Mark Twain's Satire
Early life of Mark Twain. Literary career, Twain’s first successful experiences. Marriage and wife’s influence on Mark Twain’s literary works. "The Guilded Age" as the first significant work. Critical analysis of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer".
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6.2 “Huckleberry Finn” as the most significant work
Mark Twain makes no account of consistencies in time. His boys vary between the attitudes of nine-year-ids and those of thirteen or fourteen, despite the fact that Tom Sawyer 's time is one Missouri summer, and that of Huckleberry Finn a few more broken months. Like the creator of perennial comic-strip characters, Twain syncopates the march of time as he pleases. In the latter novel he also ignores the fact that Nigger Jim could have escaped by swimming across to the free soil of Illinois early in the book, and commits other sins against literalism which he would have ridiculed unmercifully in the pages of his noire James Fennimore Cooper.
Huckleberry Finn is clearly the finer book, showing a more mature point of view and exploring richer strata of human experience. A joy forever, it is unquestionably one of the masterpieces of American and of world literature. Here Twain returned to his first idea of having the chief actor tell the story, with better results. Huck's speech is saltier than Tom's, his mind freer from the claptrap of romance and sophistication. Huck is poised midway between the town-bred Tom and that scion of wood lore and primitive superstition Nigger Jim, toward whom Huck with his margin of superior worldliness stands in somewhat the same relation that Tom stands toward Huck. When Tom and Huck are together, our sympathy turns invariably toward the latter. A homeless river rat, cheerful in his rags, suspicious of every attempt to civilize him, Huck has none of the unimportant virtues and all the essential ones. The school of hard knocks has taught him skepticism, horse sense, and a tenacious grasp on reality. But it has not toughened him into cynicism or crime. Nature gave him a stanch and faithful heart, friendly to all underdogs and instantly hostile toward bullies and all shapes of overmastering power. One critic has called him the type of the common folk, sample of the run-of-the-mill democracy in America. Twain himself might have objected to the label, for him once declared "there are no common people, except m the highest spheres of society." Huck always displays frontier neighborliness, even trying to provide a rescue for three murderers dying marooned on a wrecked boat, because "there isn't no telling but I might come to be a murderer myself, yet, and then how would I like it?" Money does not tempt him to betray his friend Nigger Jim, though at times his conscience is troubled by the voice of convention, preaching the sacredness of property -- in the guise of flesh and blood -- and he trembles on the brink of sur-render. Nor can he resist sometimes the provocation offered by Jim's innocent sedulity, only to be cut to the quick when his friend bears with dignity the skivers that his trustfulness has been made game of. Even as Huck surpasses Tom in qualities of courage and heart, so Nigger Jim excels even
Huck in fidelity and innate manliness, to emerge as the book's character.
Sam Clemens himself (who in the first known letter he wrote his on the day he reached New York in August, 1853, Mark Twain. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court M. Drofa 2003 p.134, 163, 222, 267 had indulged the sarcasm, "I reckon I had better black my face, for in these Eastern Stat niggers are considerably better than white people") learned in time, much Huck learns, to face down his condescension. In later years he became warm friend of the Negro and his rights. He paid the way of a near student through Yale as "his part of the reparation due from every white t every black man," and savagely attacked King Leopold of Belgium for the barbarities of his agents in the Congo. Mrs. Clemens once suggested as a mollifying rule to her husband, "Consider everybody colored till he is proved white." Howells thought that as time went on Clemens the South westerner was prone to lose his Southern but cleave to his Western heritage, finding his real affinities with the broader democracy of the frontier. On other issues of race prejudice, Twain looked upon the Jew with unqualified admiration defended the Chinese whom he had seen pelted through the streets of San Francisco, and confessed to only one invincible antipathy, namely, against the French--although his most rhapsodic book was written in praise of their national heroine.
The final draft of Huckleberry Finn was intimately bound up with the writing of Twain's third great volume about his river days, Life on the Mississippi. Fourteen chapters of these recollections had been published in the Atlantic in 1875; before expanding them into a book Twain made a memorable trip in 1882 back to the scenes of his youth. In working more or less simultaneously on both long-unfinished books, he lifted a scene intended for Huckleberry Finn--about Huck and the craftsmen--to flavor the other book, but the great gainer from his trip was not the memoir but the novel. The relative pallor of Life on the Mississippi, Part II, is due in a measure to the fact that so much lifeblood of reminiscence is drained off into the veins of Huckleberry Finn. The travel notes of 1882, written up soon after Twain s return home, are suffused with some of the finest situations in his novel: the Grangerford-Shepherdson feud, Colonel Sherborn and the mob, and the two seedy vagabonds who come on-stage as the Duke and the King, with a posse in their wake, who "said they hadn't been doing nothing, and was being chased for it."
