Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2012 Evelyn C. Leeper.


THE ANNOTATED HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain and Michael Patrick Hearn:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/23/2005]

Norton seems to be coming out with a lot of annotated classics lately, and THE ANNOTATED HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain, with annotations by Michael Patrick Hearn (ISBN 0-393-02039-8) is the first of a batch I will be reading. There are three aspects to comment on in annotated works: the original work itself, the quality of the annotations, and the lay-out. Of Mark Twain's HUCKLEBERRY FINN, little needs to be said; it is a classic, considered by many to be the great American novel. The annotations are both explanatory (e.g., telling you the definition of obscure words), and critical (e.g., telling what changes were made on the original manuscript). There are also some that provide opinions, such as on how Twain uses parallels between characters to make a point, or how ideas that appear here appear in other places in his work. I would have preferred more of the last and less of the first, since after reading these definitional annotations, I usually end up saying, "Well, that was obvious." (For example, I know that a hollow is a small valley, and I guess I figure anyone reading an annotated HUCKLEBERRY FINN that sells for $40 is not a high school student who will have problems with the vocabulary.) But my real complaint is with the lay-out.

I'll start by pointing out that "annotated" works almost always have the original text in a column that is about three-quarters of a page width wide, and then the annotations in a narrow column on the outer side of the page. This is in contrast to footnotes, which were originally at the bottoms of pages, but now often get put at the end of the chapter, or even at the end of the entire book.

The rule about the placement of footnotes is fairly clear: one puts the footnotes on the same page as the item being footnoted. If something at the very end of a page generates a footnote that won't fit, one can extend the footnote to the next page, but at that point it takes priority over the original text. In general annotations work similarly, and so one may see a page with a lot of annotations having a lot of white space in the text area, or a page with few annotations with a lot of space in the annotation area. Here, the publisher has decided not to waste any space, so one finds the annotation to something on page 27 may be on page 30. (I don't think any annotations actually occur before the text they are annotating, however.) This means flipping back and forth a lot, which is annoying.

Okay, no one is going to make his decision on this book based on the lay-out of the annotations. But I guess I'm hoping that some publisher will read this and do any annotated books they publish differently. As for this, the annotations do add a lot to the work. As with most DVD commentaries, though, they do not seem to be the sort that one would re-read. (One example of annotations that are worth re-reading, or reading for their own sake, are William Baring-Gould's annotations for Sherlock Holmes.) Twain aficionados may want to buy this, but others should ask their libraries to buy it instead.

To order The Annotated Huckleberry Finn from amazon.com, click here.


AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN: VOLUME 1 by Mark Twain:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/21/2011]

I am currently reading the AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN: VOLUME 1 by Mark Twain (ISBN 978-0-520-26719-0).

I believe the answer to the most commonly asked question about it is, "760 pages in eight-point type, with block quotes in six-point type."

In another case of synchronicity, something I read in the AUTOBIOGRAPHY ties in with DEATH OF A SALESMAN (which I commented on in last week's column). Twain describes an incident with Charley Langdon (his brother-in-law?). Langdon was one of the three partners in a company in difficulty. Twain was not involved with the company, but they prevailed upon him to go to Henry W. Sage and arrange a loan for the company. Twain spent a lot of time learning to understand the balance sheet, and then went to Sage and explained it all to him. Sage was very complimentary about Twain's business acumen and arranged for the loan. But five years later when Langdon told the story, it was he and not Twain who talked to and was praised by Sage. As Twain wrote, "The appropriation of my great achievement had without doubt been embedded in Charley's mind for a good many years, and I never could have gotten it out by argument and persuasion. Nothing but dynamite could do it."

In DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Biff says, "How the hell did I ever get the idea I was a salesman there? I even believed myself that I'd been a salesman for him! And then he gave me one look and--I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been! We've been talking in a dream for fifteen years. I was a shipping clerk." And later he has this exchange with his father:

"Who was it, Pop? Who ever said I was a salesman with Oliver?"
"But you were practically--"
"Dad, I don't know who said it first, but I was never a salesman for Bill Oliver. ... I was a shipping clerk."

