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MarkTwain vs. the Critics LouisJ. Budd. Our Mark Twain: The Making of HisPublic Personality. Philadelphia: Universityof Pennsylvania Press, 1983.266 pp. Jane Curry. The River's in My Blood: Riverboat Pilots Tell Their Stories. Lincoln:University of Nebraska Press, 1983.288 + xx pp. SusanK. Harris. Mark Twain's Escape From Time: A Study of Patterns. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982.169+vii pp. JamesL. Johnson. Mark Twain and the Limits of Power:Emerson's God in Ruins. University of Tennessee Press, 1982.206 + x pp. HorstH. Kruse. Mark Twain and "L1/eon the Mississippi." Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982.183 + xviiipp. Elizabeth McMahan, ed. Critical Approaches to Mark Twain's Short Stories. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1981.147+ x pp. Robert Keith Miller. Mark Twain. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1983.221 + xii pp. John Lauber One does not find, and should not expect, original criticism in Robert Miller's Mark Twain. The book is one of a series ("Literature and Life," covering a mixture of late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century British and American writers ranging from Joseph Conrad to Joan Didion), and follows the series format, including lengthy plot summaries of all works discussed. The author does not seem to be a Twain scholar (he has written on Oscar Wilde for the same series), and his book will be of use principally to the undergraduate student and the general reader. Still, through its very lack of originality,such a book may have its interest for the scholar as a compendium of accepted opinion, presenting the Mark Twain of our day. That Mark Twain is still the Twain of Justin Kaplan's Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain (1967)or, for that matter, of Van Wyck Brooks's The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920)-a man and writer divided against himself, split between East and West, between humor and the genteel tradition, between present and past, between progress and nostalgia. Miller begins with L~fe on the Mississippi; the modern reader is not expected to concern himself with The Innocents Abroad or Roughing It. This is not, however, the Lzfe on the Mississippi that most readers are familiar with, mistakenly finding in its long second part a celebration of "progress." Instead, we are told, a careful reading will show us that "far from celebrating the 'development' of the Mississippi River Valley, Twain was actually inclined CanadianReview of American Studies, Volume 16, Number 1, Spring 1985,47-56 48 John Lauber to regret the passing of a world that, whatever its shortcomings, seemed infinitely preferable to the world that had come to take its place" (p. 42). If this viewseems contradicted by abundant biographical and literary evidence, including Twain's violent assaults in this book on Sir Walter Scott and on Southern "chivalry" and romanticism - that merely indicates "a fundamental conflict in values" (p. 43) within Twain and within the book. The Mark Twain of our day must reject "development" and technological advance; cultural fashion requires it, whatever the text may say. In spite of (or because of?) its continuing popularity, Tom Sawyer is not a favorite of present-day critics (it is "simply a hymn," said Twain, and our criticism has no vocabulary for dealing with hymns). Consequently, Miller does not make much of it, beyond accusing the author of sexual stereotyping and racism, and of promulgating "the dubious notion that 'boys will be boys"' (p. 67). As for Tom, he is a juvenile con-man, "a pint-sized Hank Morgan addicted to power, prestige, profits." Clearly, Tom Sawyer does not appeal to the modern sensibility-or only to the sensibility of "those adults who are anxious to believe that children are entertaining and that their games are nothing more than 'good clean fun"' (p. 68). We, the critics, are Freudians, and know better. Huckleberry Finn is duly admired, although the discussion is at times surprisingly moralistic (Huck's lies "are excusable only because they are absurdly transparent" [p. 93]). One might think they are often excusable because of their purpose-such as to save Jim from capture. But Miller is sensible on the whole, avoiding the too-frequent canonization of Huck and Jim (Huck, after...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 47-56
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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