Mark Twain's renewed contact with life among the river towns quickened his sense of realism. For Huckleberry Finn, save in its passages about the peace and freedom of Jackson's Island, is no longer "simply a hymn," and so dim has grown the dream of adolescent romancing that Becky Tactic reappears but perfunctorily under the careless label of "Bessie" Thatcher essay Huck's voyage through the South reveals aspects of life darker than the occasional melodrama of Tom Sawyer. We are shown the and of poor white jack woods loafers with their plug tobacco and Barlow dogs on stray sows and laugh at the fun and look grateful for the noise," or drench a stray cur with turpentine and set him afire. We remark the cowardice of lynching "parties" the chicanery of patent medicine fakers, revivalists, and exploiters of rustic ribaldry; the senseless feedings of he gentry. In the background broods fear: not only a boy's apprehension of -hosts, African superstitions, and the terrors of the night, nor the adults' dread of black insurrection, but the endless implicated strands of robbery, floggings, drowning, and murder. Death by violence lurks at every bend of road or river. Self-preservation becomes the ruling motive, squaring perfectly with the role of the principal characters, Huck the foot-loose orphan and his friend Jim the fugitive--puny in all strengths save loyalty, as they wander among the boots of white adult supremacy. The pair belongs to the immortals of fiction.
"Never keen at self-criticism, Mark Twain passed without soundings from these depths to the adjacent shallows of burlesque and extravaganza. The last fifth of this superb novel, Huckleberry Finn, brings back the romantic Tom Sawyer, with a hilarious, intricate, and needless plot for rescuing Jim from captivity. The story thus closes upon the farcical note with which the Han-nibal cycle has begun, in the whitewashing episode. On the same note many years later Mark Twain tried to revive his most famous characters, in Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), with Tom, Huck, and Jim as passengers of a mad balloonist and their subsequent adventures in Egypt. Though inferior to its great predecessors, this book does not lack humor, gusto, and rich character-ization. Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896) Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn M. Prosveshcheniye 1986 pp.13, 26, 78, 134, 145, 149 dishes up a melodrama of stolen dia-monds, double-crossing thieves, and that immortal device of Plaits and Shakespeare, identical twins, whose charm custom could not stale for Mark Twain. Here haste artifice, and creative fatigue grow painfully apparent.
Uneven quality appears in even though it came at the high tide of his powers. Chapters IV-XVII was written for the Atlantic after Twain's chance reminiscences led his friend twitchily to exclaim, "What a virgin subject to hurl into a magazine!" Fresh, vivid, humorous, they recall the great days of river traffic: the problems of navigation, the races, the pilots' association, the resourcefulness and glory of the old-time pilot. The addenda, which came after Twain's return to the river for "copy," sometimes attain the former standard--the description of Pilot Brown the scold, or the account of the Pennsylvania disaster and Henry Clemens' death--but more prove disappointing after the white heat of the book's inception. The two chapters on the history of the river are merely an afterthought; the later ones too often wander among irrelevant yarns, like the revenge of the Austrian, or vignettes of picturesque New Orleans. Sam Clemens' and a half as cub pilot are followed by almost no mention of his two years as a licensed skipper. Instead we are treated to such vagaries as Twain's famous theory about Sir Walter Scott, whose "Middle-Age sham civilization» he claimed, inspired the chivalry of the Old South, which in turn provoked the Civil War.
Yet with all its flaws of disunity and untidiness, Life on the remains a masterpiece. Its communicable delight in experience, its of the human comedy and tragedy on the river (which Melville alone among great artists had tried to bring into focus in The Confidence Man in 1857) lend it real durability. Howeils believed that the author long regarded it his greatest book -- pleased with assurance to that effect from the German Kaiser and also from a hotel porter, whose praise he accepted with equal satisfaction. In other moods, toward the end of his life, Twain favored Joan of Arc, in part because it cost him "twelve years of preparation and two years of writing. The others needed no preparation, & got none." Thus again he displayed the blindness of self-appraisal. The book that required probably least effort of all, drawn from a brimming native reservoir, Huckleberry Finn, unquestionably is his finest, with Tom Sawyer and Life on the Mississippi as runners-up.
7.2 Later years of Mark Twain
Mark Twain's later years show a drift toward the remote in time and place, in a fitful quest for new themes, new magic--a search that proceeded apace with a growing sense of personal dissatisfaction, frustration, and heartbreak. While the aging artist began to lose much of his creative fire, Clemens the generous, erratic, moody, and vulnerable human being remained, standing at bay against the disillusions and disasters that gathered to ring him around and mock his fame as the world humorist of the century. The development of this last phase is worth tracing.
