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Mark Twain and Human Nature

Tom Quirk

Publication Year: 2011

   Mark Twain once claimed that he could read human character as well as he could read the Mississippi River, and he studied his fellow humans with the same devoted attention. In both his fiction and his nonfiction, he was disposed to dramatize how the human creature acts in a given environment—and to understand why.

            Now one of America’s preeminent Twain scholars takes a closer look at this icon’s abiding interest in his fellow creatures. In seeking to account for how Twain might have reasonably believed the things he said he believed, Tom Quirk has interwoven the author’s inner life with his writings to produce a meditation on how Twain’s understanding of human nature evolved and deepened, and to show that this was one of the central preoccupations of his life.

            Quirk charts the ways in which this humorist and occasional philosopher contemplated the subject of human nature from early adulthood until the end of his life, revealing how his outlook changed over the years. His travels, his readings in history and science, his political and social commitments, and his own pragmatic testing of human nature in his writing contributed to Twain’s mature view of his kind. Quirk establishes the social and scientific contexts that clarify Twain’s thinking, and he considers not only Twain’s stated intentions about his purposes in his published works but also his ad hoc remarks about the human condition.

            Viewing both major and minor works through the lens of Twain’s shifting attitude, Quirk provides refreshing new perspectives on the master’s oeuvre. He offers a detailed look at the travel writings, including The Innocents Abroad and Following the Equator, and the novels, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Pudd’nhead Wilson, as well as an important review of works from Twain’s last decade, including fantasies centering on man’s insignificance in Creation, works preoccupied with isolation—notably No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger and “Eve’s Diary”—and polemical writings such as What Is Man?

            Comprising the well-seasoned reflections of a mature scholar, this persuasive and eminently readable study comes to terms with the life-shaping ideas and attitudes of one of America’s best-loved writers. Mark Twain and Human Nature offers readers a better understanding of Twain’s intellect as it enriches our understanding of his craft and his ineluctable humor. 

Published by: University of Missouri Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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A Note on the Texts

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pp. xi-xii

have attempted to cite authoritative texts throughout. In most instances that means texts prepared by the Mark Twain Project and published by the University of California Press. In some instances (with No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, for example) I have referenced the paperback edition, also published by the University of California Press...


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pp. xiii-xviii

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pp. 1-19

I begin with an unsubstantiated anecdote: “Mr. Twain,” an interviewer is supposed to have asked sometime around 1900, “do you believe in infant baptism?” The question had comic opportunity written all over it, and Twain did not hesitate: “Believe it? Hell! I’ve seen it done.”...

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Chapter One. 1852–1869

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pp. 20-58

In 1865, Samuel Clemens wrote his brother Orion: “I have had a ‘call’ to literature, of a low order—i.e., humorous. It is nothing to be proud of, but it is my strongest suit, & if I were to listen to that maxim of stern duty which says that to do right you must multiply the one or the two or the three talents which the Almighty entrusts to your keeping, I would long...

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Chapter Two. 1870–1879

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pp. 59-103

Given his own circumstances at the time he was writing it, Roughing It (1872) is an oddly ironic title for Twain’s next important book. Throughout, the author recalls his travels in the West, often far from creature comforts, improving company, and domestic security. Yet at the time he contracted with Elisha Bliss to write this book, Clemens was one-third owner...

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Chapter Three. 1880–1884

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pp. 104-140

The first explicit mention of Huckleberry Finn occurs in a letter to W. D. Howells dated August 9, 1876:
I . . . began another boys’ book—more to be at work than anything else. I have written 400 pages on it—therefore it is very nearly half done. It is Huck Finn’s Autobiography. I like it only tolerably well, as far as I have got, & may possibly pigeonhole or burn the MS when it is done. (MTHL, 1:144)1...

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Chapter Four. 1885–1889

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pp. 141-189

It could not be more than a few hundred yards from the drugstore where Boggs coughed out his last to the picket fence in front of Colonel Sherburn’s yard. It took Twain three years to travel that distance. He had pigeonholed the Huckleberry Finn manuscript in the late spring of 1880, breaking off at that point where a group of Bricksville citizens...

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Chapter Five. 1890–1899

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pp. 190-237

The passage from A Connecticut Yankee that is most often cited, typically as evidence of Twain’s deterministic philosophy but sometimes also in support of an evident faith in a transcendent realm of being, is this one:
Training—training is everything; training is all there is to a person. We speak of nature; it is folly; there is no such thing as nature; what we call by that misleading name is merely heredity and training. We have no thoughts of our own, no...

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Chapter Six. 1900–1910

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pp. 238-282

There is no reason to dispute Hamlin Hill’s well-documented assertion in Mark Twain: God’s Fool that the last decade of Clemens’s life was a kind of “hell,” much of it of his own making.1 The story of the seemingly gratuitous depredations upon his security and happiness is a familiar one— the deaths of family members and friends...


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pp. 283-289

About the Author

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pp. 309-309

E-ISBN-13: 9780826266217
E-ISBN-10: 0826266215
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219664
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219667

Page Count: 308
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 608025130
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