And why was Langdon this way? "His mother had indulged him from the cradle up, and had stood between him and such discomforts as duties, studies, work, responsibility, and so on. He had gone to school only when he wanted to, as a rule, and he didn't want to often enough for his desire to be mistaken for a passion. He was not obliged to study at home when he had the headache, and he usually had the headache--the thing that was to be expected. He was allowed to play when his health and his predilections required it, and they required it with a good deal of frequency, because he was the judge in the matter. He was not required to read books, and he never read them. The results of this kind of bringing up can be imagined. But he was not to blame for them. His mother was his worst enemy, and she became merely through her love for him, which was an intense and steadily burning passion."

And why was Biff the way he was? "And I never could get anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody!"

To order Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1 from amazon.com, click here.


A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT by Mark Twain:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/09/2012]

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT by Mark Twain (ISBN 978-0-812-50436-1) was Twain's last major work, and reflects a lot of his bitterness about the human race. (Indeed, at one point C.Y. says, "Well, there are times when one would like to hang the whole human race and finish the farce.") [His name is Hank Morgan, but I like "C.Y." better.] I will start by saying that its plot is seriously flawed at the beginning with the whole "solar eclipse" gimmick. As C.Y. relates, "But all of a sudden I stumbled on the very thing, just by luck. I knew that the only total eclipse of the sun in the first half of the sixth century occurred on the twenty-first of June, A.D. 528 O.S., and began at three minutes after twelve noon." Just exactly why and how would C.Y. know this, particularly since we are talking about an eclipse visible in England, not Connecticut. And just why would the uneducated Clarence give the date as June 20, 528, rather than St. Someone's Day in the tenth year of King Arthur's reign (or whenever)? I will not even discuss the unlikely circumstance of Clarence getting the day wrong in such a convenient manner.

But once that is left behind, what we have is Twain showing us the reality represented by the Arthurian legends. While reading Twain's descriptions of the land and the people, one is inevitably reminded of the Monty Python line that you can tell which one the king is--he is the one who is not all covered in shit. The people are dirty and ill-clothed, the streets are filthy, and even the tapestries are worn and mended.

C.Y.'s introduction of American-style coinage also has some basic problems--without a government backing them up, the coins are worthless (unless he is minting them from gold and silver--but then why introduce new coins at all?).

C.Y. does not like an established church (in specific, the Roman Catholic Church), so he somehow enforces a type of religious freedom: "Everybody could be any kind of a Christian he wanted to." I suppose it is a slight improvement.

One sees in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT the inspiration for LEST DARKNESS FALL and countless other novels in which an extremely competent engineer finds himself in the past/the wilderness/an alien planet, and can use all that knowledge to take control of the situation. Twain has written the quintessential "Analog" story.

Oh, and if your acquaintance with the story is through the movies, you are not really acquainted with the story. In the 1931 version (titled only A CONNECTICUT YANKEE), Will Rogers stars as Hank Martin (rather than Hank Morgan). Martin is a radio personality and repairman rather than an engineer, though he manages to invent telephones, roller skates, factory, eyeglasses, photography, newspapers, advertising, radios, automobiles, tanks, airplanes, handguns, and machine guns, all in about six months. He goes back when he is hit by a suit of armor (not a crowbar), Alisande is King Arthur's daughter, the knights arrive in automobiles rather than on bicycles (where do they get the petrol?), and the villainous Merlin's features have a definite Semitic cast to them. Martin does use a lasso in a joust against Sir Sagramore, as in the book, but given Will Rogers's skill with a lasso, they could hardly have dropped this part! And there are several "unnecessary" deaths, just as in the book--the fact that Twain has C.Y. kill several people is usually glossed over. (In the film, it is not Martin who does the killing, though.)

Oh, and given Will Rogers's appearance and persona, the romantic subplot is shifted to be between Clarence and Alisande, rather than C.Y. and Alisande.

