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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 31 Jan 2003 11:12:44 -0600
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Many books reviewed on the Forum are available at discounted prices from
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Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Barbara Schmidt

Copyright (c) 2003 Mark Twain Forum.  This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

Camfield, Gregg.  _The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain_.  New York: Oxford
University Press, 2003.  Pp. xxi + 767.  Hardcover, 7 x 10.  $75.00. ISBN

_The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain_ is the one of the most recent entries
in the category of reference books devoted to one author.  The book,
weighing in at 767 pages, contains eight pages of photographs, numerous
illustrations from Twain's first editions, 301 topical entries that are
arranged in A to Z format, a time line chronology, and a bibliography of
Mark Twain's published works.  The publisher's description from the dust
jacket states "_The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain_ is destined to become
the definitive reference work for a generation of Twain lovers."  The
statement invites comparison to the two present heavyweights in the field
of Twain reference books -- _Mark Twain A to Z_, written by R. Kent
Rasmussen (Facts on File, 1995) with 1,250 topical entries and _The Mark
Twain Encyclopedia_ edited by J. R. LeMaster and James D. Wilson (Garland
Publishing, 1993) with 740 entries.  In spite of its bulk, the limited
number of entries makes _The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain_ fall short in
breadth when compared to the other two reference works.

There is considerable overlap among the three reference books, with the
greatest overlap being with the _Mark Twain Encyclopedia_.  However,
differences are manifest in writing style, documentation, ease of use, and
presentation of material.  A comparison of identical entries best
illustrates the style differences between _The Oxford Companion to Mark
Twain_ and _Mark Twain A to Z_.  From _Mark Twain A to Z_:  "satire -
Literary term for a work that uses ridicule to attack ideas, institutions,
people, or other objects taken from real life" (p. 418).  From _The Oxford
Companion to Mark Twain_:  "Satire.  If *amiable humor is moralizing
through an indulgent and sympathetic laughter to embrace incongruity, then
satire is moralizing through scorn to attack incongruity" (p. 532).

The _Mark Twain Encyclopedia_ uses a bibliography for each essay.  The
other two books do not. _Mark Twain A to Z_ contains a general bibliography
in a separate section.  The other two do not.  _The Oxford Companion to
Mark Twain_ contains a separate essay on "Researching Mark Twain" that is
intended to serve as a bibliography.  The lack of any formal bibliography
in _The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain_ proves problematical when the book
as a whole is examined -- especially in light of the number of direct
quotations that are used.  A variety of methods are used to document
sources including abbreviations such as "N&J 3:29" (p. 62) which may have
little meaning to the reader who has no bibliography to consult.  Two
methods of cross-referencing are used -- a system of asterisks (*) is used
inside the body of an essay in front of words that have separate topical
entries.  A "SEE ALSO" note is added to the end of some entries.  Both
methods are used sporadically throughout.  _Mark Twain A to Z_ uses an
unobtrusive method of small capital letters for words that are
cross-referenced.  _The Mark Twain Encyclopedia_ does not feature

Ninety of the 301 entries in _The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain_ are
unique topics that are not covered by separate entries in either of the
other two major reference works.  Varying in length from a few paragraphs
to extensive and comprehensive essays, the majority of the entries are
those in which Camfield assumes an intentional "interpretative presence."
The essays are intended to explore "difficult, often open-minded questions
posed by reading Twain" (ix).  In addition to the essays and entries
written by Camfield are eight supplemental essays.  Four essays are
excerpts previously used as introductions in the 1996 Oxford editions of
the works of Twain edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin.  Four new essays by
other writers include "Critical Reception" by David L. Smith; "The Dream of
Domesticity" by Susan K. Harris; "Mark Twain's Reputation" by Louis J.
Budd; and "Technology" by Bruce Michelson.  The supplemental essays are
nested within the middle of Camfield's essays and are interruptions to the
flow of Camfield's entries that could have been eliminated had the essays
been grouped together in a separate appendix.

Topics of the ninety essays unique to _The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain_
range in scope.  Some relate to specific subjects such as Clemens's belief
in an afterlife, his collaborations with other writers, his public image,
his usage of tobacco, and his work habits.  Other essays address less
tangible ideas and concepts such as "Amiable Humor," "Democracy,"
"Meritocracies," and "Progress."  Literary concepts discussed are "Essays,"
"Irony," "Nostalgia," "Parody," and "Sketches." The writing style of the
total body of essays ranges from scholarly -- "Europeans considered
American humor a natural excrescence, a primitive ebullition, rather than
an art" (p. 273); to conversational; to gossipy -- "For instance, Charles
Dudley Warner was rumored to have had a longtime mistress (at whose house
he died of a heart attack -- ostensibly suffered during coitus.)" (p. 549).

The majority of index entries in _The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain_ are
accurate.  However, a number of entries are off by one and sometimes two
pages, possibly the result of the publisher's changing the book's layout
after generating the index.  Spot checking for key words or phrases like
"Tennessee land," "Presbyterian," "Sandwich Islands," "Philippines," and
state of "Missouri" show no entries even though these words appear in the
book.  Some index entries are incomplete and do not record all appearances
of a key word.  There is also a lack of consistency regarding the usage of
italics for foreign words and phrases and for book titles as they occur in
major topic headings, the body of the text and index.

Some essays are in need of correction or clarification.   The essay on
Joseph Goodman, for example, identifies him as the author of _The Big
Bonanza_, printed by Webster and Company (p. 244).  A subsequent entry on
William Wright (Dan De Quille) accurately credits him with authorship of
_The Big Bonanza_ in 1876 (by American Publishing Company).  The Moffett
family name is alternately spelled Moffet and Moffett throughout the book.
Nevada journalist Clement T. Rice is confused with Clemens's colleague Dr.
Clarence C. Rice (p. 518).  "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed"
is identified as one that "blossomed into popularity during the Vietnam War
years" (p. 448).  It appears this work has been confused with Clemens's
"The War Prayer," which has long enjoyed a wide reputation as war protest
literature and was republished with illustrations in 1968.  Additional
clarification regarding the Vietnam War popularity of "The Private History
of a Campaign That Failed" in addition to "The War Prayer" would have been

"A Bibliography of Works by Samuel L. Clemens" appears in a separate
section at the end of the book.  Camfield states it is not meant to be
authoritative, but only a starting point.  The core of the bibliography has
been provided by the Mark Twain Papers and owes much to the decades of work
by various Twain scholars, most notably Edgar M. Branch who was
instrumental in identifying much of Mark Twain's early newspaper writing.
Camfield has collated and combined the newspaper identifications with
tables of contents from the various editions of Mark Twain's writings in an
attempt to move closer to a comprehensive bibliography.  The bibliography,
as printed in the book, is in chronological order and runs a total of
forty-seven pages.  It contains notations and abbreviations that are not
fully explained and will be understood by only the most experienced Twain
researchers.  The accompanying key list of abbreviations to the periodicals
and newspapers in which Twain's works appeared do not contain information
regarding city of publication.  It would be easy for a novice researcher to
mistake WU (Western Union) for the telegraph company and not the Hannibal
(Missouri) _Western Union_ newspaper.  No information is provided regarding
works that have been collected in corrected text publications.  In some
cases readers will be pointed to the bowdlerized edition of _Europe and
Elsewhere_ edited by Albert Bigelow Paine.

A more correct version of the bibliography, in both chronological and
alphabetical order, is currently available online, having been updated and
corrected since the book was published.  The online version does contain
notes and information related to corrected text editions. However, it does
not feature a key to abbreviations and notations used.  Some omissions are
readily apparent in both versions--among them Terry Oggel's recent
corrected text publication of "The United States of Lyncherdom" in
_Prospects_ and several first-time printings of anti-imperialist works from
Jim Zwick's _Mark Twain's Weapons of Satire_.  Serious researchers are best
served by consulting the online editions of the bibliography.  The
alphabetical version is online at:

and the chronological version is at:

Noticeably absent from the bibliography are works of Twain that have not
yet been published in full.  This is particularly frustrating when
quotations from essays such as "A Family Sketch" (p. 546) are used but the
reader is unable to locate information regarding the essay in Clemens's

Camfield is to be commended for his efforts to compile and make widely
available this initial step towards a comprehensive bibliography of Twain's
works. _The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain_ is not for the casual reader,
the novice researcher, nor the student seeking a quick and concise source
of facts.  It should find its strongest usage with scholars and academics
seeking lively, well-written sources that focus heavily on literary
interpretation across a wide spectrum of Clemens's life and times.