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  • Mark Twain
  • Alan Gribben

Publications about Twain have slowed at least temporarily, a fact quite noticeable with regard to the smaller number of scholars taking up Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but virtually every book and essay that does appear seems capable of making an impact. A new classroom text of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer offers unique advantages. A contemplative biographical monograph, for example, sifts through Mark Twain's legacy of vivid images. Several publications explore Twain's mental zigzags about the Civil War and his civilian status during that military crucible. A special issue of a Japan-based journal gives "The War-Prayer" its most thoroughgoing examination ever. Several general interpretations venture pungent new readings of Twain's writings. One of them discusses Twain's spiritual side in great detail and gives greater credit than is usually accorded to the Reverend Joseph H. Twichell for helping Twain ponder the implications of his evolving theology. Another book takes a large step toward catching the Mark Twain field up with those of other authors in the area of cross-gender studies.

i Editions

David Rachels's Mark Twain's Civil War (Kentucky) ingeniously collects Mark Twain's various retellings of his brief role in the American Civil War, reprinting 18 selections from his fictional and nonfictional references to that conflict. Rachels's introduction does a commendable job of describing the ambivalent mood of the Missouri citizenry at the outset [End Page 97] of the war and concludes that Twain's reluctance to commit himself to military service "was a part of his past that he could never completely escape. The best that he could do was to joke about it." Convenient as it is to have these accounts gathered in a single volume, several shortcomings somewhat handicap its usefulness. An index would have been highly welcome, especially for the substantial extract Rachels reprints from Absalom Grimes's memoir about accompanying Twain in their youthful, brief Confederate escapade, but even more serious is the lack of a bibliography that might lead students to such articles as Barbara Ladd's "'It Was an Enchanting Region for War': West by South in Mark Twain's 'The Private History of a Campaign That Failed'" (see AmLS 2003, pp. 103–04) or Forrest G. Robinson's "The General and the Maid: Mark Twain on Ulysses S. Grant and Joan of Arc" (AmLS 2005, pp. 106–07).

The Norton Critical Series adds Tom Sawyer to its list of titles in the form of a nearly 400-page volume edited by Beverly Lyon Clark. Her edition includes exceptionally useful features for the classroom: the original title page and chapter descriptions of the first American edition, an explanation of the 1876 text (plus a chart of its variants), and excerpts from more than a dozen letters that Twain exchanged about the novel with W. D. Howells. Inclusion of Twain's famous letter of 6 February 1870 to Will Bowen and the entire fragment known as "Boy's Manuscript," an experimental precursor of Tom Sawyer, enables readers to see important stages in Twain's conception and composition. Most beneficial of all is the "Backgrounds and Contexts" section that collects a rich sampling of extracts from 19th-century writings about small towns, schoolrooms, medicine, and literature that convey a sense of the book's historical context. Even the children's story that inspired Tom Sawyer's fantasy of Robin Hood's fight with Guy of Guisborne on Cardiff Hill is quoted, along with generous extracts about Hannibal from Twain's Autobiography. An essay by K. Patrick Ober about the fiery efficacy of Perry Davis's Pain-Killer makes it clear why Tom resisted its medicinal dosage so determinedly. The Norton Critical Series has long been known for its reprinted perspectives of each literary work, and this edition starts with the opinions of Howells and Bernard De Voto; moves on to Hamlin Hill's study of the structure of the novel, Judith Fetterley's observations about Tom Sawyer's status as a "sanctioned rebel," and my own conjectures as to where Tom Sawyer fits within the subgenre of "Bad Boy Books"; and then concludes with Glenn Hendler's analysis of Tom Sawyer...


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