In this version, Martin does not have all the eclipses memorized, but instead has a memo book that lists them:

Why there are so few, and why they would be ones visible in Britain, and why the first one lasts twelve hours, are not clear.

In keeping with the "it-was-all-a-dream" resolution, the main actors play double roles (one in the present, one in the past, like in THE WIZARD OF OZ), but Martin does not see the "present" Merlin until after he returns, so he would have no reason to visualize him as he does.

The 1978 television version (made for "Once upon a Classic" and only an hour long) keeps a lot more of the flavor of Twain--for starters, the full title, but also some of Twain's wordplay ("you're no page--you're no more than a paragraph"). Merlin is once again portrayed as someone exotic, in this case an African (?) played by Roscoe Lee Browne. While Brandon Hurst in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE was a two-dimensional villain, here Browne plays Merlin as at first mysterious, and later philosophical ("Who shall prevail: the Royal Magician or the Royal Technician?"). He is not the fool that Hurst was; he does not oppose C.Y. for selfish reasons, but out of a sincere attempt to protect Britain from what he sees as an evil influence.

Morgan (he retains the name Twain gave him) is an engineer and was knocked out in a factory floor fight by, if not a crowbar, then at least a wrench. The cessation of the Holy Fountain--one of the main episodes in the book--is here as well, as are the traveling of Arthur and C.Y. in disguise among the common people, the episode with the smallpox hut, the capture into slavery, and many of the political comments. In fact, it is quite surprising how much scriptwriter Stephen Dick was able to put in only an hour, when the longer versions leave most of it out. (It even keeps the bicycles!)

By the way, the date here is changed from June 20, 528, to October 20, 528. I am not sure why, because on neither date was there a total solar eclipse in Britain. The whole confusion with Clarence giving C.Y. the wrong date is dropped (a good thing, in my opinion).

To order A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court from amazon.com, click here.


THE GILDED AGE by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/23/2009]

I just read a novel set in the world of real estate speculation, of lobbyists and pork barrel projects and Congressional corruption, and of honest people who invest their life savings in businesses that seem safe but are built on sand and so they lose everything. Some might ask why I would want to read a novel about all this when the newspaper are full of the same thing. But a novel lets one step back from reality and see a situation more clearly. In this case, what one sees is that the more things change, the more they stay the same, because the novel is THE GILDED AGE: A TALE OF TODAY by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner (ISBN-13 978-1-605-89752-3, ISBN-10 1-605-89752-3), set a hundred and thirty-five years ago.

And if one wants to select one chapter from THE GILDED AGE to discuss, Chapter 50 seems to be the most packed with ideas.

Twain and Warner start by saying words that will appeal to any fan of alternate history:

"It is impossible for the historian, with even the best intentions, to control events or compel the persons of his narrative to act wisely or to be successful. It is easy to see how things might have been better managed; a very little change here and there would have made a very different history of this one now in hand.

If Philip had adopted some regular profession, even some trade, he might now be a prosperous editor or a conscientious plumber, or an honest lawyer, and have borrowed money at the saving's bank and built a cottage, and be now furnishing it for the occupancy of Ruth and himself. Instead of this, with only a smattering of civil engineering, he is at his mother's house, fretting and fuming over his ill-luck, and the hardness and, dishonesty of men, and thinking of nothing but how to get the coal out of the Ilium hills.

If Senator Dilworthy had not made that visit to Hawkeye, the Hawkins family and Col. Sellers would not now be dancing attendance upon Congress, and endeavoring to tempt that immaculate body into one of those appropriations, for the benefit of its members, which the members find it so difficult to explain to their constituents; and Laura would not be lying in the Tombs, awaiting her trial for murder, and doing her best, by the help of able counsel, to corrupt the pure fountain of criminal procedure in New York.

