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Mark Coburn <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Wed, 28 Feb 2001 06:28:08 -0700
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Dear Hal--

Actually, I've been thinking about your grief question ever since you first
raised it.  I learned from and greatly enjoyed Wes Britton's response to
repeated query, though it's not the kind of response you solicited.

I'm guessing:   I think perhaps one reason you drew few initial responses is
that  many of  us in the Forum are much more engaged with Twain than with
scholarship.  That's what Wes gave you--his own considered views, not  what
recalled of other people's articles or books.
Similarly, here are my thoughts:

--I think grief is often inextricable from  Twain's personal experience and
conviction that the "yaller dog" conscience never stops plaguing us, no
what we do.  Thus,  his blend of guilt and grief over his supposed
responsibility for his baby son's death.   Similarly, Jim's guilt, long
the fact, for hitting his deaf daughter.

--The Victorians often made SUCH a public display of grief and mourning that
phony or inflated grief  inevitably became his satiric target.  In
Finn he gives us real grief in several forms:  "I cried a little when I was
covering up Buck's face, for he was mighty good to me," says Huck.  Again,
Jim's lament over his daughter.  The melodramatic yet genuine reactions of
Boggs' daughter . . .   But he also gives us Emmeline's poetry and painting
("Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on
with her 'tribute' before he was cold.")   And he gives us the King
over his supposed dead brother.  The King and Duke trade heavily in faked
sentiment, grief, tears; and pretended grief is all that Emmeline lived for.

--And then there's Buck Fanshaw's funeral in Roughing It, with its almost
Dickensian blend of the comic and the deeply sincere.  Throughout Twain,
there's  a great deal of  humor--often very dark humor--about death and
(including dark jokes on his own death).   That awful story about the
cheese in the coffin.

--One place to see Twain at his most complex might be his writings about
General Grant's death.  He came to care  deeply for Grant.  At the same
the businessman in him was bent on exploiting that drawn-out dying--for the
sake of the Grant family as well as for his own sake--for every penny he

--  It might  be worthwhile to search "grief," "grieving," "funeral,"  and
every kindred word you can think of in all available on-line Twain texts.
Surely there are  mentions of grief and funerals all over his work, such the
outrage in the various Mysterious Stranger texts.

Best wishes,

Mark Coburn