From recollections of his Hannibal boyhood he gravitated toward a new but distinctly artificial romanticism, "the pageant and fairy-tale" of lire 1° medieval Europe. His earliest treatment of the theme is, The Prince and the Pauper (i88i),history mainly for children, built upon the old plot to taffy. Here to a degree, and still more in Connecticut Yard in King Arthur's Court (1889) and Personal Recollections of Joan of An (1896), the romantic's fascination with knights and castles is counterbalance by the iconoclast's itch to shatter that world of sham and injustice, w crown and miter lorded it over the commons. The savage indignation w Twain so loved to unleash found hunting that gratified him: the prey some resemblance to the contemporary, without committing him to the consequences of a frontal attack upon modern authoritarianism, convention, and orthodoxy. A Connecticut Yankee, best of the cycle, shows just such an ingenious mechanic as Clemens must often have met on visits to the Hartford shops of Pratt & Whitney, a Yankee who is swept back in time to Camelot. With one hand he transforms Arthurian England into a going concern of steam and electricity; with the other, seeks to plant the seeds of equalitarian-ism. He remarks that in feudal society six men out of a thousand cracks the whip over their fellows' backs: "It seemed to me that what the nine hundred and ninety-four dupes needed was a new deal." This passage, as the late President Roosevelt testified, furnished the most memorable phrase in modern American government. The Connecticut Yankee asserts that the mass of a nation can always produce "the material in abundance whereby to govern itself." Yet the medieval mob is shown collectively to be gullible, vicious, invincibly ignorant, like the populace of Hannibal or Hartford, so that the Yankee sets up not a true democracy but a benign dictatorship centering in himself and his mechanical skills--a kind of technocrat's Utopia. Dazzled by the wonders of applied science, Mark Twain always hoped for social as well as technological miracles from the dynamo.
Twain's apotheosis of the Virgin--in terms of Henry Adams' dilemma-- of spiritual forces in conflict with materialism and the stupid cruelty of organized society, appears in Joan of Arc. The Maid was his favorite character in history. But as Twain's imagination is better thankless knowledge of medieval life, the result at best is a tour de force.
Joan anonymously, in hope of giving this book a head start the-world had come synonymous with comedy. Indeed, most people continued to hail with uproarious mirth Mark Twain's explosive attacks upon power politics, imperialism, malefactors of great wealth, hypocrisy in morals and religion, and other manifestations of what he increasingly came to call "the damned human race." They refused to forget "The Celebrated Jumping Frog," or his reputation for convulsing any crowd whenever his mouth was opened. Meanwhile, as the satirist gained upper hand over the humorist in his nature, and age diminished his ebullience, Mark Twain not only earnest vainly for a serious nearing also came role of platform zany.
Lecturing, however, became a need more urgent than ever. For, beginning with the Panic of 1893, the tide of Mark Twain's luck suddenly changed. The famous writer, with ample cash in hand and enviable royalties rolling in, still vigorous in health and self-confidence, the adoring husband and beloved anther of three charming daughters--this self-made "jour" printer and river-Dustman whom the world delighted to honor--upon him fortune suddenly began to rain The first losses were financial. The Paige typesetting machine, brain child of an erratic inventor who came close to anticipating the fabulous success of Merge talker's linotype, failed after years of costly maintenance from Clemens1 pocket; instead of making millions, he lost hundreds of thousands. Then the publishing firm of Charles L. Webster (named for the son-in-law of Mark's sister, but backed by the author himself through suspicion of the big commercial publishers) crashed into bankruptcy. Twain's new friend Henry H. Rogers, Standard Oil magnate and by the lights of the muckraking age a robber baron, advised him that the ethics of literature were higher than those of business, and "you must earn the cent per cent." Mark's own conscience fully acquiesced. Even though his old exuberant energy was flagging, he set out in 1895 on a world lecture tour, after giving a statement to the press:
The law recognizes no mortgage on a man's brain, and a merchant who has given up all he has may take advantage of the laws of insolvency and start free again for himself. But I am not a business man, and honor is a harder master than the law. It cannot compromise for less than 100 cents on the cellular and its debts never outlaw.
The profits, together with royalties and the astute management of Mr. Rogers, eventually enabled him to pay the last dollar to these creditors and add an American parallel to the case of Sir Walter Scott.
Twain's last notable book about American life, Muttonhead Wilson (1894), written on the brink of financial disaster but before the onset of deeper tragedies, is about a nonconformist who is too witty and wise for the backwoods community where his days are spent; miscalled "Muttonhead," he at last wins recognition by solving a murder mystery through his hobby of fingerprints. In so doing he also unravels a case of transposed identities for which the Regress Proxy--a character of magnificent vigor and realism--had been responsible. The novel is a daring, though inconclusive, study of miscegenation. Significant of Mark Twain's growing pessimism are the cynical chapter mottoes ascribed "Calendar," such as: "If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man." Or, still more typical to the aging Twain; "Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life » Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn M. Prosveshcheniye 1986 pp.13, 26, 78, 134, 145, 149knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first great * factor of our race. He brought death into the world."