If Henry Brierly had been blown up on the first Mississippi steamboat he set foot on, as the chances were that he would be, he and Col. Sellers never would have gone into the Columbus Navigation scheme, and probably never into the East Tennessee Land scheme, and he would not now be detained in New York from very important business operations on the Pacific coast, for the sole purpose of giving evidence to convict of murder the only woman he ever loved half as much as he loves himself. If Mr. Bolton had said the little word 'no' to Mr. Bigler, Alice Montague might now be spending the winter in Philadelphia, and Philip also (waiting to resume his mining operations in the spring); and Ruth would not be an assistant in a Philadelphia hospital, taxing her strength with arduous routine duties, day by day, in order to lighten a little the burdens that weigh upon her unfortunate family."

Then they proceed to suggest that "a little money" can solve almost all problems:

"And the most annoying thought is that a little money, judiciously applied, would relieve the burdens and anxieties of most of these people; but affairs seem to be so arranged that money is most difficult to get when people need it most.

A little of what Mr. Bolton has weakly given to unworthy people would now establish his family in a sort of comfort, and relieve Ruth of the excessive toil for which she inherited no adequate physical vigor. A little money would make a prince of Col. Sellers; and a little more would calm the anxiety of Washington Hawkins about Laura, for however the trial ended, he could feel sure of extricating her in the end. And if Philip had a little money he could unlock the stone door in the mountain whence would issue a stream of shining riches. It needs a golden wand to strike that rock. If the Knobs University bill could only go through, what a change would be wrought in the condition of most of the persons in this history. Even Philip himself would feel the good effects of it; for Harry would have something and Col. Sellers would have something; and have not both these cautious people expressed a determination to take an interest in the Ilium mine when they catch their larks?"

Meanwhile, Philip has decided that he needs to earn some money, but is not sure how. As Twain and Warner observe:

"It was not altogether Philip's fault, let us own, that he was in this position. There are many young men like him in American society, of his age, opportunities, education and abilities, who have really been educated for nothing and have let themselves drift, in the hope that they will find somehow, and by some sudden turn of good luck, the golden road to fortune. He was not idle or lazy, he had energy and a disposition to carve his own way. But he was born into a time when all young men of his age caught the fever of speculation, and expected to get on in the world by the omission of some of the regular processes which have been appointed from of old. And examples were not wanting to encourage him. He saw people, all around him, poor yesterday, rich to-day, who had come into sudden opulence by some means which they could not have classified among any of the regular occupations of life. A war would give such a fellow a career and very likely fame. He might have been a 'railroad man,' or a politician, or a land speculator, or one of those mysterious people who travel free on all rail-roads and steamboats, and are continually crossing and recrossing the Atlantic, driven day and night about nobody knows what, and make a great deal of money by so doing. Probably, at last, he sometimes thought with a whimsical smile, he should end by being an insurance agent, and asking people to insure their lives for his benefit."

I don't know about you, but there seem to be a lot of people these days who want to get rich, but do not want to apply themselves to learn anything useful or train themselves for any profession. Even if all they want is to live in the lifestyle which their parents have allowed them to become accustomed to, they don't seem to think they have to do anything to prepare themselves.

And the small investor getting into something he is unfamiliar with is not new: "It is not unusual for a quiet country gentleman to be more taken with such a venture than a speculator who, has had more experience in its uncertainty. It was astonishing how many New England clergymen, in the time of the petroleum excitement, took chances in oil. The Wall street brokers are said to do a good deal of small business for country clergymen, who are moved no doubt with the laudable desire of purifying the New York stock board."

To order The Gilded Age from amazon.com, click here.


THE INNOCENTS ABROAD by Mark Twain:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/25/2008]

Our book discussion group chose THE INNOCENTS ABROAD by Mark Twain (ISBN-13 978-0-451-53049-3, ISBN-10 0-451-53049-7) for January. This was Twain's first book, but showed the beginnings of the sarcasm (and even vitriol) that Twain became known for. The trip, on the steamship Quaker City, was the first transatlantic pleasure cruise (according to Twain biographer Albert Bigelow Paine), and lasted five months. Twain visited Gibraltar, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, "the Holy Land", and Bermuda--and pretty much disliked all of them. (Well, except Bermuda.) Every place he went, he found (or claimed to find) the people dirty, lazy, and greedy; most of the sights over-rated; and the governments corrupt. Now of course sometimes he was right: it is impossible that all the pieces of the True Cross he saw were pieces of the True Cross. (In fact, at least one writer claims that after Twain's book came out, guides in Europe found they had to be a bit more restrained in their claims about relics, as tourists were much more skeptical.)

