TWAIN-L Archives

Mark Twain Forum


Options: Use Classic View

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

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

Print Reply
Sam Sackett <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 21 Apr 2012 10:46:50 -0400
text/plain (64 lines)
I think we can start from the premise that nobody is perfect and therefore no human product is perfect.  But some human products are so damn good that you can overlook the imperfections.  Of the works Holmes mentions, for me that includes Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A  Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur.

Again speaking only for myself, I grew up in a house that contained a library containing the collected works of several authors:  George Eliot, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and Mark Twain among them.  I confess I never got all the way through George Eliot or Bulwer-Lytton, but I liked Twain so much that I read every volume in the set.  I remember especially enjoying the story about the lightning-rod salesman; and another story, which I considered on the whole a failure, left in my mind two lines that after all these years I still can't get out of my head: "Punch, brothers, punch with care, / Punch in the presence of the passenjare."  Some of what I read I considered failures, including Tom Sawyer Abroad, but I was willing to forgive Twain for them because I enjoyed the others, especially Roughing It, so much.

Then I was fortunate enough in college to have a class from Dr. Benjamin Harrison, who showed me beauties and elegance in Huckleberry Finn that I had not found on my own, and then at UCLA my admiration was deepened in a class from Leon Howard, who in his own personality shared some of Huck's impishness.  So my conclusion is that Twain's masterpiece  may not be perfect, but who cares?

Sam Sackett

-----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.  

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.  

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

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.