These notes--the ingratitude and folly of man, the vanity of wishes, the praise of death as the nepenthe for life's tragedy--echo increase kingly through the later writings of Mark Twain, This drift was no nature, but the accentuation of a lifelong trend. In youth he had been object to fits of melancholy and disillusion. In Cincinnati at the age of twenty he had listened avidly to a homespun philosopher expound the gospel of scientific determinism; as a cub pilot he read Tom Paine "with fear and hesitation." Later, in San Francisco, Mark said he had come within a trigger's breadth of suicide, and in 1876 for obscure causes yielded to a bad season of the blues. Still later he discovered Jonathan Edwards, brooding for days over the "dominion of Motive and Necessity," and was powerfully drawn to the agnosticism of Huxley, Haeckel, and Ingersoll. As a boy he had been terrorized by the fickle and vindictive Jehovah of Sunday schools; as a youth he graduated to the God of scientific law, impersonal but just; as an old man he returned to the cruel God, now stripped of anthropomorphic whims, but no less terrible as causation and fate. As early as 1882, in an unpublished dialogue between Negroes written on his river trip, Mark Twain sketched out the logic elaborated sixteen years later in his "wicked book" What Is Man?--not printed until 1906, then privately and anonymously because boastingly incontrovertible. Its argument, developed between an earnest Young Man and a cynical Old Man, is that self-interest and self-approval are the mainsprings of human conduct, however cleverly they mask themselves as honor, charity, altruism, or love. Hunger for self-esteem is the master passion; under this demon of the ego, free will is nothing but illusion.
While Mark was lecturing around the world for "honor," news reached him that back home his favorite daughter Suzy had suddenly succumbed to meningitis. Would the girl have died if her parents had not deserted her? It was perhaps a foolish question, but natural to a self-accusing heart like Clemens'. Unpublished papers bear witness to his bitterness in those days, savage reflections about how God gives us breath and bodies only to undermine us with the million plagues of disease and heartbreak, to show what Twain calls His "fatherly infatuation" toward us. Meanwhile Mrs. Clemens sank deeper and deeper into a hopeless invalidism that ended only with the mercy of her death in 1904; and their daughter Jean, whose moods had long puzzled them, was discovered to be an incurable epileptic. Mark Twain's own robust health was beginning to crumble, and--as a still more tragic circumstance to the artist who had begun to use hard work as an anodyne for griffins magnificent creative powers were now sadly on the wane. His unpublished papers are full of fragmentary stories and novels that simply would not come out right, and were endlessly reworked, rewritten, finally abandoned. Many e reminiscent, in plot and character, of his golden period; the magician fell upon his old repertory, made the same passes, but somehow failed to with personal revelation. Twain in pet tormenting himself, in a dozen allegorical disguises, with the began to rain blow. The first losses were financial. The Paige typesetting machine, brain child of an "erratic" inventor "who came close to anticipating the fabulous success of linotype, failed after years of costly maintenance from Clemens' pocket; instead of making millions, he lost hundreds of thousands. Then the publishing firm of Charles L. Webster (named for the son-in-law of Mark's sister, but backed by the author himself through suspicion of the big commercial publishers) crashed into bankruptcy. Twain's new friend Henry H. Rogers, Standard Oil magnate and by the lights of the muckraking age a robber baron, advised him that the ethics of literature were higher than those of business, and "you must earn the cent per cent." Mark's own conscience fully acquiesced. Even though his old exuberant energy was flagging, he set out in 1895 on a world lecture tour, after giving a statement to the press:
The law recognizes no mortgage on a man's brain, and a merchant who has given up all he has may take advantage of the laws of insolvency and start free again for himself. But I am not a business man, and honor is a harder master than the law. It cannot compromise for less than 100 cents on the dollar and its debts never outlaw.
The profits, together with royalties and the astute management of Mr. Rogers, eventually enabled him to pay the last dollar to these creditors and add an American parallel to the case of Sir Walter Scott.
Twain's last notable book about American life, Wilson (1894), written on the brink of financial disaster but before the onset of deeper tragedies, is about a nonconformist who is too witty and wise for the backwoods community where his days are spent; miscalled he at last wins recognition by solving a murder mystery through his hobby of fingerprints. In so doing he also unravels a case of transposed identities for which the Negress Roxy--a character of magnificent vigor and realism--had been responsible. The novel is a daring, though inconclusive, study of miscegenation. Significant of Mark Twain's growing pessimism are the cynical chapter mottoes ascribed to "Calendar," such as: "If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man." Or, still more typical pi the aging Twain: "Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is, knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first great be*16' factor of our race. He brought death into the world."
These notes--the ingratitude and folly of man, the vanity of hum wishes, the praise of death as the nepenthe for life's tragedy--echo increasingly through the later writings of Mark Twain. This drift was no A nurture, but the accentuation of a lifelong trend. In youth he had been object to fits of melancholy and disillusion. In Cincinnati at the age of twenty listened avidly to a homespun philosopher expound the gospel of determinism; as a cub pilot he read Tom Paine "with fear and hesitation." in San Francisco, Mark said he had come within a trigger's breadth of suicide, and in 1876 for obscure causes yielded to a bad season of the blues. Still later he discovered Jonathan Edwards, brooding for days over the "dominion of Motive and Necessity," and was powerfully drawn to the agnosticism of Huxley, Hackle, and Innersole. As a boy he had been terror-ized by the fickle and vindictive Jehovah of Sunday schools; as a youth he graduated to the God of scientific law, impersonal but just; as an old man he returned to the cruel God, now stripped of anthropomorphic whims, but no less terrible as causation and fate. As early as 1882, in an unpublished dialogue between Negroes written on his river trip, Mark Twain sketched out the logic elaborated sixteen years later in his "wicked book" What Is Man? -- not printed until 1906, then privately and anonymously because boastingly incontrovertible. Its argument, developed between an earnest Young Man and a cynical Old Man, is that self-interest and self-approval are the mainsprings of human conduct, however cleverly they mask themselves as honor, charity, altruism, or love. Hunger for self-esteem is the master passion; under this demon of the ego, free will is nothing but illusion.
