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Vern Crisler <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 21 Dec 1998 18:11:30 -0700
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At 03:13 PM 12/21/98 EST5EDT, Jason Horn wrote:
>Howe, Lawrence.  __Mark Twain and the Novel:  The Double-Cross of
>Authority__.  (Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture
>116.)  New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1998.  Pp.  Xiv + 265.
>Notes, index.  Cloth, 6" x  9".  54.95.  ISBN 0-521-56168-X.


>No serious flaws mar Howe's book, however, as it carefully traces
>Twain's literary fascination with control and freedom and his on-going
>resistance to and accommodation of authority. At times, however,
>Howe's argument tends to reduce Twain too simply to a power hungry
>novelist, to a writer primarily driven by an obsession with usurping
>authority in order to authorize his own.  And Howe's method of reading
>Twain's major novels as dialectical pairs that fuel the author's
>debilitating desire for power and paradoxical attacks on authority
>seems a bit contrived in spots, and even unnecessary.  For most of
>Twain's works focus on some challenge or exploration of powerful forms
>of authority, and Howe's clear exposition of this thematic strain
>needs little help from a theoretical frame of dialectical pairs.  His
>use of Freud and Bakhtin, however, bring fresh insights into Twain's
>mind and work, and his analysis of the novel as a particularly
>American form of "cultural performance" provocatively paves the way
>for more inquiry along the same lines.  Perhaps most importantly, Howe
>shows as others before him have shown, that Twain may indeed be
>America's most representative writer, even though what he represents
>remains always open to new interpretations.

I don't know what's worse: a book that sounds as though it were written by
an idiot, or a book review that fails to recognize it.

I recommend a reading of Twain's *In Defense of Harriet Shelley* for those
who want to know how a good book reviewer deals with his subject matter.