After Van Wyck Brooks' fine, essentially interpretive book, The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920), and then Justin Kaplan's...

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MARK TWAIN: God's Fool

After Van Wyck Brooks' fine, essentially interpretive book, The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920), and then Justin Kaplan's attractive Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain (1966) which largely corroborated as well as supplemented the former, one may be tempted to ask if another biography of Twain isn't an act of supererogation. The answer will be determined by the reader's purposes. Hill's book will not appeal to the general reader nor to the reader whose approach to Twain is motivated by interest in his best writing. Rather this book is more likely for Twain specialists, owing to its microscopic focus on the agony-filled last decade of his life. Comments on Twain's literary endeavors of these last years, though sharing the general view that they are, except for certain parts of the Autobiography and rather loosely scattered essays, not terribly significant, are obiter dicta employed to explore the tortuous ambivalences of a man acutely aware of a public image, even as he is inwardly compelled to embody a private voice; the attraction to wealth straining against an antipathy to the kind of corrupt society which makes its attainment possible; and, finally, the tension created by the dual impulses towards fiction and indignant polemics. What Hill most lamentably fails to do, for all the detailed activity and anatomical assiduity, is to give us the sense of a living human being, even though in the context of ""the perversely involuted loyalties which kept the Clemens family together while it estranged its members from one another.

Pub Date: July 18, 1973

ISBN: 0226336476

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1973