While Mark was lecturing around the world for "honor," news reached him that back home his favorite daughter Suzy had suddenly succumbed to meningitis. Would the girl have died if her parents had not deserted her? It was perhaps a foolish question, but natural to a self-accusing heart like Clemens'. Unpublished papers bear witness to his bitterness in those days, savage reflections about how God gives us breath and bodies only to undermine us with the million plagues of disease and heartbreak, to show what Twain calls His "fatherly infatuation" toward us. Meanwhile Mrs. Clemens sank deeper and deeper into a hopeless invalidism that ended only with the mercy of her death in 1904 Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn M. Prosveshcheniye 1986 pp.13, 26, 78, 134, 145, 149; and their daughter Jean, whose moods had long puzzled them, was discovered to be an incurable epileptic. Mark Twain's own robust health was beginning to crumble, and -- as a still more tragic circumstance to the artist who had begun to use hard work as an anodyne for grief -- is magnificent creative powers were now sadly on the wane. His unpublished papers are full of fragmentary stories and novels that simply would not come, and were endlessly reworked, rewritten, finally abandoned. Many re reminiscent, in plot and character, of his golden period; the magician fell upon his old repertory, made the same passes, but somehow failed to quant with personal revelation. Twain in kept tormenting him, in a dozen allegorical disguises, with the problem of "guilt" which (as his Calvinist conscience whispered) must somehow be antecedent to punishment, the cause of all the failures and bereavements fate had inflicted upon him. The artist keeps asking himself: Was I to blame, for something I did or left undone? The motif of a doting father with a dead or missing child is frequent, and of course transparent.
One such story concerns the dream of a man who has fallen asleep after gazing at a drop of water, swimming with animalcule, beneath the micro-scope. He dreams that he is on shipboard in the Antarctic seas pursuing his lost child who has been carried off by another ship, in a chase that continues like some nightmare in a fever, while terrible creatures arise to roam the deep and snatch passengers off the deck. The captain of the ship is called the Superintendent of Dreams, and it is his cunning to destroy the seafarers' sense of reality, while they circle toward the ultimate horror of the Great White Glare --actually the beam cast through the microscope's field by the reflector--a vortex of death into which all things, including the craft with the missing child, are being drawn. Seldom has determinism found a grimmer symbol.
The greatest story of Mark Twain's later period, too often neglected in the appraisal to his work, wins at last the personal answer for which he sought so desperately. In the light of those unfinished manuscripts among the Mark Twain Papers, it attains true perspective. This is The Mysterious Stranger, begun in the gloom of 1898 after Susy's death and Jean's hopeless prognosis, but not finished until several years later and published post- Like the last act of a Greek tragedy, or Samson Agonistes with "all passion spent," it achieves a wintry serenity beyond despair. The story is that of _some boys who are really Tom Sawyer's gang in medieval dress, in the Austrian village of Eelworm, who strike up acquaintance with a supernatural visitor able to work miracles and juggle with lives. Calling him-self "Satan," he claims relationship with the prince of fallen angels, but appears to live in a sphere beyond both good and evil. Laughter and tears, joy and torment, saintliness and sin, to him are but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and at last he grows bored with his own wonder-working caprices. He then tells the wide-eyed Theodora.
It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream--a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought--a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!
And in his heart of hearts the boy knows this is true. Here, in the closing pages of The Mysterious Stranger, Mark Twain solved his riddle of grief, and clothed his soul in the only invulnerable armor of despera-tion. Good and evil, like reality itself, are only illusions, such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with the best gift of the Artist who saves it to the last--extinction..
Like Hailey's comet in 1835 and 1910, whose appearance Mark Twain saw as setting the beginning and the end of his life, the luster of his genius flashed forth now and again against this darkened sky of fatalism. He wrote and spoke with sparkles of his old wit, and few were aware of the encircling. Oxford gave him her degree of Doctor of Letters in 1907, and his birthdays became national events. In his famous white clothes he seemed a kind of ghost from America's buried life, recalling the nostalgia of her youth, revisiting these glimpses of the modern city and its vast industrialism. But his great creative genius had almost gone--that energy which he spent and squandered so freely, when he had it, with the recklessness of the Old West. For Mark Twain the artist had always been a kind of pocket miner, stumbling like fortune's darling upon native ore of incredible richness and exploiting it with effortless skill--but often gleefully mistaking fool's gold for the genuine article, or lavishing his strength upon historical diggings long since played out. If latterly he seemed to deny his role as America's great comic spirit, perhaps the key can be found in his last travel book: "Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven."
