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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 19 Aug 1993 17:39:05 -0400
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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In reply to Robert Dagnall's inquiry about a general biography that came
close to calling MT a child molester (Angelfish as jailbait?!): I think
the book you're referring to is Guy Cardwell's _The Man Who Was Mark Twain_
(Yale UP, 1991).  I'd be interested in hearing other MTFers' views of this
book; my own response to it was decidedly negative, as were those of a few
other people I spoke with at the Elmira conference when it came up in

Cardwell's fond of taking the most ungenerous possible interpretation of
any fact he runs across.  Certainly a life with the scope of Clemens's
contains enough factual and quasifactual information that it's possible to
arrange patterns of evidence in all sorts of ways, and certainly some of
the facts and speculations Cardwell discusses are potentially disturbing &
worth further exploration.  I'm not going to make any truth claims here
about what did or didn't transpire in the Aquarium, or in Clemens's
imagination while he frolicked there.  But does anyone else notice the
odd aroma of obsessive personal nastiness arising from Cardwell's volume?
And does it strike anyone as unusual (not to say preposterously antiquated,
although plenty of serious psychologists & neurologists would say so) that
Cardwell swallows the whole apparatus of Freudianism whole, uncritically?
All in all, Cardwell's efforts to bury the reading public's esteem for
Twain and his works strike me as the sort of thing that will be remembered
as a mere curiosity, if remembered at all.  Reports of such interments have
been exaggerated before...

I'd also like to call attention to the contrast between the dead-certain
tone Cardwell takes when calling Clemens names and the more cautious,
scholarly, and circumspect way Andy Hoffman has presented his speculations
about bisexuality.  Bold as it is, Andy's Elmira paper takes the trouble to
label conjecture as conjecture and the unrecoverable as the unrecoverable.
Whatever comes of that particular debate (and it's already becoming a heated
one), Prof. Cardwell could pick up a few pointers from Andy on how to handle
controversial material about personal behavior.

Bill Millard