One complaint voiced at the discussion group meeting was that Twain was sometimes serious, sometimes satirical--and it was not always easy to tell which one a particular sentence was. There is some truth in this, and also to the fact that Twain is somewhat of a bigot. It's not racism per se, because he pretty much looks down on anyone who is not Anglo-Saxon. Of course, one can argue that he pretty much looked down on the Anglo-Saxons as well, at least those in the Quaker City party, what with his descriptions of them stealing fruit, defacing monuments, and running away from danger while boasting of their bravery.

A sample:

[Of the Church of Holy Sepulchre] "When one stands where the Saviour was crucified, he finds it all he can do to keep it strictly before his mind that Christ was not crucified in a Catholic Church. He must remind himself every now and then that the great event transpired in the open air, and not in a gloomy, candle-lighted cell in a little corner of a vast church, up-stairs--a small cell all bejeweled and bespangled with flashy ornamentation, in execrable taste."

Or:

"And so I close my chapter on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre--the most sacred locality on earth to millions and millions of men, and women, and children, the noble and the humble, bond and free. In its history from the first, and in its tremendous associations, it is the most illustrious edifice in Christendom. With all its clap-trap side-shows and unseemly impostures of every kind, it is still grand, reverend, venerable--for a god died there; for fifteen hundred years its shrines have been wet with the tears of pilgrims from the earth's remotest confines; for more than two hundred, the most gallant knights that ever wielded sword wasted their lives away in a struggle to seize it and hold it sacred from infidel pollution. Even in our own day a war, that cost millions of treasure and rivers of blood, was fought because two rival nations claimed the sole right to put a new dome upon it. History is full of this old Church of the Holy Sepulchre--full of blood that was shed because of the respect and the veneration in which men held the last resting-place of the meek and lowly, the mild and gentle, Prince of Peace!"

In addition to cementing Twain's literary reputation, the trip had another lasting effect. One of the other passengers was Charles Langdon, who had brought a miniature of his sister Olivia. Twain saw the miniature and was smitten. On his return he arranged to meet Olivia, and eventually convinced her to marry him.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/25/2014]

I have read THE INNOCENTS ABROAD by Mark Twain (ISBN 978-1-840-22636-2) before, of course, but some recent reference to it led me to re-read it, and it is just as good as previously. What is worth noting is the wide range of styles one finds in it--for example in the section on Pompeii.

There is the poetic, of course:

"The most exquisite bronzes we have seen in Europe, came from the exhumed cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and also the finest cameos and the most delicate engravings on precious stones; their pictures, eighteen or nineteen centuries old, are often much more pleasing than the celebrated rubbish of the old masters of three centuries ago. They were well up in art. From the creation of these works of the first, clear up to the eleventh century, art seems hardly to have existed at all--at least no remnants of it are left--and it was curious to see how far (in some things, at any rate,) these old time pagans excelled the remote generations of masters that came after them. The pride of the world in sculptures seem to be the Laocoon and the Dying Gladiator, in Rome. They are as old as Pompeii, were dug from the earth like Pompeii; but their exact age or who made them can only be conjectured. But worn, and cracked, without a history, and with the blemishing stains of numberless centuries upon them, they still mutely mock at all efforts to rival their perfections."

