I do not understand the intense perpetual attention focused on whether Twain was a flawed or brilliant writer.
How do we define failure? On many counts Clemens the man was very successful. As Aristotle said, "the whole is more than the sum of its parts." Applies in spades to Clemens. As well, when academics examine Twain's works based on literary theories post-Twain, well of course his works can be picked apart quite easily. Did Clemens himself have the benefit of attending creative writing courses, or did he take any writing courses at all? I know that he honed his "art" as a typesetter and reporter in the 19th century. But his literary educators, if I recall correctly, were among the slave families he spent his early youth with listening to their oral stories.
If taken in the contexts of Clemens' day his writing was exceptional. His "stories" are amazing. If he had appeared on the landscape today, writing about today's world, how different would his writing be if he had honed his skills at Stanford or even the local community college?
On Apr 22, 2012, at 12:38 AM, Mark Dawidziak wrote:
> Just a thought tossed into what's already an extremely thoughtful
> mix: there's a monumental difference between "flawed" and "failure." It
> certainly could be argued that "Huckleberry Finn" and "Connecticut
> Yankee" are structurally flawed. I'm trying to wrap my brain around the
> notion that either of these books would be classified as failures. If
> this be failure, please, let me write something 1/100th as good.
> But flawed? Is there a work of art that isn't flawed in some way?
> And just because something is flawed doesn't mean it's not a
> masterpiece. In his introduction to an annotated edition of Bram
> Stoker's "Dracula," scholar Leonard Wolf writes, "Let me say at once
> that we have a complete masterpiece, flawed here and there, as the
> Chinese insist masterpieces should be, but, nevertheless, the real thing."
> Seems to me the same might be said of "Huckleberry Finn,"
> "Connecticut Yankee" and many other Twain works. Which isn't to say
> there are not failures within these works -- flaws, if you will. Even
> the last third of "Huckleberry Finn" is now viewed in a vastly different
> light, thanks to the scholarship of Vic Doyno and others. The appraisal
> presented by William M. Gibson and others, if hardly overturned, has
> been treated to a substantive alternate interpretation. Whatever the
> view of this ending, or "Connecticut Yankee," for that matter, I'm
> guessing that most of us would contend that we are in the presence of
> the real thing.
> -----Original Message----- From: Scott Holmes
> <[log in to unmask]> To: TWAIN-L <[log in to unmask]> Sent: Fri,
> Apr 20, 2012 6:44 pm Subject: Failures in the works of Mark Twain I've
> been aware for some time now that there has been dissatisfaction with
> the concluding portion of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but not until
> this last year have I become aware of what seems to be a sense of
> failure in much of his work. =20 A few weeks back I mentioned I was
> reading Cox's Mark Twain The Fate of Humor and I was surprised at the
> thought that Connecticut Yankee and/or The Prince and the Pauper were
> failures. Upon finishing this book it seems to me that Cox felt most of
> Twains work were failures. And this surprised me greatly especially
> sense he seems to be so well informed on the topic. =20 I started today
> on Lawrence Howe's Mark Twain and the Novel. This appears to argue that
> the failures were not Twain's but are structural. Nevertheless, the idea
> that there are failures or faults in these works surprises me. In fact
> it disturbs me. I suppose this is because I am not a literary critic or
> even academically trained in English (my degrees are in Geography). In
> my mind, a book, in this case a novel, is a failure only if it fails to
> interest the reader and/or proves to be unreadable. This is not the case
> with any of Twain's works in my experience.=20 On further searching for
> why this sense of failure exists I came upon a review of Cox's book by
> Kristin Brown. It would seem that Mark Twain IS a Humorist and must
> write humorous material, otherwise "Twain had attempted to suppress his
> genius". This is the crux of my problem with the idea that there are
> failures. This strikes me very much like the argument that Miles Davis
> was a failure after he progressed beyond Bebop. An artist is not allowed
> to venture away from their established genre. Humor might have been his
> "strongest suit" but by no means need it be his only suit. Thoughts?