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Sender: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
From: Gregg Camfield <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2003 14:33:46 -0700
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I thank Kent Rasmussen for his endorsement of what _The Oxford Companion
to Mark Twain_ really is and does.  I meant the essays to contribute to
a conversation about Mark Twain’s works and their enduring interest
and value.  I took seriously the idea that the book is a _companion_ for
those who read Mark Twain.  I hoped to broaden the conversation by
pulling in those who have not been privy to the academic debates, and to
deepen the discussion among those of us who are professional literary
critics.  I don’t think professionals and amateurs should have fully
separate discussions, and so, frankly, I tried to avoid jargon and to be
true to the subject matter by allowing the occasional bit of humor to
creep in.  I’ve been heartened by the response the book has received
so far in the popular press and among lovers of Twain.  I trust the
intelligence of the reading public, and the reading public seems to
appreciate that trust.

I confess I’m miffed that anyone would judge the book by its jacket
copy.  It seems that university presses tout most of their books as
“definitive,” right up until about two years later when they
publish the next “definitive” study on the same topic. I never
claimed to be either definitive or comprehensive, and as a scholar I
believe that when one can write a truly definitive exegesis of an
author, it’s because the author’s works are no longer living parts
of culture. Judging from the "war thread" here, I'd say Twain's presence
is very lively. At any rate, I’d much rather my book be judged by the
intentions expressed in the preface than by the breathless copy written
by OUP’s spinmeisters.

One of the reasons I wrote the book the way I did was that I did not
want to repeat what Kent had already done so well.  _Mark Twain A-Z_ is
a superb book; it seemed to me pointless to try to compete with it.
When Oxford approached me to write the _Companion_, _A-Z_ was not yet
out, but I had heard that it was on its way.  When I raised that concern
with Oxford, they said not to worry, that a Facts-on-File book would
have a different kind of focus, and so it did.  Oxford explicitly asked
me to write a  book  that would synthesize and add to the body of
criticism, but that would be written for a general audience.  I liked
the challenge and agreed to go with it.  For various reasons, OUP
modified that original plan late in the game.  My content and focus did
not change, and will not change.  I hope the book will do exactly what
Kent says it does in providing “fuel for the imagination.”  And that
even he finds in it a “Golconda of esoteric information and
stimulating insights” pleases me greatly.  Thanks again, Kent.

Gregg Camfield

P.S.  There’s a story—which may be fascinating for those who know
about the weird publishing history of some of Mark Twain’s
books—behind the way the press first asked me to write this book
and then changed its own conception of what the book should be. That
history explains some of the quirks in the book, but I’ll save that
story for after hours over a whiskey at the next Elmira Twain