MARK TWAIN by Henry Nash Smith


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The accent here is on Twain's development as a writer, from youthful democrat to sorry-eyed demonic, set in socio-literary perspective, fusing both the aesthetics and ethics of the man and the age, and coming up with a sharp, skillful, generally satisfying study. Critic Smith concentrates less on the All-American humor and remarkable horse-sense, than on the rivalry between the genteel tradition of New England and the emergent energies of the frontier. He revealingly recognizes Mark Twain's juxtaposing the ideal realm with the everyday one, that sense of irony which ultimately shaped the modernist breakthrough of Eliot and Pound, Faulkner and Hemingway. He follows Twain's irreverent Old World pilgrimage (Innocents Abroad), his western journey (Roughing It), the discovery of the River and the dream of steamboatmanship (Life on the Mississippi). Tom Sawyer's pastoral charms, and that masterwork of diction and direction, Huckleberry Finn, in which freedom from ""civilizing"" society is concurrently loved and lost. The closing chapters concern A Connecticut Yankee, considered a confused medley of farce and fancy, embodying Twain's political ideology, progressive and pessimistic by turns, onwards to the philosophical doldrums of the last tales wherein life's a ""pathe drift between the eternities"". A neat, natty account, but it won't displace Brooks, DeVoto, Fiedler et al.

Publisher: Harvard