I am forwarding this review to the Forum on behalf of Janice
McIntire-Strasburg who wrote it.
Krauth, Leland. _Proper Mark Twain_, University of Georgia Press, 1999.
Pp.258. Notes, bibliography. Hardcover, 1.07 x 9.26 x 6.30". $30.00. ISBN
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Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Janice McIntire-Strasburg <[log in to unmask]>
St. Louis University
Copyright 2000 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.
The past few years have seen a bumper crop of books relating to Mark Twain,
including as their subjects his life, his literary canon, and the
consequences of his rhetorical choices. Bruce Michelson's _Mark Twain on
the Loose_, Jeffrey Steinbrink's _Getting to be Mark Twain_, and Ron
Powers' _Dangerous Waters_, an excellent biography of Twain's early life
and its impact on his later literary career all add significantly to the
study of America's favorite humorist. Leland Krauth's _Proper Mark Twain_
merits a place on this list as a major contribution to Twain studies
precisely because it sheds light on a side of Twain that is often
overlooked in the rush to acknowledge him as a literary subversive. In his
introduction, Krauth announces his intention to "attempt to show how
much--and in what ways--Twain was on the side of orthodoxy" and to "reveal
how thoroughly he was the product of his culture" (11). He posits the
humorist as both a "conventional person, honoring the voices of authority,
and a rebel, trying to outshout them."
As such, this text bridges a significant gap in Twain studies. It
demonstrates clearly a man divided between two seemingly incompatible
positions--the moralist who wishes to instruct and the humorist who wants
to laugh. Krauth begins with a study of Twain's early life and an analysis
of his relationship with his father, John Marshall Clemens. He describes
Twain's early interest in satire as a rebellion against John Marshall
Clemens's stern and conservatively conventional mind-set. The Freudian
implications are suggested rather than treated in depth: the point is to
demonstrate a mind divided by competing influences and show the rhetorical
consequences of these paradoxical influences.
The text is organized chronologically, and deals with each of Twain's major
works from earliest (_The Innocents Abroad_ and _Roughing It_) to latest
(_Mysterious Stranger_). It places side by side instances of Twain's
toying with authority and at the same time acquiescing to it, and includes
significant evidence from Twain's letters and autobiography as support for
notions of dominant social Victorian attitudes and his often complex
relationship to them. The chapter entitled "Southwestern Sentimentalist"
develops from Henry Nash Smith's early study, deftly treating Huck's
"feminized" reactions and shedding new light on the old argument of the
"sound heart and deformed conscience." Krauth states that:
"Twain's melodrama with its sentimental affirmations and his humor with its
denigrations are constantly commingled in Huck Finn. The two together
create the fundamental dynamic of the novel: what is undercut through the
disruptive humor is reestablished through sentimental melodrama,... On the
one hand, the humor negates its objects, suggesting that the world is
morally meaningless, while on the other, the melodrama values its subjects,
positing an ethical order." (186)
Through Krauth's eyes and text, we see juxtaposed the fundamental conflict
that tormented Twain throughout his lifetime, and receive insight into the
often bitterly satirical works such as "Does the Race of Man Love a Lord?"
and other late writings. The final chapter, "Icon," deals with Twain the
public persona, and includes an interesting discussion of Twain's dominant
public image in his later years. He sees the white suit as both rebellion
against social mores (white suits were worn only in summer) and at the same
time a nod to the "clean" and "civilized" world.
"If the transgressive Mark Twain distanced himself from society by
attacking it, the bounded Mark Twain both attached himself to and departed
from society by claiming to possess its virtues more fully than society
itself does. Paradoxically, in wearing white out of season, he violated
the conventional and proclaimed his conventionality at one and the same
Krauth's argument has merit, and even though I still prefer to think of
Mark Twain thumbing his nose at social convention and standing Brahmins on
their ears, _Proper Mark Twain_ offers a fuller picture of the man and his
writing, thus earning a place on the shelves of Twain scholars.