8.2 Simpletons abroad (American literature abroad)
England had welcomed the American writers of the classical period, and continued to read them for some time after they had begun to be neglected by the American public. In a middle-class English home about the year 1900, Emerson would stand on the shelves next to Carlyle, Longfellow next to Tennyson (with signs of being more frequently read) and Lowell next to Matthew Arnold. The new generation rejected them all, the Bostonians along with the native Victorians. To the younger English intellectuals of the time, the only transatlantic authors worth reading, except Whitman and Thoreau, were the new social realists, from Garland through Norris to Upton Sinclair. Dreiser's Sister Carrie was a critical success in London, when published there in 1901, although it had been arousing such a bitterly quiet condemnation in New York that the author--till then a successful journalist--found that his articles were "being rejected by all the magazines.
The English were usually hospitable to American writers as persons, often more hospitable than they were to imported books. During there was a large American literary colony in what was still called the mother country: it included the aging Bret Hart, Henry James, Harold Frederic, Pearl from Boston (who wrote under the name John Oliver Hobbes), Howard Sturgis (author of the fine but neglected Belchamber), Henry Harland (who founded and edited the Yellow Booty, and, for his last two years, Stephen Crane. Most of these authors had a more appreciative public in England than in the United States; for example, Bret Hare's new books continued to be read in their English editions long after most Americans had forgotten that he was still a living author. Stephen Crane, who could not complain of being neglected at home, could justly complain of being pursued there by scandals that the English found beneath their notice. Henry James, with no larger audience in London than in New York, at least found more of the happy few to understand his work. The same hospitality in later years would be shown to Ezra Pound, Conrad Aiken, Hilda Doolittle ("H. D."), and T. S. Eliot, the last of who became a British subject in 1927, like James in 1915 The Correspondence of Samuel L.Clemens and William D.Howells. 1872-1910. Vols. 1-2. Harvard Universily Press, 1960 .
At the turn of the century, some of the larger American magazines were printing English editions; that of Harper's was edited by Andrew Lang and had a British circulation of 100,000. Many American books crossed the Atlan-tic. In the October, 1904, issue of World's Work, Chalmers Roberts broadly asserted that ten American books were being published in England where one had been published twenty years before. He was not surprised by the fondness of the English public for the genteel writings of James Lane Alien, a phenomenon remarked upon by many critics. What amazed him was the English success of American rural novels like David Harum, Eben Holden, and Mrs. Wigs of the Cabbage Patch, all of which he described as being "intensely foreign and full of detail quite unintelligible to the average Briton."
Shortly after 1910, however, the British public showed signs of losing in-terest in American fiction, except for commodities like the works of Zane Grey and Edgar Rice Burroughs (who afterward claimed that the globe-girdling adventures of Tarzan had been translated into fifty-six languages). American magazines discontinued their London editions. As for the serious American novelists, English critics learned to say that they were ten or twenty or fifty years behind the times. A few critics, however, had begun to discover the new American poets--Robinson, Masters, Sandburg, Lindsay-- sometimes before they were known in the United States; for example, Robert Frost had his first two books published in London.
There were new American novelists, too, but they had few English readers during the First World War; one of its effects was to keep the two countries apart intellectually, even after they became allies. In 1920 the English publisher of Main Street was so little impressed by Sinclair Lewis' American success that he began by merely importing a few hundred sets of printer's sheets; it was not until later that he had the novel printed in England. Main Street was never popular there, although it was more generally liked in Australia, which, more than New Zealand makes its own choice of American books. Babbitt, however, was the English best seller of 1922; and when its author next visited London he was received like the general of an Allied army. "England," Lewis told his hosts, with his redheaded gift for speaking his mind, "can no longer be the mother country to American lit-erature, any more than she can be the mother country to American politics or American life." The English listened, protested, argued with one another, and came to believe that Lewis was right.
Babbitt was the beginning of a new era, during which American books were not only read but imitated. On their different literary levels, Heming-way, Edmund Wilson, James Thurber, Damon Runyon, and Dash ell Ham-met each had English disciples, who sometimes improved on their various models. Graham Greene, for example, wrote English gangster novels that had a psychological depth lacking in his American precursors, except Hem-ingway. A younger Englishman, Peter Cheney, stuck to his models closely, so much so that one of his stories was included (1945) in a French anthology of the new American writing. The editor had learned of Cheney's national-ity before the volume went to press, but had kept him with the others because of his American style. By this time, however, styles and influences were flying back and forth across the Atlantic; and the English imitators of the American hard-boiled novelists--Graham Greene especially--were finding American imitators in their turn. Among poets the transatlantic relations were even closer. T. S. Eliot was the strongest early influence on the new English poets of the thirties such as Auden (before he came to live in the States), Spender, and Manlike; while Auden in turn set the tone for American poets in the forties.
The American vogue continued year after year. In 1938 an English publisher reported that all the novels since Babbitt with a sale of more than 100,000 copies in England had been of American origin. American maga-zines were also read: especially Time (which had two English imitations), the Readers Digest (with an English edition), and the New Yorker, which, in the brighter circles, was quoted more often than Punch. In 1942 one-quarter of the new trade books listed in English publishers' catalogues had been written in the States. By 1946, however, the percentage of transatlantic imports was beginning to decline.
