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Sender: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Sat, 21 Apr 2012 23:03:11 -0400
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From: Dustin Zima <[log in to unmask]>
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The debate regarding Twain as a failed, and/or flawed, novelist is a topic that causes many of us to be defensive--which then results in a vitriolic offensive.  I have been working on a paper ("Tom Sawyer Tarred and Feathered"), which I presented at the Hannibal Twain conference, that addresses this issue.  In it, I am arguing, as the entrance of the King and the Duke is often cited as an example of Twain's inability to stay focused, that Twain introduces the King and the Duke as a representation of what will become of Tom and Huck if Huck continues to follow Tom.  Additionally, Twain's reinsertion of Tom into Huck's eponymous text is done so to "tar and feather" Tom.  Essentially, what I claim, is that Twain intentionally drags his most beloved character, Tom, through the mud to get readers to despise him, and in turn, dislike everything that he represents--particularly, the slave-holding South and the romantic novel.  In the end, Twain has Tom Sawyer shot, and while this is no sinking of the Sir Walter Scott, it is similar.  With all of the above said, is anyone aware of similar research that has been done?       

Dustin Zima
Elmira College




-----Original Message-----
From: Fred Harwood <[log in to unmask]>
To: TWAIN-L <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Sat, Apr 21, 2012 7:45 pm
Subject: Re: Failures in the works of Mark Twain

Thank you, Paul.

On Apr 21, 2012, at 2:07 PM, Paul Schullery wrote:

> In the long view of the critical process, it could be said that the

> rhetoric of failure that Mr. Holmes is puzzled by isn't really about Mark

> Twain and his work.  It's about the entire field of criticism, its

> fashions and its self-image.  The harsher views of Twain must be seen as

> an obligatory part of the process by which we continue to address and

> redefine the lives and work of important people.  The most cynical

> observers would say, perhaps with some justification, that much of this

> rhetoric is the result of the insatiable appetites of the Ph.d. mill, but

> in fact it's just part of the nature of twentieth-century thought.

> Brooks's "The Ordeal of Mark Twain" (1920) exemplifies an apparently

> irresistible impulse (in both professional criticism and in academics)

> that thrives on these remarkably dismissive pronouncements about giant

> figures in every field of endeavor.


> It's kind of embarrassing, really, for those of us who think we've

> developed some expertise about a given subject, to realize that a sizable

> portion of whatever intellectual "subculture" we're a part of thrives on

> this sort of reflexive giant-killing.  Undeniably epochal figures as

> diverse as Ernest Hemingway, Mickey Mantle, and Abraham Lincoln have been

> subjected to this treatment, their entire lives and works recast as

> hopeless and nearly pointless tragedies.  The people who write this stuff

> often do a splendid job of identifying genuine frailties and

> disappointments that haunted the endeavors of their monumental subjects,

> but then they elevate that darker side of the story to a disproportionate

> degree.  Just as people with other rhetorical stances might view those

> negatives as handy literary devices by which to demonstrate their hero's

> great capacity to overcome personal obstacles, people with the "life is

> failure" perspective turn it all the other way.  Reading these treatments,

> you wouldn't know that Hemingway reshaped modern prose, that Mantle was

> among the most dreaded sluggers in history, or that Lincoln did infinitely

> more important things than either of them.  I read a biography of Mantle a

> few years ago that made it sound like it was a miracle he even made it to

> the major leagues.


> I'm not sure what brings on this bizarre loss of perspective, but it's

> still the most fashionable approach for a large segment of the critical

> culture.  I do wonder if it attracts a good many fundamentally tormented

> souls to the critical enterprise just because it provides them with a

> wholesome outlet for their tendencies.  But as the previous commentators

> have made clear, all we can do is try to keep these strange critical

> treatments in perspective and appreciate them for their more lucid

> insights into human inadequacies.


> And if we have a free moment after doing that, we can wonder what in the

> world ever possessed a guy like Brooks, who was apparently born without

> even the slightest trace of a sense of humor, to imagine that he had any

> business evaluating Mark Twain in the first place.


> Paul Schullery

> Bozeman, MT





>> -----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?


Fred Harwood

Linwood Cottage