Howe, Lawrence.  __Mark Twain and the Novel:  The Double-Cross of
Authority__.  (Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture
116.)  New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1998.  Pp.  Xiv + 265.
Notes, index.  Cloth, 6" x  9".  54.95.  ISBN 0-521-56168-X.

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Reviewed for Mark Twain Forum by:

Jason G. Horn
Gordon College

Copyright 1998 Mark Twain Forum.  This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

Something is not quite right in Mark Twain's novels.  The problem, as
Lawrence Howe defines it in _Mark Twain and the Novel: The
Double-Cross of Authority_, lies in Twain's contradictory approaches
to authority and social control in his major novels.  For while
Twain's novels certainly work to undermine authoritative voices,
traditions, and institutions, they also exhibit the same motivations
that drive these authorities.  In fact, Howe claims, Twain's novels
subvert their own critical potential by circumscribing their
liberating potential with a final imposition of order and control.
"Double-crossed," is the way Howe describes this literary turn of
novelistic discourse, and what is wrong with Twain's novels is not
just his own divided attitude toward authority; rather, according to
Howe, Twain, his novels, and the American ideology that impels them,
all work to restrain the very cultural impulse for freedom that each

Howe integrates multiple interpretive lines of thought as he supports
such hefty claims. He brings to his aid the narratological
speculations of Lukacs, Baktin, and Said, to name a few, the cultural
theories of Marx, Freud, and Foucault, and the historical
interpretations of  Woodward, Fliegelman, and Perry Miller.  Such a
wide range of perspectives enables Howe to better approach Twain's
career in dialectical terms, to read Twain's works in pairs as he
examines the way in which his critical response to authority wavered
between the pairs and ultimately split into opposing camps.  Howe, in
fact, argues that Twain's novelistic involvement with the concept of
authority shaped much of his career into a cyclical denial and
confirmation of authority.

Howe turns first to _Life on the Mississippi_, a divided text that
initiates this career cycle.  Howe claims the book's division between
Twain's recollections of his cub pilot experiences, based mostly on
"Old Times on the Mississippi," and the narrative of his 1882 trip
down the Mississippi, reveal a "series of staged conflicts" that
provide "both a critique of oppressive control and a prototype of the
novel as a genre that attempts to assert its own authority against
restraining conventions" (17).  The conflicts spring from the cub
pilot's desire for the superior position of pilot, as Howe notes, a
desire that fades beneath Bixby's and Brown's oppressive treatment.
Twain, however, eclipses their control in the book's second part as he
appropriates the cub-pilot's text and "subordinates the pilot's
authority to that of the writer" (26).  In a complex intermingling of
an "oedipal element" with "patricidal defiance," Howe presents the
conflicts in _Life on the Mississippi_as key elements in Twain's
transition from the pilot Samuel Clemens to the writer, Mark Twain.
And in this transition, Twain comes to know the power of novelistic
discourse, Howe's suggests, as he transcends the "Old Times" section
of the book, an old time model of authority with its formal and epical
structure of Bildungsroman, with a "narrative whose intention requires
the purposeful freedom of a more expansive vision" (36).

In following this intention, however, _The Adventures of Tom
Sawyer_and _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ seem to lose their way.
_Tom Sawyer_, as Howe points out, resembles "Old Times" in structure
as its hero learns how to construct his identity upon authoritative
forms of knowledge, whereas _Huck Finn_ aims at breaking free from
those very forms.  But Howe shows that even this more radical aim of
_Huck Finn_ misses its mark.  Even the novel's central symbol of
freedom thwarts its liberating possibilities, for the raft is no match
for civilizing forces like the steamboat that rips it in half or the
river's current that continuously draws it southward toward a
threatening sort of civilized people. Howe carefully reveals how Huck,
himself, often teeters between accepting and rejecting cultural norms
and beginning with his escape from Pap exemplifies a curious American
"anxiety about freedom and control"; such a problem takes on greater
significance for Howe, as he casts Huck's entire narrative as a
dramatization of this cultural anxiety.

