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HUCK FINN AS TOURIST: MARK TWAIN'S PARODY TRAVELOGUE Gretchen M. Beidler Lehigh University In Life on the Mississippi (1883) Mark Twain refers to a series of travel narratives produced by the "procession of foreign tourists" who inspected America in the first half of the nineteenth century.1 Such touring foreign authors were common in the 1830s and 1840s, and their reviews of America were seldom kind. But Twain's attitude toward the foreign narratives is puzzling. In certain passages he staunchly defends the tourists whom most Americans in the nineteenth century found difficult to forgive, but in others Twain makes it clear that the tourists' foreign perspectives thoroughly biased their reports. This inconsistency makes it difficult to tell if Twain is sincere in his defense of these unpopular narratives, and even if he is, Life on the Mississippi seems a peculiar context in which to launch a defense of this "vanished and unremembered procession" (LM, p. 218) of bygone guests.2 Twain's ambiguous tolerance of the tourists' narratives can best be understood if we read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) as a parodie rebuttal to the complaints of the foreign tourists. Reading Huckleberry Finn as Twain's response to the foreign narratives clarifies his puzzling treatment of those narratives in Life on the Mississippi. The tourist episodes in Life on the Mississippi, furthermore, suggest that Huckleberry Finn was written as a travelogue since Huck, like the foreign visitors, is a tourist exploring the Mississippi Valley for the very first time. The tourists complain of America's cultural backwardness; Huck complains of a society so stubbornly "sivilized" that he must "light out for the Territory " to get free.3 Thus Twain shows through the domestic tourist Huck that while the foreign authors are honest, their perspectives as tourists often distort their perceptions of American life. Honest Huckleberry is Twain's parody of the foreign visitors. Twain's preoccupation in the early 1880s with foreign impressions of America in the 1830s and 1840s makes sense when we consider that his Huckleberry Finn manuscript was only partially complete when he wrote Life on the Mississippi and that Huckleberry Finn is set "Forty to Fifty Years Ago," the same decade several of the tourists describe. Twain himself was only five years old in 1840, so he undoubtedly consulted the visitors' travel narratives as background for the setting of Huckleberry Finn. Twain's research was thorough. As he explains in Life on the Mississippi, he "drudged 156Gretchen M. Beidler through" (LM, p. 300) a vast array of travel literature written by such tourists as: Mr. Hulme, 1816; Wm. Cobbett, 1816-17; Mr. Fearon, 1817; Captain Basil Hall, R. N., 1827—starter of the real swarm!; Mrs. Trollope, 1827; Lieutenant E. T. Coke, 1832; "Author of Cyril Thornton, etc.," a now forgotten literary celebrity, 1833-4; Hon. Charles Augustus Murray, 1834; Miss Harriet Martineau, 1834; DeTocqueville, 1835; Captain Marryatt, 1837; Mr. George Combe, 1838-9-40; Mr. Joseph Sturge, 1841; Charles Dickens, 1842; Mr. Alexander Mackay, 1846; Lady Emmeline Stuart Wortley, 1849. There are others, but their books cannot be purchased, now (LM, p. 289). The travel narratives by these early nineteenth-century writers provide good reference points against which to examine Twain's inconsistent treatment of such texts in Life on the Mississippi, especially the narratives by Francis Trollope and Captain Basil Hall, the two authors Twain himself discusses in greatest depth. As Marc Pachter observes in Abroad in America, most of the touring writers came from England, and "made their reputations by arguing that the United States, crude and bellowing, was a pariah among nations."4 Older nations still considered America a reckless, fledgling democracy, and for nineteenth-century Europeans wealthy enough to travel, the United States, which "had been a somewhat obscure, occasionally romanticized backwater of colonial exploitations became, virtually overnight, a phenomenon to be investigated, a political and moral experiment to be judged."5 Many of the tourists went home to publish the results of their "investigations" as travel narratives, and "never before or since have so many travel books on America been written and sold."6 These narratives "sold like the hottest of cakes in Britain, and were...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 155-167
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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