- Mark Twain
The year sees an eclectic collection of scholarship on Mark Twain, with two different but important books on reception, a diverse collection of essays on an overlooked but vital topic, and coverage of the full gamut of Twain's work, with the usual emphasis on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn but also with examination of several works that do not often receive much critical attention.
i Biographical Studies
Gary Scharnhorst's "A Note on Samuel Clemens' Nom de Guerre" (ALR 48: 277–79) gives credible evidence for the story that the pen name came from Twain's drinking, the bartender making two marks to score how much he had imbibed. The debate goes on, unabated. In "'I Promise the Public No Amusement': Governor Mark Twain, Governor James W. Nye, and the Third Annual Message" (MTJ 54, i: 68–94) Jeremy Leatham focuses on the Third House mock legislative speeches in Nevada, 1864. The text of Twain's address is missing, but Leatham claims it was a parody of an actual speech by Governor Nye. In "'Cooling Our Bottom on the Sand Bars': A Chronicle of Low Water Trips on the Mississippi River, 1860" (MTJ 54, ii: 135–57) Michael H. Marleau speculates whether a letter about a steamboat trip in 1860 signed "SAM" was written by Clemens; he thinks textual and stylistic evidence makes that likely. Richard Zacks's Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour (Doubleday) is an [End Page 67] account of the tour that was to provide the material for Following the Equator. Rather than merely retracing the world tour Zacks provides context and background, especially on Twain's finances and his friendship with Henry Huddleston Rogers. Although written for a general audience, the depth of research in the Mark Twain Papers and the quality of Zacks's writing qualify the book as a work of serious scholarship, and general readers and scholars alike will find it useful, reliable, illuminating, and enjoyable. In "Love and Debt: A True Story of Mary Ann Cord, John T. Lewis, and Mark Twain at Quarry Farm" (MTJ 54, ii: 97–134) Deborah A. Lee provides full biographical information about two African Americans who were very important to Twain.
Harold K. Bush considers the effects of daughter Susy Clemens's death in 1896 in "Mark Twain's Grief: Susy, Theodicy, and 'Systemless System,'" a chapter in his Continuing Bonds with the Dead. Bush's analysis of theodicy, "how we envision and defend God in light of the 'problem of evil,'" examines Twain's journey into the bowels of grief and despair, including the touching story of the way he cared for his wife, Livy, who suffered greatly during this time. As Bush notes, "Twain's material on Susy's death includes some of the most emotional and distressing passages ever written by one of America's great authors," including "nostalgia and rage, sentiment and fury." Twain, lacking the consolation of faith, had a more modern response to his loss than the other authors Bush examines in this study. Twain's continuing bond with Susy, Bush claims, was "a major motivational factor in many of the most positive achievements for the remainder of his writing and public career—perhaps even the central factor." The consequence was increased "sympathy for the downtrodden and the resulting growth in his social justice agenda in the years after 1896," especially his antiimperialist stance, its moral outrage exacerbated by Susy's death. This chapter—which extends Bush's interest in Twain and religion, most notably represented by his book Mark Twain and the Spiritual Crisis of His Age (see AmLS 2007, pp. 101–02)—is a fine work of scholarship, but it is also a moving account that enriches our understanding of Twain's later years, showing how he moved beyond nihilism and bitterness to find solace in fuller interactions with the world around him. [End Page 68]
ii General Interpretations
In Mark Twain under Fire: Reception and Reputation, Criticism and Controversy, 1851–2015 (Camden House) Joe B. Fulton adopts Hans Robert Jauss's approach to reception studies, noting the ways later views of an author and...