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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 6 Nov 2008 08:00:49 -0600
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The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by
Janice McIntire-Strasburg.


_Mark Twain's Travel Literature: The Odyssey of a Mind_. By Harold H.
Hellwig. McFarland, 2008. Pp. 217. Softcover. $35.00. ISBN

Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
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Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Janice McIntire-Strasburg

Copyright (c) 2008 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published
or redistributed in any medium without permission.

Recent years have seen a resurgence in the study of travel literature
in general. Scholars are beginning to take a long-needed second look at
Mark Twain's travel books, which have often been overlooked in favor of
his fiction, short stories, and essays. Earlier studies included Arthur
Scott's _Mark Twain at Large_ (1969), Richard Bridgman's _Traveling in
Mark Twain_ (1987), and Jeffrey Alan Melton's _Mark Twain, Travel Books
and Tourism_ (2002). In addition, Leland Krauth's _Proper Mark Twain_
(1999) includes a close reading of Twain's travel writing as well. In
2007, two other scholarly studies of Twain's travel books appeared:
Thomas Ruys Smith's _River of Dreams: Imagining the Mississippi before
Mark Twain_ and Brian Yothers's _The Romance of the Holy Land in
American Travel Literature, 1790-1876_. Harold Hellwig's _Mark Twain
and Travel Literature: The Odyssey of a Mind_ joins this growing list
of studies.

In his preface, Hellwig claims to compete directly with Melton's _Mark
Twain, Travel Books, and Tourism: The Tide of a Great Popular
Movement_--"While Melton describes quite appropriately the conventions
of tourism as they apply to Twain's works, Melton does not discuss the
phenomenological structures that I have explored, nor does Melton apply
his observations to Twain's fiction" (3); and indirectly with
Bridgman's _Traveling in Mark Twain_, claiming that "his analysis tends
to be as desultory as his assumption about Twain's travels" (4).
Hellwig's research into the travel narrative derives from more cultural
studies, particularly Percy Adams's _Travel Literature and the
Evolution of the Novel_ (1983), a work dedicated to the connections
between travel literature and fiction; Paul Fussell's _Abroad: British
Literary Traveling between the Wars_ (1980), in which Fussell claims
that the writing of travel books did not preclude a "serious literary
career" (8); Dean MacCannell's _The Tourist: A New Theory of the
Leisure Class_ (1999), a sociological review of modern travel
literature that examines, among other things, the 'staged authenticity'
of cultural locations, the difference between truth and fiction in
tourist settings, and the notion of 'genuine' experience that a
traveler seeks" (9). Beyond these obviously more general and more
modern studies of travel, Hellwig's plan is to "find phenomenological
structures that further explain Twain's themes in these travel works,
because, while these useful sociological structures help define the
nature of tourism, Twain transcends the structures that most travelers
expect. He mocks traditional travel accounts; he attacks assumptions of
the ordinary traveler; he creates new forms and new concepts to create
his thoughts" (13).

