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MONOLOGUES OF THE MAD: PARIS CABARET AND MODERNIST NARRATIVE FROM TWAIN TO ELIOT William R. Everdell St. Ann's School No American who has read»Adventures ofHuckleberry Finn ever seems to have gotten over it. Ernest Hemingway thought that all modern American literature had come out of this one book, which is coming it strong; but this view is endorsed by nearly everyone who earns his livelihood in the burgeoning profession called Twain studies .1 Hemingway's enthusiasm may well reflect the excitement of discovering Huck during his boyhood in Illinois (the book was thirteen years old when he was born); but T. S. Eliot pronounced Huckleberry Finn "a masterpiece," and Eliot, a decade older than Hemingway, had grown up in Twain's own Missouri without being allowed to make the same discovery.2 As Twain remembered it, the Mississippi River "from end to end was flaked with coal-fleets and timber rafts;" while Eliot saw a "river with its cargo of dead Negroes , cows and chicken coops."3 Of course, Twain went to Eliot's birthplace, "the crescent city" of Saint Louis, fairly often; but on his last visit in 1902 Eliot was fourteen, a day boy at a private school.4 Walter Blair, who has brought to light so many of the novel's sources, wrote that "to imagine what would have happened to Eliot's work if he had been influenced by Mark Twain boggles the imagination."5 It is my purpose here, nevertheless, to suggest that such an influence, however indirect and cultural, may be a central thread, so far largely unexamined, in that history so grandly summed up by Hemingway of modern American literature.6 The very first review of Huckleberry Finn, by T. S. Perry, seized on the book's "great advantage" (presumably over Tow Sawyer) "of being written in autobiographical form." The second, by Brander Matthews, delighted in having discovered Huck "from the inside."7 Much of value has been written since on what this narrative point of view does for the depth and richness of the novel, its combination of simple truth and moral irony, its wonderful stew of precisely rendered dialects, its humor and pathos, and its perennial appeal to readers of all ages. What seems not to have been much written about, however , is first, how did the form arise and what were its uses at the time Twain made it his own; and second, how much did Huckleberry Finn contribute to the extraordinary vaudevillean destiny of first-person narrative in American (no less than European) literature of the twen- 178William R. Everdell tieth century. In short, it may turn out that even Philip Rahv's redskin imagination boggles too easily when it boggles at the kinship of J. Alfred Prufrock and Huckleberry Finn. First of all, we need to free ourselves from the limits of Perry's "autobiographical form." There is not much doubt, of course, that Huck is writing a book. Indeed, he remarks on the last page that if he'd known "what a trouble it was," he wouldn't have tackled it. Huck has read books too, and is a dead accurate speller, plausibly and phonetically misspelling only those words ("diseased" for "deceased " and "doxolojer" for "doxology") that go beyond his frontier reader's vocabulary.8 Twain himself unambiguously described his new novel as Huck's "autobiography" in one of his 1876 letters to Howells .9 Even so, it is clear from the first line that Huck's writing of this story is no more than a means for the telling of it, and that Twain has raised up Huck as a speaker from the first hint of a dialect spelling . Huck can deal with any accent common on the Mississippi, but he quickly gives up on the task of "imitating" the pastiche-class of the Dauphin's English.10 Not long after, he fails to "imitate" the real "king's English" when the true Wilks brothers arrive from England.11 These are fundamentally oral feats and Huck's failures are fundamentally performance failures. No wonder then that Huck pronounces French with an American accent, but it is quite a surprise that having got his French...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 177-196
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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