In France it was still growing. Not only were the French translating or planning to translate dozens of the more prominent American novelists and the plays of Eugene O'Neill; they were also discovering and publishing, in the midst of a paper shortage, American books that had been largely neglected at home; for example, the fantastic Miss Lonely hearts, by Nathanael West, which had been published here in 1933 and had promptly gone out of print. At the same time they showed a renewed interest in the American classics. The first French translation of Moby appeared during the German occupation, together with a somewhat fictionalized biography of Melville by Jean Giono; and a translation of The Scarlet Letter was published in 1946.
The French had read most of the American classical authors when they first appeared, but had forgotten them sooner than the English. There were a few striking exceptions: notably Cooper and Poe, who were carried over bodily into French literature and remain an integral part of it. Among the Americans writing at the turn of the century, Henry James had a few care-ful French readers, and exercised a still undetermined influence on Marcel Proust. Jack London had a wider public; he inherited the French popularity of Bret Harte. .Edith Wharton, who lived in France, had most of her books translated; they were praised in the terms that are usually applied to estimable but unexciting French novels. Most of the other living American writers were little known even in Paris; and their country was regarded, in general, as the literary home of cowboys, miners, trappers, and the inimitable Nick Carter, whose weekly adventures were then appearing in France, as in fifteen other foreign countries.
The First World War, which tended to separate us intellectually from the English, thus marking the end of what might be called the second colonial period in American letters, was an occasion for renewing old literary ties with the French. Much has been written about the flight of American writers to Paris during the twenties; it is not so generally known that there was a smaller but influential movement of French writers and scholars in the opposite direction. The migration began under French government auspices, with professors from the Sorbonne encouraged to make American tours and lecture at American universities. They were shortly followed by a selected group of French postgraduate students, some of whom carried home with them a wide knowledge of American authors. Chairs of American Civilization and Literature were founded at several of the French universities: at Paris (where Charles Cestre was the incumbent), Grenoble, Lille, Aix-Marseille, and elsewhere. French students working in the field produced what is probably the largest group of scholarly studies of American literature that exists in any foreign language.
But interest in American culture was also growing in a quite different circle, that of the younger avant-garde writers. Finding not much hope in Europe after the war, they were looking for new material, new ideas, and new ways of life. A sort of romantic Americanism became the vogue among them after 1920: they were connoisseurs of American films, especially Westerns, they read the advertisements in the Saturday Evening Post, they dreamed of living in a New York skyscraper (though few of them, in life, got beyond making a single brief voyage), and they even dressed in what they thought was the American fashion, wearing belts instead of suspenders and shaving their upper lips; whereas the young Americans who were running off to France in those years were connoisseurs of French books and French wines and liked to wear little French mustaches. These were superficial signs on both sides, but they were an indication of tastes that proved to be lasting. The young American writers were deeply influenced by French literature in the Symbolist tradition; the young French writers were looking for American books that would express the picturesque qualities they found in American life; and when the books began to appear in translation, after 1930, they seized upon them enthusiastically.
The Index Translationum, published for eight years by the Institute of Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations, lists the titles and authors of all the books translated into the major European languages between 1932 and 1940. During that period there were 332 French translations of American books in the field of general literature. Jack London stands at the head of the list with twenty-seven titles, and James Oliver Cur wood follows with twenty; both these adventure-story writers were old favorites with the French public, although their day was passing. Sinclair Lewis and Edgar Allan Foe have fourteen titles each; Ellery Queen has ten detective stories; Pearl Buck has nine of her books; Edgar Rice Burroughs, Louis Bromfield, and Henry James all have seven. Farther down the list are the new authors that the younger generation was reading: William Faulkner with five titles, Ernest Hemingway and Dashiell Hammett with four, John Dos Passes and Erskine Caldwell with three. None of these last reached the broadest French public, but all of them had what Lewis and Bromfield and Pearl Buck failed to achieve, that is, a direct influence on the style and content of the new French writing.
Faulkner, comparatively little known at home, had gained an amazingly deep and lasting French reputation. Andre Gide called him "one of the most important, perhaps the most important, of the stars in this new constellation"; and Jean-Paul Sartre was more extreme in his praise: "For young writers in France," he said in 1945, "Faulkner is a god." Many French critics were disturbed by what seemed to them the completely foreign quality of the new American novelists. The newspaper man in Gide's Imaginary Interviews says:
I grant you Hemingway, since he is the most European of them all. As for the others, I have to confess that their strangeness appalls me. I thought I would go mad with pain and horror when I read Faulkner's Sanctuary and his Light in August. Dos Passos makes me suffocate. I laugh, it is true, when reading Caldwell's Journeyman or God's Little Acre, but I laugh on the wrong side of my mouth. . . . If one believes what they are saying, the American cities and country sides must offer a foretaste of hell.
