- Mark Twain
Virtually every major period of Mark Twain's life and career once again receives treatment this year. The thorniest issue remains the teachability of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; for the second year in a row the detractors of that novel are answered with vigor. Twain's travel narratives are relatively less studied, so these narratives would seem to contain the most promising areas for scholars seeking fresh topics with questions still to be unriddled.
All printed copies of the Buvalo, New York, newspaper for which Mark Twain wrote editorials and columns from August 1869 until January 1871 have apparently disappeared, but editors Joseph B. McCullough and Janice McIntire-Strasburg (Mark Twain at the Buvalo Express: Articles and Sketches by America's Favorite Humorist [No. Ill.]) use a surviving microfilm to recover and present his many signed pieces, together with 37 unsigned editorials. In a short while, buoyed by the earnings from The Innocents Abroad and public lecturing, Twain would complain that he was tired of "cheapening myself . . . by a year's periodical dancing before the public" and would terminate this journalistic phase of his artistic maturation. Yet as McCullough and McIntire-Strasburg point out, the items he contributed to the Express "compare favorably with Twain's best humor" and rehearse some of the techniques and formulas he would employ in better-known works. The variety of Twain's contributions beggars description; often recycled but occasionally original, they encompass Nevada and California tales, ghost stories, political satires, travel letters, book reviews, political satires, editorials on recent events, and pieces in dozens of other categories. Here is Mark Twain's plenty. [End Page 97]
A new edition of Pudd'nhead Wilson made its debut in the Oxford World's Classics paperbound series, with an introduction and notes by R. D. Gooder. Gooder's "Select Bibliography" seems dated in certain respects, still summoning up Constance Rourke (1931) and Stephen Leacock (1933) while neglecting Hershel Parker's work on the text of Twain's troubled novel. But Gooder's comments about the work itself offer a trenchant if unsparing critique. Twain's style he finds "direct, sharp, clear, and dry, disabused, if not actually disillusioned. It is a doubtful style for imaginative fiction because, though it can deliver information efficiently, it is wanting in resonance, and it deprives Mark Twain of imaginative patience. He is everywhere eager to get on, eager to wrap up his point." Gooder also remarks that "few of Pudd'nhead Wilson's maxims are pleasant and the humour . . . is never generous; yet . . . they represent the mind of Mark Twain more accurately than the uncertain plot that they embellish." Pudd'nhead Wilson is "a man who feels alienated, betrayed, and frustrated, and whose principal interest in the world is to expose its hypocrisies, cruelties, and complacencies"; Gooder calls him "a near enough approximation to an adult Tom [Sawyer], and true enough, he is a character of very little inward depth or force." Gooder's volume also reprints "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," which, as the editor points out, is "founded upon a joke, but the joke is not, and is not intended to be, funny. It is the bitter jest of a wounded and disappointed man." The tale "is a bleak moral fable of extraordinary power and penetration" that reminds Gooder, in an odd set of comparisons, of "Young Goodman Brown," "Bartleby," "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz," and "The Bear." That sort of flattery may palliate, for Twain enthusiasts, Gooder's opening reference to Twain as yet another American writer who "has proved to be a one-book author."
Finally, Dixon Wecter's Sam Clemens of Hannibal has some company in its careful chronicling of the author's early years. Author and journalist Ron Powers's Dangerous Waters: A Biography of the Boy Who Became Mark Twain (Basic) is readable enough to warrant its trade-book imprimatur and yet sufficiently precise to be of use to students and scholars. As might be expected, it relies heavily on Twain's fascinating list of childhood acquaintances titled "Villagers of 1840–3," but it pays close attention to the impact on Sam Clemens and...