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Robert C Comeau <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 2 Jan 1996 20:30:47 -0500
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                                        Date:     29-Dec-1995 09:05pm EST
                                        From:     Comeau, Robert C
                                        Dept:     STUDENT
                                        Tel No:   (201)-408-8007

TO:  Remote INTERNET Address              ( [log in to unmask] )

Subject: Review: _Cambridge Companion to MT_


     Forrest G. Robinson (ed.). _The Cambridge Companion to Mark
     Twain_.  New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
     1995.  Pp. xix, 258.  Includes index.  $16.95.  Paperback,
     6" x 9".  ISBN 0-521-44593-0.

     Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:

          Bob Comeau <[log in to unmask]>
          Drew University
          Madison, NJ

     Copyright (c) Mark Twain Forum, 1996.  This review may not
     be published or redistributed in any medium without

I like this book!

I mean, I really do!  It's got so much going for it.  It's
concise, thoughtfully laid out, intelligently planned, and it's
in paperback and reasonably cheap, so no librarian should be able
to refuse, even in these budget-conscious times, when you request
its purchase at your college, university or municipal library.
This book belongs in college and university libraries, so
students can read it and so professors can read it and then put
it on reserve and require students to read at least parts of it.
Though its coverage of its subject is broad enough to preclude
its entire use in any course but one focusing exclusively on Mark
Twain (and I would certainly make it a required text in Mark
Twain 101), the essays included represent enough of a variety of
individual subject areas and viewpoints to make it useful reading
for any student beginning to research a paper on any aspect of
Mark Twain's career in any kind of American Literature, American
Studies, Major American Authors, etc., course.

Notice that I said "beginning to research," for this is where
_The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain_ serves its greatest
purpose.  Just about anyone who has ever had the privilege of
including a work or two by Twain in a college English course has
been faced with the same query: "I like Mark Twain but I can't
think of anything to write about.  What should I write about?"
_The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain_ seems to exist to help
answer this very question.  Its essays create a context for student
research, and aid in pointing undergraduate students in
profitable directions.

Forrest Robinson's stated objective is to "provide responsible
coverage of the subjects currently of most interest to students
of Mark Twain" (xiv), and in this he has succeeded handsomely.  The
volume begins with a remarkable and fascinating essay by Louis J.
Budd on the general interest and societal appraisal and myth-
making surrounding Mark Twain, with a brief but seemingly
inclusive catalog of the ways in which the Mark Twain image is
both used and abused in American popular culture.  Other
highlights would have to include, but not be limited to, Myra
Jehlen's discussion of _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ and the
notion of "classic" American literature, something which is still
a reasonably controversial subject, at least according to Jane
Smiley in the January 1996 _Harper's_ magazine.  The always astute
and provocative Shelley Fisher Fishkin contributes "Mark Twain and
Women," suggesting that the earlier views on Twain and women are
outmoded and too simplistic, and need to be re-thought, finally
wondering what kind of work could be done on the effect Twain may
have had on the women authors who followed him into the twentieth

There are, of course, contributions to the debate on Twain and
race, and David Lionel Smith and Eric Lott weigh in quite
substantially, providing essays which are an excellent complement
to Davis, Leonard and Tenney's collection, _Satire Or Evasion:
Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn_, a book which many students have
used in beginning excellent research.  Smith's essay begins where
his essay in the _Satire Or Evasion_ anthology left off by asking exactly
what it means to be a black critic of Mark Twain, and how this is
perceived by the reading public, before he proceeds to survey the
field in a fairly comprehensive introduction.  I can see how
students interested in this area would be well advised to consult
_The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain_ in addition to _Satire Or

The contributors to _The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain_
provided original essays specifically for this project, and those
of us who love to teach Mark Twain, and our students, are the
richer for it.  I feel that this book is of most value to students,
though I do not mean to diminish its usefulness to any of the community
of Mark Twain fans and scholars.  Robinson says, "Throughout it
has been our goal to be lively and thought provoking, not merely
comprehensive or somehow standard" (xiv).  "Lively and thought
provoking" he has certainly accomplished, though I think he errs
modestly when disavowing the word "standard."  People may one day
apply this word when discussing this book as a model for its type.

_The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain_ is one of a huge series of
_Companion_s devoted to authors and composers published by the
Cambridge University Press.  Of the ones I am familiar with, I would
say that the series is generally good, with the volume devoted to
Walt Whitman being another highlight.

Appendix to the book review

Contents of  _The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain_

     List of Contributors
          Mark Twain as an American Icon
               LOUIS J. BUDD
          The Innocent At Large: Mark Twain's Travel Writing
               FORREST G. ROBINSON
          Mark Twain and Women
          Mark Twain's Civil War: Humor's Reconstructive Writing
               NEIL SCHMITZ
          Banned in Concord: _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ and
          Classic American Literature
               MYRA JEHLEN
          Black Critics and Mark Twain
               DAVID LIONEL SMITH
          Mr. Clemens and Jim Crow: Twain, Race and Blackface
               ERIC LOTT
          Speech Acts and Social Action: Mark Twain and the
          Politics of Literary Performance
               EVAN CARTON
          How the Boss Played the Game: Twain's Critique of
          Imperialism in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
               JOHN CARLOS ROWE
          Mark Twain's Travels in the Racial Occult:_Following
          the Equator_ and the Dream Tales
               SUSAN GILMAN
          Mark Twain's Theology: The Gods of a Brevet
               STANLEY BRODWIN

     Further Reading