_Mark Twain's Geographical Imagination_. Joseph A. Alvarez, ed. Cambridge
Scholars Publishing, 2009. Hardcover, 167 pages. $58.95. ISBN:
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This collection of essays edited by Mark Twain scholar Joseph A. Alvarez
was inspired by a 2005 South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA)
conference session. The session was organized by Morehouse College
professor Eileen Meredith, who coined the title of the session that this
book uses. Then of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North
Carolina, Alvarez was not involved in that session, but he nevertheless
took up a suggestion from Cambridge Scholars Publishing (no relationship to
Cambridge University Press) to shape a book around the subject of Mark
Twain's writings on geography. In June 2006, he posted a call to the Mark
Twain Forum listserv for papers on Mark Twain's individual travel writings.
The result was this collection of ten essays, including two originally
presented by Jeffrey Melton and Charles Martin at the SAMLA conference.
When the book was published in late 2009, it received sparse publicity and
no reviews and then quickly fell out of print. However, in a stroke of good
luck for those who failed to find a copy previously, the book is now once
again listed on amazon.com and a request to the publisher for a review copy
was promptly answered.
The book's cover features a popular cartoon of Mark Twain standing atop a
laughing globe that appeared on 22 December 1900 in the New York
_Commercial Advertiser_. It was signed by a cartoonist with the initials
LWM whose identity remains unknown in spite of several queries over the
years on the Mark Twain Forum to solicit assistance in providing his or her
Alvarez begins the volume with his introduction titled "Mining Ore from
Physical and Imaginative Travels." Therein he observes that Mark Twain's
geographical imagination took him back almost 2000 years to the Garden of
Eden--when he wrote the Adam and Eve diaries--and carried him into time
travel, heaven, and various fantasy spaces.
Contributors to the volume include several names familiar to members of the
Mark Twain Forum. Among them is John Bird, author of the book's first
essay, "Metaphors of North and South, East and West in Mark Twain's 'The
Private History of a Campaign that Failed'" (pp. 7-16). Calling attention
to the tendency of many readers to overlook the fact that much of Mark
Twain's story is fiction, Bird sees that Civil War story to be "about
_confusion_ over directions, and even more deeply, about confusion over war
in general and war writing in particular" (7). He goes on to show how Mark
Twain used the story as a sort of corrective to northern views of published
accounts of the war--an implicit criticism, perhaps, of the _Century_
magazine series of wartime memoirs in which the piece first appeared.
The book's second chapter, by another familiar name--John H. Davis--is
titled "Bridging the Gap: The Twin Kingdoms of _The Prince and the Pauper_"
(17-34). Davis's "two kingdoms" are the real world of 16th century England
that the novel's characters inhabit and the dream worlds of the characters'
imaginations. Davis sees the dichotomy of the two realms as central to the
"_Roughing It_: Mark Twain's Geography of the West, Imagined and Real"
(35-40) is by radio comedian Horace J. Digby--the volume's sole nonacademic
contributor. He examines Mark Twain's experiences as an explorer, in the
very real sense of an on-the-ground adventurer in the Far West.
In "The Significance of Mark Twain's Hawaiian Sojourn Revisited" (41-50),
David B. Kesterson offers a bold reassessment of the importance of Mark
Twain's 1866 trip to the islands. In blunt terms, he argues that "Mark
Twain's life and career were forever changed by the four-months' exposure
to island culture and geography, for his experience in the islands helped
create an eclectic author and citizen of the world ..." (42). Noting that
the trip was both Mark Twain's first sea voyage and his first immersive
experience in a foreign culture, Kesterson goes on to show how the trip
deepened his interest in geography and travel, concluding "that Mark
Twain's sojourn in Hawaii was the major catalyst for his becoming a world
traveler and ultimately an international celebrity" (49).
"The Illinois Side of Mark Twain" (51-65) by Sandra Littleton-Uetz, is a
true work of geographical imagination. Because of the vast extent of Mark
Twain's world travels one wouldn't expect what he wrote about a commonplace
American state to be of great interest, but Littleton-Uetz argues
otherwise. After connecting Mark Twain's remark that he "would move a state
if the exigencies of literature required it" to a later comment he made
about the "storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one's head,"
she builds a persuasive argument that a prime example of such a storm is
Mark Twain's imaginative use of the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.
The most original chapter in this book may be Charles D. Martin's "Tom
Sawyer's Lessons in Geography; Or, The Holy Land as Flapdoodle in _Tom
Sawyer Abroad_" (67-81). Though written for the SAMLA conference a dozen
years ago, the paper is very timely in late 2017, as PBS television
stations across the country are broadcasting _Mark Twain's Journey to
Jerusalem: Dreamland_. The PBS docudrama is about Mark Twain's 1867 visit
to the Holy Land but deals with some of the same issues as Martin's essay.
Martin sees _Tom Sawyer Abroad_ as "essentially a geography lesson couched
in the form of a romantic narrative ..." that "serves as a corrective to
the proliferation of dull school textbooks and other insipid instructional
narratives that posed as boys' stories." He goes on to argue that through
"Tom Sawyer's lessons in geography ... Twain lays bare the inherent
ideological bias of geography and establishes the science as an implement
of imperial conquest" (69).
In "Mark Twain, Huck Finn, and the Geographical 'Memory' of a Nation"
(83-99) Janice McIntire-Strasburg builds a convincing argument for Mark
Twain's facility in making the Mississippi river a metaphor of American
life. The title of Jeffrey Alan Melton's "Seeing the River: Mark Twain's
Landscape Imagination" (101-115), seems to address a similar subject, but
the chapter actually goes well beyond the Mississippi to examine how Mark
Twain imagined other landscapes in both the United States and foreign lands.
In "The Stranger in Paradise: Dollis Hill, Florence, Dublin, and Samuel
Clemens' Creative Imagination" (117-129) Mark Woodhouse focuses on three
places where Mark Twain resided for extended periods--Dollis Hill in
London, England; Florence, Italy; and Dublin, New Hampshire. While
exploring how those locations influenced the fictional works Mark Twain
wrote while living in them, Woodhouse looks for "common elements of
environment that these locales share with each other and with Quarry Farm
that appeared to exert a particular influence on Clemens' creative process"
The book's final chapter, by Tracy Wuster, is "'Interrupting a Funeral with
a Circus'" Mark Twain, Imperial Ambivalence, and Baseball in the Sandwich
Islands." Wuster begins with a discussion of a humorous 1889 banquet speech
Mark Twain gave on Americans playing baseball in the Hawaiian Islands and
then moves into an exploration of "how the Sandwich Islands existed as a
geographical marker of [Mark Twain's] imperial ambivalence--a real place
transformed into a fantasy through which he could explore questions of
Featuring a comprehensive list of works cited and index, this collection is
a nice historical snapshot of a neglected aspect of Mark Twain studies by
some leading scholars. Generous previews of the text may be read online at