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The Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 11,No 2, Fall 1980 FromEden to the Dark Ages: Imagesof History in the Work ofMark Twain Nadia Khouri TheworkofMark Twain dramatizes a tension between an extreme coherence inworld-viewand a protean diversity in literary discourse. If the bulk of Twainianacomprises such heterogeneous writings as travel books, regional andfolk literature, comic stories, childrens stories, dime novels, detective mysteries, sciencefiction, talltales, newspaper reports and political pamphlets on both home and international affairs, the unalterable foundation of all these books remains a vision of history strictly in terms of the mythical originsof America against the contradictions of historical becoming. The roots of this configuration grew with the actual genesis of America; its evolutionwith American history itself. I In 1705Robert Beverley, a Virginia planter, published The History and PresentState of Virginia. The book begins with the stock image of America as nature's garden, the new paradise of abundance. The country, says Beverley, struck the early voyager as "so delightful, and desirable; so pleasant, and plentiful; the Climate, and the Air, so temperate, sweet, and wholsome; the woods, and Soil, so charming and fruitful; and all other Thingsso agreeable, that Paradise itself seem'd to be there, in its first Native 152 Nadia Khouri Lustre." Virginia recalls a land that "did still seem to retain the Virgin Purity of the first Creation, and the People their Primitive Innocence .... All the Countries ...seated in or near the Latitude of Virginia, are esteem'd the Fruitfullest, and Pleasantest of all Clymates .... These are reckon'd the Gardens ofthe World." In his enthusiasm Beverly tells of grapes "so plentiful that one vine might fill a London cart, of potatoes the thickness of a child's thigh and of a frog large enough to feed six Frenchmen." 1 As Leo Marxhas correctly observed, when Beverley calls Virginia one of the "Gardens ofthe World," he is speaking the language of myth. For here, the garden standsfor "the original unity, the all-sufficing beauty and abundance of the creation. Virginia isan Edenic land of primitive splendor inhabited by noble savages." 2 Almost two centuries separate the publication of Beverley's account and the writing of Mark Twain's Autobiography (1924). There are, however,in Twain's book, passages of striking resemblance to those we find in Beverley. Twain describes the America of his childhood as a land of fertility and innocence in the tradition of Cockaigne and the Earthly Paradise: "Fried chicken, roast pig; wild and tame turkeys; ducks and geese; venison just killed; squirrels, rabbits, pheasants, partridges, prairie-chickens; biscuits, hot batter cakes, hot buckwheat cakes, hot 'wheat-bread,' hot rolls, hot corn pone; fresh corn boiled on the ear, succotash, butter-beans, string beans, tomatoes, peas, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes; butter-milk, sweet· milk, 'dabber'; watermelons, muskmelons, cantaloupes-all fresh from the garden;·apple-pie, peach pie, pumpkin pie, apple dumplings, peach cobbler.'' 3 Much deeper yet is the recollection of the primeval splendor of a virginland and of the Adamic harmony with it: I can call back the solemn twilight and mystery of the deep woods, the earthy smells the faint odors of the wild flowers, the sheen of rain-washed foliage .... ! can call back the prairies, and its loneliness and peace, and a vast hawk hanging motionless in the sky, with hiswings spread wide and the blue of the vault showing through the fringe of their end feathers. I can see the woods in their autumn dress, the oaks purple, the hickories washed with gold, the maples and the sumachs luminous with crimson fires .... I can see the blue clusters of wild grapes hanging among the foliage of the saplings, and I remember the taste of them and the smell. I know how the wild blackberries looked, and how they tasted, and the same with the pawpaws, the hazelnuts, and the persimmons; and I can feel the thumping rain, upon my head, of hickory nuts and walnuts .... I know the stain of blackberries ... of walnut hulls... ! know the taste of maple sap ... I know how a prize watermelon looks when it issunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin vines and "simblins"...I know how inviting it looks when it...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 151-174
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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