Thank you, Paul.

On Apr 21, 2012, at 2:07 PM, Paul Schullery wrote:

> In the long view of the critical process, it could be said that the
> rhetoric of failure that Mr. Holmes is puzzled by isn't really about Mark
> Twain and his work.  It's about the entire field of criticism, its
> fashions and its self-image.  The harsher views of Twain must be seen as
> an obligatory part of the process by which we continue to address and
> redefine the lives and work of important people.  The most cynical
> observers would say, perhaps with some justification, that much of this
> rhetoric is the result of the insatiable appetites of the Ph.d. mill, but
> in fact it's just part of the nature of twentieth-century thought.
> Brooks's "The Ordeal of Mark Twain" (1920) exemplifies an apparently
> irresistible impulse (in both professional criticism and in academics)
> that thrives on these remarkably dismissive pronouncements about giant
> figures in every field of endeavor.
> It's kind of embarrassing, really, for those of us who think we've
> developed some expertise about a given subject, to realize that a sizable
> portion of whatever intellectual "subculture" we're a part of thrives on
> this sort of reflexive giant-killing.  Undeniably epochal figures as
> diverse as Ernest Hemingway, Mickey Mantle, and Abraham Lincoln have been
> subjected to this treatment, their entire lives and works recast as
> hopeless and nearly pointless tragedies.  The people who write this stuff
> often do a splendid job of identifying genuine frailties and
> disappointments that haunted the endeavors of their monumental subjects,
> but then they elevate that darker side of the story to a disproportionate
> degree.  Just as people with other rhetorical stances might view those
> negatives as handy literary devices by which to demonstrate their hero's
> great capacity to overcome personal obstacles, people with the "life is
> failure" perspective turn it all the other way.  Reading these treatments,
> you wouldn't know that Hemingway reshaped modern prose, that Mantle was
> among the most dreaded sluggers in history, or that Lincoln did infinitely
> more important things than either of them.  I read a biography of Mantle a
> few years ago that made it sound like it was a miracle he even made it to
> the major leagues.
> I'm not sure what brings on this bizarre loss of perspective, but it's
> still the most fashionable approach for a large segment of the critical
> culture.  I do wonder if it attracts a good many fundamentally tormented
> souls to the critical enterprise just because it provides them with a
> wholesome outlet for their tendencies.  But as the previous commentators
> have made clear, all we can do is try to keep these strange critical
> treatments in perspective and appreciate them for their more lucid
> insights into human inadequacies.
> And if we have a free moment after doing that, we can wonder what in the
> world ever possessed a guy like Brooks, who was apparently born without
> even the slightest trace of a sense of humor, to imagine that he had any
> business evaluating Mark Twain in the first place.
> Paul Schullery
> Bozeman, MT
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Scott Holmes <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: TWAIN-L <[log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Fri, Apr 20, 2012 6:44 pm
>> Subject: Failures in the works of Mark Twain
>> I've been aware for some time now that there has been dissatisfaction
>> with the concluding portion of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but not
>> until this last year have I become aware of what seems to be a sense of
>> failure in much of his work. =20
>> A few weeks back I mentioned I was reading Cox's Mark Twain The Fate of
>> Humor and I was surprised at the thought that Connecticut Yankee and/or
>> The Prince and the Pauper were failures.  Upon finishing this book it
>> seems to me that Cox felt most of Twains work were failures.  And this
>> surprised me greatly especially sense he seems to be so well informed on
>> the topic. =20
>> I started today on Lawrence Howe's Mark Twain and the Novel.  This
>> appears to argue that the failures were not Twain's but are structural.
>> Nevertheless, the idea that there are failures or faults in these works
>> surprises me.  In fact it disturbs me.  I suppose this is because I am
>> not a literary critic  or even academically trained in English (my
>> degrees are in Geography).  In my mind, a book, in this case a novel, is
>> a failure only if it fails to interest the reader and/or proves to be
>> unreadable.  This is not the case with any of Twain's works in my
>> experience.=20
>> On further searching for why this sense of failure exists I came upon a
>> review of Cox's book by Kristin Brown.  It would seem that Mark Twain IS
>> a Humorist and must write humorous material, otherwise "Twain had
>> attempted to suppress his genius".  This is the crux of my problem with
>> the idea that there are failures.
>> This strikes me very much like the argument that Miles Davis was a
>> failure after he progressed beyond Bebop.  An artist is not allowed to
>> venture away from their established genre.  Humor might have been his
>> "strongest suit" but by no means need it be his only suit.
>> Thoughts?

Fred Harwood
Linwood Cottage