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REVIEWS Lennon, Nigey. The Sagebrush Bohemian: Mark Twain in California. New York: Paragon House, 1990. 203 pp. Cloth: $19.95. Steinbrink, Jeffrey. Getting to be Mark Twain. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1991. 221 pp. Cloth: $22.50. Here are two recent books that demonstrate the power and influence already achieved by the extant body of scholarship and criticism on Mark Twain, but in quite different ways. Both testify to the value of gathering manuscripts in such collections as the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California—Berkeley, and even more to the presently ascendant authority of popular biographical approaches to Twain. More accurately, these responses address the Twain/Clemens personality division, since the dominant force here is clearly Justin Kaplan's Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain (1966). Once this bipolar heritage has been duly noted, the reader goes on to find Lennon and Steinbrink exploring its implications in highly individualized ways. Lennon, a self-described victim of "delirium Clemens," stands by her man with a passionate defense of his Western phase against all opposing views. To us, she complains, "Kaplan's premise was that Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain were two distinctly different personalities, and that Clemens adopted the Twain persona to compensate for serious character deficiencies. It was a mean-spirited thesis, but the worst thing about Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain was its urbane disregard for anything about Twain, or Clemens, that contradicted Kaplan's notion of his subject's unsavory nature" (p. xvi). Lennon claims that Kaplan's book "told nothing about half of his [Twain's] life and mistreated the facts pertinent to the other half." Surely her "native Californian" pride has been wounded, and here she counterattacks with vigor. In essence, Lennon's Western portrait insists on the primacy of "political terms" (rather than psychological) in defining the authentic Twain. Readers may not agree, although her extension of the general thesis offered earlier by Philip Foner in Mark Twain: Social Critic (1958) seems both timely and usable. In attempting to explain the burden undertaken by Lennon's engaging volume, I can do no better than to quote again from the preface: "my point is that Twain, coming of age on the Western frontier, was molded into a political animal by a confluence of specifically Western experiences. And just as he received that Western imprint on his own personality, so did he pass it on to the generations of American writers who followed him" (p. xvii). Can any environmentalist pass by without stopping? Although less anecdotal in method, Jeffrey Steinbrink accepts the premise that reading alone will never capture the complex figure of Twain, which owes its nature to both the West and East. For Twain was always a talker and listener, perhaps even more than a writer. Here, I must confess that Steinbrink's vision makes me yearn for a video disc to supplement the case he makes on paper alone: "it may strike some readers as paradoxical that my deepest debt of gratitude to . . . distinguished Twain scholars has nothing to do with conventional scholarship: their shared confidence in the power of vernacular values and the vitality of vernacular language bolstered my own determination that this be not a book for scholars only, but one intended for readers of many dispositions who have an abiding curiosity about Mark Twain" (p. xii). Aside from this emphatic attention to the power of vernacular, Steinbrink's approach builds on standard biographical treatments (especially those of Kaplan and Hamlin Hill); but he uses old and new evidence with his own refining purpose in 226Reviews view: to prove that the years 1867—1871 provided watershed experiences in the making of the Mark Twain we recognize today. In a sense then, "this book begins where Huck ends," with a thirty-three-year-old Clemens on the verge of literary and cultural celebrity. Of course the steps by which Clemens comes of age are intricate; and in these pages, at least a part of his journey is expertly traced from Elmira to Buffalo to Hartford. Steinbrink knows this territory and its people (such as Abel Fairbanks and Jervis Langdon)—all the visible markers encountered along the way. Better yet, he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 225-226
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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