TWAIN-L Archives

Mark Twain Forum


Options: Use Forum View

Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 2 Apr 2004 22:40:14 -0600
text/plain (118 lines)
The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Jeffrey
W. Miller.



_Mark Twain & Company: Six Literary Relations_. By Leland Krauth.
University of Georgia Press, 2003. Pp. xv + 307. Cloth. $34.95. ISBN

Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
prices from the Twain Web Bookstore. Purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by
Jeffrey W. Miller
University of Tennessee at Martin

Copyright  2004 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

While many studies of Mark Twain and his works have focused on the duality
of Sam Clemens and Mark Twain (most notable, perhaps, is Justin Kaplan's
_Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain_), Leland Krauth's _Mark Twain & Company_
posits a Mark Twain with multiple personalities--at least with multiple
writing personalities. Krauth asserts that Twain's membership in the
"literary guild" (1) forms an important part of his writing identity; he
claims that Twain's literary relations with other writers are among his
most important relationships. This rather straightforward assumption forms
the foundation of _Mark Twain & Company_ and provides for its
organizational strategy. In successive chapters, Krauth pairs Twain with
six authors (three American and three British): Bret Harte, William Dean
Howells, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Matthew Arnold, Robert Louis Stevenson, and
Rudyard Kipling. Each pairing illuminates a different Twainian
"personality." With Harte, Twain is a sentimentalist; with Howells, a
humorist; with Stowe, a Gothicist; with Arnold, a cultural sage; with
Stevenson, an adventure writer; and with Kipling, a travel writer.

Each chapter first explores these relationships through biographical
connections. With some writers, such as Howells and Stowe, this is fertile
territory, as both enjoyed long-standing personal relationships with Twain.
With others who did not benefit from an extensive relationship, such as
Arnold and Kipling, Krauth has a more difficult task. Despite this seeming
flaw in his strategy, Krauth makes some original and clever connections
between the writers with what might be termed "mirroring"; he examines
similar formative experiences in each writer's life. Arnold and Twain, for
instance, both sowed "wild oats" in their youth--Arnold in Oxford and Twain
in Virginia City (126). The essence of each chapter, however, lies not in
this biographical ephemera, but in Krauth's astute analyses of "parallel
texts" (10), which focus on thematics important to understanding one of
Twain's writing personalities. The chapter on Stowe, for instance, reads
_Uncle Tom's Cabin_ and _Dred_ alongside _Huck Finn_ and _Tom Sawyer_ as
Gothic texts.

Krauth looks at a diverse group of writers in this book, and does an
admirable job of reining in what might have become an unwieldy mess of
information. In fact, such an assortment of issues and texts are examined
that one might think Krauth would venture out of his element at some point.
This is not the case, however, as the chapters are remarkably
consistent--Krauth examines the short stories of Bret Harte with as much
eloquence and aplomb as the poetry of Matthew Arnold. Individually, the
chapters of _Mark Twain & Company_ are exemplary scholarship.

Collectively, however, the book seems more like an anthology of variations
on a theme than a complete symphony. Krauth even admits in his conclusion
that _Mark Twain & Company_ offers an "odd, disjunctive composite" picture
of Twain (262). Krauth seems to attribute this composite to Twain's
inherent multiplicity, but Krauth's own authorial strategies may have
something to do with this disjunction. Because Krauth focuses so completely
on the personality themes of each individual chapter, the reader often gets
a rather fractured picture of Twain's work; _Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn_, for example, appears in _Mark Twain & Company_ as a sentimental text
(38-41), a Gothic story (113-17), a discursion on manliness (198-204), and
a picaresque tale (236-38). While _Huck Finn_ is versatile enough to
support all these readings, a reader of _Mark Twain & Company_ does not
emerge from the book with a coherent sense of how Krauth reads _Huck Finn_.
Krauth asserts that a complete picture of Twain is not possible, and claims
his work is only a "partial portrait" (262). I admit that literary
criticism must assemble incomplete puzzles, but does this mean that the
critic should leave the puzzle pieces in a jumble, or should he put the
puzzle together, even if it has missing pieces?

Sometimes book reviewers will lament the "book that might have been" rather
than evaluate the actual book in question. Without falling into that trap,
I do lament the "chapter that might have been." Krauth's conclusion,
"Viewing Mark Twain," begins with some promise, but it ultimately leaves
this reader wondering what kinds of conclusions Krauth may have been able
to push for, if he were so inclined. He begins by quoting Twain's memorable
assessment of the Lee-Jackson painting in _Life on the Mississippi_, where
he asserts that it "means nothing without its label"; for Krauth, this
moment is an avenue towards asserting the "indeterminacy...of reading a
picture--or literary text, or historical figure" (258). Just as _Mark Twain
& Company_ gives a somewhat fractured picture of Twain's works, it gives a
fractured picture of Twain as a writer. Krauth seems content with his
five-page conclusion, claiming that Twain was a writer among writers--a
member of the "literary guild," one who "continues to elude exact critical
focus" (262). While this is certainly true--no literary biography or
critical text could completely explain any writer or her work, it seems to
contradict the rest of _Mark Twain & Company_, which so eloquently
clarified Twain in a variety of ways. Throughout my reading of these
splendid essays, I continually wondered how it is that Twain seems such a
master of versatility. How is Twain able to metamorphose his writing to
such great extent? What about Twain, or about us as readers, makes this
possible? Alas, no such questions are probed by Krauth. Admittedly, they
are large questions, but I think such a visionary study deserved a more
inventive ending.

To some extent, I am probably disappointed in the conclusion of this book
because I like the rest of it so much. Krauth has the rare ability to write
for both the masses (at least the Twainiac masses) and an academic
audience. The book is extremely well-researched and eminently readable. It
breaks ground, I think, in fusing Twain with the establishment of
cross-cultural Victorian studies, and it does so with a flair often absent
in academic writing.