Mark Twain and Human Nature
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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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Portions of this book have been published before, though they havebeen revised to fit the theme and purposes of this work. Specifically, mydiscussion of “Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Con-necticut” and “Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven” borrowfrom earlier analysis in Mark Twain: A Study of the Short Fiction (Twayne...
A Note on the Texts
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I have attempted to cite authoritative texts throughout. In most in-stances that means texts prepared by the Mark Twain Project and pub-lished by the University of California Press. In some instances (with No.44, The Mysterious Stranger, for example) I have referenced the paperbackedition, also published by the University of California Press, on the as-...
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I begin with an unsubstantiated anecdote: “Mr. Twain,” an intervieweris supposed to have asked sometime around 1900, “do you believe in in-fant baptism?” The question had comic opportunity written all over it,and Twain did not hesitate: “Believe it? Hell! I’ve seen it done.”I have not been able to verify that Twain actually said this. The jest feels...
Chapter One. 1852–1869
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In 1865, Samuel Clemens wrote his brother Orion: “I have had a ‘call’ toliterature, of a low order—i.e., humorous. It is nothing to be proud of, butit is my strongest suit, & if I were to listen to that maxim of stern dutywhich says that to do right you must multiply the one or the two or thethree talents which the Almighty entrusts to your keeping, I would long...
Chapter Two. 1870–1879
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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. Through-out, the author recalls his travels in the West, often far from creature com-forts, improving company, and domestic security. Yet at the time he con-tracted with Elisha Bliss to write this book, Clemens was one-third owner...
Chapter Three. 1880–1884
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The first explicit mention of Huckleberry Finn occurs in a letter to W. D.I . . . began another boys’ book—more to be at work than anything else. I havewritten 400 pages on it—therefore it is very nearly half done. It is Huck Finn’sAutobiography. I like it only tolerably well, as far as I have got, & may possiblyNot long after this date, Twain stopped writing Huck’s “Autobiography,”...
Chapter Four. 1885–1889
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It could not be more than a few hundred yards from the drugstorewhere Boggs coughed out his last to the picket fence in front of ColonelSherburn’s yard. It took Twain three years to travel that distance. He hadpigeonholed the Huckleberry Finn manuscript in the late spring of 1880,breaking off at that point where a group of Bricksville citizens, perverse-...
Chapter Five. 1890–1899
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The passage from A Connecticut Yankee that is most often cited, typical-ly as evidence of Twain’s deterministic philosophy but sometimes also insupport 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 ofnature; it is folly; there is no such thing as nature; what we call by that mislead-...
Chapter Six. 1900–1910
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There is no reason to dispute Hamlin Hill’s well-documented assertionin Mark Twain: God’s Fool that the last decade of Clemens’s life was a kindof “hell,” much of it of his own making.1 The story of the seemingly gra-tuitous depredations upon his security and happiness is a familiar one—the deaths of family members and friends, illness and pain, public humili-...
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About the Author
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Tom Quirk is author or editor of numerous books, including Noth-ing Abstract: Investigations in the American Literary Imagination, MarkTwain: A Study of the Short Fiction, and The Portable MarkTwain. He is...
Page Count: 308
Publication Year: 2011
Series Title: MARK TWAIN & HIS CIRCLE
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth