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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 8 Apr 2000 09:28:36 -0500
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I am posting this review of behalf of Jason Horn who wrote it.


Budd, Louis J. (ed). _Mark Twain: The Contemporary Reviews_.  (American
Critical Archives, 11.)  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. xi
+ 656.  Index. Cloth, 6-1/2" x 9-1/2". $125.00. ISBN 0-521-39024-9.

This book and many others are available at discounted prices from the
TwainWeb Bookstore, and purchases from this site generate commissions tha
benefit the Mark Twain Project.  Please visit

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:

Jason G. Horn, Chair
Division of Humanities
Gordon College

Copyright (c) 2000 Mark Twain Forum.  This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

Why would anyone want to read such a hefty collection--over 600 pages--of
the contemporary reviews of Mark Twain's writings that Louis J. Budd has
edited and collected? Surely no one still believes that the critical
reception by an author's contemporaries, who themselves are wrapped in a
blanket of social and cultural prejudices, can provide any genuine insight
into a writer's work.  Maybe not, but avoiding the grasp of "postmodern
absoluteness," Louis J. Budd reveals that more can be gained from a review
of the past than just a recollection of dominant ideologies. For the
critical history he recalls in _Mark Twain: The Contemporary Reviews_, if
read on its own terms, as Budd makes possible, provide "surprises that can
stimulate an interaction of present and past readings, perhaps even a
rethinking of some current articles of faith" (2).

The eleventh volume in the American Critical Archives series, which
includes similar studies on the contemporary reception of authors such as
Emerson, Whitman, and Wharton, Budd's contribution documents the immediate
critical response to Twain's major works as it surfaced in newspapers and
magazines.  While he could not include all the published reviews in the
space of this archive, Budd, as a seasoned Twain scholar, includes those
most representative of "expressed consensual attitudes" and those most
perceptively attuned to Twain's mind and humor.  And for the sake of the
volume's users, who may wish to pursue further research, he includes a
"Checklist of Additional Reviews" at the end of each chapter.

The archive contains a total of forty three chapters, each devoted to
writings published in book form, beginning with _The Celebrated Jumping
Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches_ (1867) and concluding with
_What is Man? and Others Essays_ (1917).  Most of the reviews are for
Twain's major works, with _The Innocents Abroad_ topping the list with
fifty one.  Budd includes only a few reviews for some of the lesser known
collections, such as _Merry Tales_ (1892) and _Editorial Wild Oats_ (1904)
and just one each for the Vest Pocket Series edition of _A True Story, and
the Recent Carnival of Crime_ (1877) and _Punch, Brothers, Punch! and Other
Sketches_ (1878). Budd's most curious selection might be _Mark Twain's
Patent Self-Pasting Scrap Book_ (1877), which while not a book proper still
received several reviews, some tongue in cheek, from notable magazines.

And this leads me back to my opening question: of what worth are the
reviews in this archive? As Budd suggests in his introduction, the reviews
situate readers in a "culture war" between magazine and newspaper editors,
with the former claiming the literary high ground for their reviewers. And
when readers consider this struggle in relation to the interests of
reviewers and their publications and the interests of author's and their
publishers, as Budd points out, "the reviews become humanized into the
opinions of fallible individuals" who judge in the "heat of the interplay
with contemporaries" and with the authors themselves (7).  For instance, a
review in the 1896 _New York Tribune_, a newspaper friendly to Twain's
career, could praise Twain for his truthful treatment of history in _Joan
of Arc_ while the _Manchester Guardian_, not so associated with the author,
found his story of the Maid merely imitative, annoying, and tiresome (403).

Then again, those who prefer to personally respond to the reviews, can
figure their own opinions into the insights of others, learning from the
possibly superior perspective of "some dead critic," as Budd puts it, and
perhaps enjoying the "rapport of finding [their] responses anticipated long
ago" (7).  Could we not learn something, for example, from the _New
Republic_ reviewer that refused to cast _The Mysterious Stranger_ as a
reflection of the author's own despair but rather as a supreme satire on
humanity's attempt to create a God absurd enough to sanction its own
cruelties (637).

And finally, as Budd suggests, the contemporary reviews of Twain's most
significant works serve to document the "starting point" for the
accumulative readings that would ensure their "status as classic" (7).
Surely Hamlin Garland added his part to the canonical stature of _A
Connecticut Yankee_ when in his 1890 review for the _Boston Evening
Transcript_, he called its Twain a modern Don Quixote, an author striking
blows for humanity in his "profound criticism of present thought and
present social conditions" (305).

As the hundreds of reviews in this archive show, Mark Twain was certainly a
"review worthy author," and Louis Budd's careful selection of reviews and
the contextual influences that nurtured them make for more than just a
worthwhile book. Countering the "disdain for reviewing as now either
marginal or hyped," Budd actively engages the past and the "lively and
educative" function of reviewers and their reviews. Within this clarifying
act, Mark Twain's work shines ever brighter.

Jason G. Horn, Chair
Division of Humanities
Gordon College
Barnesville, Georgia  30204