limited picture of Twain's political views continued
when Albert Bigelow Paine and Harpers chose to limit, and in some cases
censor, Twain's views to protect what Paine called "the Mark Twain that we
knew, the traditional Mark Twain" (166-7). Paine's official versions of
Twain's biography, notebooks, letters, and other writings deleted
references to subjects deemed too controversial, often specific references
to imperialism, and Zwick shows how this "literary fraud" affected
scholarship well into the 1970s (171).

After Paine's death in 1937, Twain's daughter Clara continued to promote a
whitewashed view of Twain's writings until her death in 1962, when Twain's
papers were donated to the University of California at Berkeley and the
Mark Twain Project. At the same time, Mark Twain's anti-imperialist views
became the subject of Cold War skirmishes between Soviet and American
scholars. No longer simply a commercial question, Twain's anti-imperialist
views became a matter of international politics. In the 1960s, Twain's
views were used to legitimize dissent to American policies in Southeast
Asia (175). This use of Mark Twain as a figure who can justify a critique
of the government within political debate has continued through our day,
demonstrating that the importance of Twain's role as a social critic
continues into our time. Zwick does an excellent job tracing these contours
over the course of the century.

 _Confronting Imperialism_ demonstrates the legacy of Jim Zwick's
scholarship on Mark Twain and anti-imperialism. Zwick's 1992 book, _Mark
Twain's Weapons of Satire: Anti-Imperialist Writings on the
Philippine-American War_ (Syracuse University Press), recovered and
contextualized Mark Twain's writings on American intervention in the
Philippines, and the book should be credited as a major contribution of the
development in both Mark Twain studies and in the push to incorporate the
study of nationalism and imperialism into academic disciplines. That book,
in combination with _Confronting Imperialism_ has helped restore a central
element of Twain's life to scholars and to the larger reading public.

Jim Zwick's recent death from complications of diabetes is an unfortunate
loss to scholars interested in Mark Twain, and based on the personal
testimony of his friends on this list, a profound loss to those who knew
him personally. While I never met Jim, he was kind and gracious in offering
me help on several occasions and his scholarly work has influenced the
direction of my own career. His work plotted new, significant directions
for work on Twain and anti-imperialism that will continue to be influential
for years to come.

Tracy Wuster
American Studies, University of Texas, Austin