But if one believes what Flaubert said a hundred years ago French cities also must have been an abode of the damned. All these American novelists, except possibly Caldwell, were students of Flaubert; they had been applying methods learned from him to American materials. Now their books were being studied in turn by Flaubert's countrymen.
Most of the other European countries followed either the French or the British pattern in their choice of American books. A novel that was a best seller in England, like Kenneth Roberts' Northwest Passage, would also be a best seller in Germany and Scandinavia. An author admired by the French for his intensity or his technical discoveries would also be admired by other Latin nations. Almost everywhere there was a lack of interest in American literature during the years after 1000 and a birth or rebirth of interest at some moment after 1920. This new interest appeared earlier in the northern countries, because they liked Dreiser and Lewis, and later in the Latin countries, which showed more interest in younger writers like Hemingway and Faulkner. There were, however, national variations in the two general patterns; and in Russia after the Revolution the variations were so wide as to form a new pattern of their own.
Germany between 1890 and 1945 was another special case that has to be considered in some detail. In the Kaiser's Germany, Mark Twain had been by far the most popular American author; there were exactly 100 translations of his various works between 1890 and 1913. After him came Anna Katharine Green, the early detective-story writer, with eighty-one translations; then Bret Harte, Frances Hodgson Burnett, F. Marion Crawford, and Lew Wallace, the author of Ben-Hur. More than half the novels of American origin translated into German during the twenty-four years before the First World War were the work of these six writers. The most admired American poet was Walt Whitman, although his greatest popularity would come later, during the early years of the Weimar Republic. Emerson was the favorite American essayist.
After the war, the Germans were eager for books that dealt with American industry, the power by which they felt they had been defeated and especially eager for anything that dealt with Henry Ford. What they looked for in American books was information first of all, but they were better pleased if the information was presented critically; therefore they joked Theodore Dreiser (who was for several years the most popular American libraries), Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, and, in general, all the critical realists. Hemingway was admired by the younger German writers who would later go into exile, but most of them were puzzled by his habit of understatement. When a German novelist wants to convey sadness or mild regret, he is likely to say that he was overwhelmed by waves of intolerable grief. When Hemingway wants to imply that his hero was overwhelmed by waves of intolerable grief, as at the end of A Farewell to Arms, he says that he "walked back to the hotel in the rain"; and the Germans did not know what to make of it. Thomas Wolfe, who never used a little word when he could find three big ones, was an author more to their taste. Loofy Homeward, Angel appealed to young people of all political faiths, before and after Hitler's coming to power. There were good as well as sinister qualities in the German youth movement, and some of the better ones were mirrored at a distance in Wolfe's hero.
The strength of the Socialist and Communist parties under the Weimar Republic helped to create a public for American authors with radical sym patties: not only for Upton Sinclair and Jack_Lqndon, but also for John Dos Passos, whose books at one time had a larger circulation in Germany than in the United States. Another writer admired by the German radicals was Agnes Smedley, whose autobiography, Daughter of Earth, is comparatively little known in her own country, although it has been translated into fourteen languages. In Germany, where it was called Eine Frau Allein, it was especially popular among women seeking courage to lead independent lives.
Miss Smedley's various books on the Chinese Revolution were also widely read until 1933, when they were all withdrawn from circulation. It was the same with Dreiser Sinclair, Dos Passos, and Hemingway, none of whose works appeared in Germany between 10,33 and 1946; they were the best known of the many American authors who suffered from Hitler's burning continued to be published in spite of his having written the anti-Nazi It Can't Happen Here. The Index Translationum shows that five of his novels were translated into German between 1932 and 1940. There were eight translations of Pearl Buck during the same period, more than of any other serious American author; perhaps her work was thought to be politically harmless because it dealt with China and, unlike Agnes Smedley's, made no plea for the Chinese Communists. Very few American books were published in Hitler's Germany if they dealt with contemporary Europe or America in any thoughtful fashion, no matter whether their authors were radical or conservative. The German public was still curious about our literature, but was offered, in general, only romance, adventure, mystery, and sentiment.
The Index Translationum lists 297 German translations from American originals in the field of general literature, a figure not far from the French total of 332. There is, however, a difference in quality. Nearly half the German list consists of Westerns and detective stories, with Max Brand, a mass purveyor of cowboy fiction, standing at the head of it with twenty-six titles. Historical romances were popular as an escape from daily life under a dictatorship: Anthony Adverse, 'Northwest Passage, and especially Gone with the Wind, which by 1941 had achieved the huge German sale of 360,693 copies; then it, disappeared from the bookstores with the demand for it still unsatisfied. Grapes of Wrath was circulated with official approval after Pearl Harbor, presumably on the ground that its picture of the Okies would serve as anti-American propaganda. Instead, what it proved to most of its readers was that American peasants at their most destitute could travel about the country in automobiles, and that American writers were free to speak their minds in epical novels, at a time when German literature was being stifled. American books were read hungrily after the war ended, although few were available. Daughter of Earth was republished and even serialized in a Berlin newspaper; Thorn ton Welder's The Sin of Our Teeth was the hit of the German theaters.
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