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Clemens's Life in Fiction

Forrest Robinson

Publication Year: 2007

At the end of his long life, Samuel Clemens felt driven to write a truthful account of what he regarded as the flaws in his character and the errors of his ways. His attempt to tell the unvarnished truth about himself is preserved in nearly 250 autobiographical dictations. In order to encourage complete veracity, he decided from the outset that these would be published only posthumously.Nevertheless, Clemens's autobiography is singularly unrevealing. Forrest G. Robinson argues that, by contrast, it is in his fiction that Clemens most fully-if often inadvertently-reveals himself. He was, he confessed, like a cat who labors in vain to bury the waste that he has left behind. Robinson argues that he wrote out of an enduring need to come to terms with his remembered experiences-not to memorialize the past, but to transform it.By all accounts-including his own-Clemens's special curse was guilt. He was unable to forgive himself for the deaths of those closest to him-from his siblings' death in childhood to the deaths of his own children. Nor could he reconcile himself to his role in the Civil War, his part in the duel that prompted his departure from Virginia City in 1864, and-worst of all-his sense of moral complicity in the crimes of slavery.Tracing the theme of bad faith in all of Clemens's major writing, but with special attention to the late work, Robinson sheds new light on a tormented moral life. His book challenges conventional assumptions about the humorist's personality and creativity, directing attention to what William Dean Howells describes as the depths of a nature whose tragical seriousness broke in the laughter which the unwise took for the whole of him.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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p. ix

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

At Samuel Clemens’s funeral, as he looked for a last time at the face he had known so long and so well, William Dean Howells was struck by the ‘‘silent dignity’’ of his friend’s final ‘‘assent to what must be.’’ Clemens in death seemed to have achieved the surrender and repose that had so eluded him...


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pp. xv-xvi

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1. Never Quite Sane in the Night

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pp. 1-37

I want to reflect at some length on the ways Samuel Langhorne Clemens thought about and represented his own life. The interest of the task is inseparable from its complexity, for my subject was fixed by a lifelong fascination with his myriad and finally ungraspable self, and with such kindred matters...

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2. The General and the Maid

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pp. 38-79

In his Colors of the Mind: Conjectures on Thinking in Literature, Angus Fletcher makes the case for what he calls ‘‘noetics,’’ critical inquiry into ‘‘the precise activity occurring when the poet introduces thought as a discriminable dimension of the form and meaning of the poem.’’ He continues: ‘‘If poetics...

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3. My List of Permanencies

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pp. 80-112

‘‘Unconsciously we all have a standard by which we measure other men,’’ Clemens declared in a 1909 autobiographical dictation. ‘‘We admire them, we envy them, for great qualities which we ourselves lack. Hero worship consists in just that. Our heroes are men who do the things which we recognize...

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4. Telling Fictions

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pp. 113-157

I have argued that Clemens’s explicitly autobiographical writing arose out of a need to confess the truth about himself, and failed because of a countervailing need to conceal the same thing. He recognized his failure for what it was, but knew at the same time that the dark truth would out, the exertions of...

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5. Dreaming Better Dreams

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pp. 158-208

Clemens’s later life was crossed by extremes of adversity and emotional upheaval. The worst of the trouble began in 1894 when, after years of imprudent financial speculation, he suffered a humiliating plunge into bankruptcy. He partially righted himself by undertaking an around-the-world lecture...

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pp. 209-215

The fourth and final volume of Albert Bigelow Paine’s Mark Twain: A Biography is much more detailed than the other three. This is because it records the last few years of Clemens’s life, when Paine, now the ‘‘official’’ biographer and trusted member of the humorist’s household, enjoyed the privileged...


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pp. 217-232


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pp. 233-242

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247462
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823227877
Print-ISBN-10: 0823227871

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 608167752
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Author-Cat

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Subject Headings

  • Twain, Mark, 1835-1910 -- Psychology.
  • Twain, Mark, -- 1835-1910 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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