Hellwig's book contains a short preface, an introductory chapter titled
"Travel as a Quest for Knowledge," chapter 2, which examines travel as
a method of "piloting through life" and other chapters which discuss
each of Twain's travel narratives. The last two chapters draw
conclusions about the travel narratives as a search for identity and
Twain's search for stable time in his fiction--this last draws
parallels between the various travel books and Twain's major novels.
Hellwig also includes an appendix of travel works that Twain probably
read, notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Much of the chapter on _Innocents Abroad_ examines letters from the
_Quaker City_ voyage that Twain chose not to include in the final text
and a discussion of his narrative structures--Mr. Brown of the original
letters, the characters of Jack and Blucher, and the "Mark Twain"
persona as it was created for _Innocents_. According to Hellwig, this
structure "helps create the thoughts expressed...the style becomes
Twain's way to understand what he sees" (46), and sets up a parody of
travel narratives through which Twain evolves the staged authenticity
that "fictionalizes" the form. The chapter on _Roughing It_ focuses
sharply on shifts in the Mark Twain persona, and Twain's use of this
text to define the American West (through its physical and moral
boundaries) and find a stable identity for himself from which to
narrate memory. Like most scholars of the travel works, Hellwig
considers _A Tramp Abroad_ less successful than the earlier works, but
he cites several examples of artfully written and developed
"stretchers" like "Jim Baker's Blue Jay" sketch and others that
"explode notions of his being the instructor or the traveler noting
customs of the savages of Europe" (85). He notes parallels between the
rafting trip to Heidelberg and Twain's later, more famous and more
extensive rafting trip in _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_. Hellwig
reads _Life on the Mississippi_ as the travel narrative through which
readers can see both Twain's development as a writer (which he also
mentions in connection with _Roughing It_) and as the sometimes tacit
and sometimes more explicit methodology for all of Twain's travel
books. He conflates the memory of the riverboat pilot and the memory of
the author as the defining principles for Twain's identity as traveler
and author of fiction. The chapter on _Following the Equator_ concerns
mainly the older Twain as an experienced traveler whose work reflects a
more pessimistic view of the human race as evidenced by his fellow
travelers--the Captain returning from his last trip under a cloud,
having lost his first commissioned ship and the "remittance man" whose
family sends him traveling on an allowance to be rid of him--and in his
reflections on colonial treatment of the indigenous people in
Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa and the religious
intolerance he sees on the journey. The final two chapters align
readings of Twain's major fiction with the travel works.

The one drawback to this book is its style and structure, which can
sometimes confuse the reader. While the arrangement of the chapters
follows chronologically the composition of the travel narratives,
Hellwig tends to skip back and forth at the beginning of each chapter
to the other texts, sometimes moving forward in time (from _Roughing
It_ to _Following the Equator_, for example) without apparent reasons
to do so, and spending a bit too much time analyzing items left out of
the final versions of the texts as a part of a formal reading of the
narratives themselves.

One of the strong suits of this text is that Hellwig gives a fairly
extended composition history of each of the travel narratives. The
stories of what went into each book and what got left out takes on some
weight as an interesting study of Twain's efforts at composition in
this genre. The bibliography, while not exhaustive, gives readers
plenty of places to begin a close reading of the scholarship on Twain's
travel books, and the index is extensive enough to make it useful. A
quick overall reading of the book gives the impression that Hellwig is
ultimately not saying much that is "new" in a study of the travel
books; however, I found it most noteworthy for the questions that it
brings to light without fully answering. For example, in his discussion
of the Blue Jay tale, the author suggests that its inclusion is
indicative of Twain's difficulty in engaging fully with the Europe he
sees on this trip: "The acorns represent minutiae of information, data
bit by bit, dropped into the empty recesses of knowledge, knowledge
without understanding, information with no framework for memory" (86).
The reading is highly original, and begs for a fuller discussion of
_why_ Twain should find it so difficult to write about Europe on this
trip--had he said what he wanted to in _Innocents_ and couldn't find a
newer or fresher perspective?  Or, was he now a more sophisticated
traveler and thus could no longer find a humorous tack for this one?
Similarly, in his chapter on _Following the Equator_, Hellwig begins an
insightful discussion about memory, selective memory, and reminiscence,
but leaves the discussion before drawing any conclusions that might
further discussions of the late works. He states that "the reader is
reminded that the memory is suspect unless fortified by the knowledge
that the traveler is accumulating by the act of traveling, that travel
experience itself will provide the answer, not the travel guide" (126).
Such a discussion, if taken further, might reveal much about the travel
literature of a man who had traveled and written as extensively as
Twain had.

And finally, in chapter 6, Hellwig quotes extensively from the
autobiographical dictations Twain's idea that reciting from a text to
an audience makes readers "an artificiality not a reality" and thus
allows the teller of the tale to "absorb the character of a text and
presently, absorb the character and become the man himself" (102). In
terms of the evolution of the Twain persona in these narratives, a full
discussion of this question in light of Twain's theory of composing
could be fascinating.