Howe shifts toward another of Twain's tangles with authority in his
examination of _The Prince and the Pauper_and _A Connecticut Yankee in
King Arthur's Court_. On one level, he reads these two historical
narratives in direct opposition.  _The Prince and the Pauper_begins
subversively enough by dismantling traditional authority only to
reestablish the same by novel's end; whereas, _A Connecticut Yankee_
refuses to compromise its novelistic attack of authority.   _The
Prince and the Pauper _ proves to be a more complex text for Howe,
nonetheless, and he provides us with one of the more sustained
readings of this novel.  And here he gracefully blends historical and
literary scholarship as he accounts for the social, political, and
literary discourse focused on poverty and pauperism in Twain's day.
Indeed, Twain's book does seem to speak to his readers' ambivalent
attitudes about social conditions in general and a nostalgic desire
for an aristocratic heritage even in the midst of a progressive
democracy.  In fact, critics often split their readings along similar
lines, and  Howe offers a detailed appraisal of discussions of the
democratic and nostalgic thesis.  And he fairly acknowledges those who
think outside this critical dichotomy, Walter Blair and James Cox, for
instance, but maintains that the final reestablishment of authority in
_The Prince and the Pauper_ provides a prime example of Twain's own
desire for literary authority and, perhaps unconsciously, a
conservative need to legitimize American culture within the trajectory
of history" (135).

_A Connecticut Yankee_shuns such romantic links to an aristocratic
past, according to Howe, as it radically attempts to reshape history
in a novel manner on the American plan. Here Howe ties Hank Morgan's
own attempt to remake and control the world closely to the
Enlightenment project, which instilled in its final American promoters
a desire for power over one's destiny, or simply power itself.  And
here lies the nub of Howe's own critical tale.  He finds novelistic
discourse and American ideology to be flawed by the philosophical
perspective that produced them.  Both, that is, generate a "dialectic
of freedom and control that generates totalitarianism" (164).  A harsh
dose of interpretive light in itself, though Howe suggests that
Twain's growing awareness of this literary and cultural bind nearly
drove him to artistic defeat.  But not quite.

Twain made a last desperate attempt, as Howe describes it, to avoid
this double-cross inherent in American novelistic discourse and
ideology through writing his final complete pair of novels: _An
American Claimant_ and _ Pudd'nhead Wilson_.  Howe only briefly
considers _ An American Claimant_, a narrative he claims "cops out" as
it ultimately accepts the "status quo" of an American caste system,
one of the primary targets of its novelistic critique.  Attending more
closely to _Pudd'nhead Wilson_, however, he makes his strongest case
for the "insurmountable challenge that the American paradox of freedom
and control poses for the novelist" (175).  In _Pudd'nhead Wilson_,
Twain again comes up short, according to Howe,  as he finds himself
split in his identification with his two main characters: Roxana and
Wilson.  As the novel's "opposite agents of narrative control, they
dramatize Twain's ambivalent desire both to subvert authority and to
contain the threat of that subversion" (184).  And here, Howe
emphasizes, Twain inadvertently reveals a tragic flaw within his own
"liberal consciousness" as he opts for containment through Wilson's
clever reestablishment of conventional order.  The same flaw cripples
the effectiveness of the American novel in general, Howe argues, and
the ideology that informs it.

No serious flaws mar Howe's book, however, as it carefully traces
Twain's literary fascination with control and freedom and his on-going
resistance to and accommodation of authority. At times, however,
Howe's argument tends to reduce Twain too simply to a power hungry
novelist, to a writer primarily driven by an obsession with usurping
authority in order to authorize his own.  And Howe's method of reading
Twain's major novels as dialectical pairs that fuel the author's
debilitating desire for power and paradoxical attacks on authority
seems a bit contrived in spots, and even unnecessary.  For most of
Twain's works focus on some challenge or exploration of powerful forms
of authority, and Howe's clear exposition of this thematic strain
needs little help from a theoretical frame of dialectical pairs.  His
use of Freud and Bakhtin, however, bring fresh insights into Twain's
mind and work, and his analysis of the novel as a particularly
American form of "cultural performance" provocatively paves the way
for more inquiry along the same lines.  Perhaps most importantly, Howe
shows as others before him have shown, that Twain may indeed be
America's most representative writer, even though what he represents
remains always open to new interpretations.

Jason G. Horn, Acting Chair
Division of Humanities & DST
Gordon College
Barnesville, Georgia 30204