There is the keen observation:

"It was a quaint and curious pastime, wandering through this old silent city of the dead--lounging through utterly deserted streets where thousands and thousands of human beings once bought and sold, and walked and rode, and made the place resound with the noise and confusion of traffic and pleasure. They were not lazy. They hurried in those days. We had evidence of that. There was a temple on one corner, and it was a shorter cut to go between the columns of that temple from one street to the other than to go around--and behold that pathway had been worn deep into the heavy flagstone floor of the building by generations of time-saving feet! They would not go around when it was quicker to go through. We do that way in our cities. "

There is the humorous, often of the sort that suddenly jumps out at you when you least expect it:

"But perhaps the most poetical thing Pompeii has yielded to modern research, was that grand figure of a Roman soldier, clad in complete armor; who, true to his duty, true to his proud name of a soldier of Rome, and full of the stern courage which had given to that name its glory, stood to his post by the city gate, erect and unflinching, till the hell that raged around him burned out the dauntless spirit it could not conquer. We never read of Pompeii but we think of that soldier; we can not write of Pompeii without the natural impulse to grant to him the mention he so well deserves. Let us remember that he was a soldier--not a policeman--and so, praise him. Being a soldier, he staid,--because the warrior instinct forbade him to fly. Had he been a policeman he would have staid, also--because he would have been asleep. "

There is even science fiction, as in this suggested excerpt from the "Encyclopedia for A.D. 5868":

"URIAH S. (or Z.) GRAUNT--popular poet of ancient times in the Aztec provinces of the United States of British America. Some authors say flourished about A. D. 742; but the learned Ah-ah Foo-foo states that he was a cotemporary of Scharkspyre, the English poet, and flourished about A. D. 1328, some three centuries after the Trojan war instead of before it. He wrote 'Rock me to Sleep, Mother.'"

To order The Innocents Abroad from amazon.com, click here.


MARK TWAIN'S LETTERS FROM HAWAII by Mark Twain:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/02/2006]

While in Hawai`i, I picked up a copy of MARK TWAIN'S LETTERS FROM HAWAII (edited by A. Grove Day, ISBN 0-8248-0288-8). There have been many discussions about Twain's supposed racism in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, but it is fairly clear in this--a non-fiction work--that he has many of the racist attitudes of his time, regarding not just the Hawaiians, but also the Chinese and other races. In fairness, one should point out that he is pretty negative on a lot of white men as well, going back in Hawaiian history as far as Captain Cook--which is about as far back as one can go in that archipelago's written history.

I found a couple of Twain's turns of phrase particularly timely, though. In his letter of May 23, 1866, he is describing the sorts of men who serve in legislatures, and says, "Few men of first-class ability can afford to let their affairs go to ruin while they fool away their time in legislatures for months on a stretch. . . . But your chattering, one-horse village lawyer likes it, and your solemn ass from the cow counties, who don't know the Constitution from the Lord's Prayer, enjoys it, and these you will always find in the assembly." And later he describes a debate on a motion as "wandering further and further from the question before the House, and quacking about stuff that had no more to do with the subject under discussion than the Decalogue has got to do with the Declaration of Independence." These days, one might claim that a lot of politicians seem to be suffering from these same confusions.

To order Mark Twain's Letters from Hawaii from amazon.com, click here.


THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER by Mark Twain:
CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN by Mark Twain:
LETTERS FROM THE EARTH by Mark Twain:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/04/2005]

"Eternal Rest sounds comforting in the pulpit. . . . Well, you try it once, and see how heavy time will hang on your hands." (Mark Twain, CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN)

Mark Twain had very little use for organized religion, and this comes through fairly clearly in two of his novellas that I just read, THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER (ISBN 0-486-27069-6) and CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN (ISBN 1-583-96053-8). The former is set in the 16th century in Austria; the latter in an unspecified time in Heaven. However, one may suppose the time is equivalent to when Twain was writing, which would be 1868, even though he waited forty years to publish it. And the place is described as that part of Heaven corresponding to New Jersey. Really. (And THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER was not published until several years after Twain's death.)

The "mysterious stranger" of the story of that title is Satan, who delights not only in tempting people, but also in pointing out that what seems like good is really evil, and vice versa. As in many of his works, Twain examines the notion that what may appear to be good luck is just the opposite: a man may be rescued from drowning only to spend the next forty years paralyzed, or may become a murderer and bring misery to others. (And conversely, someone who dies may be spared that future.) People are vain and cruel and self-centered. The ending, however, is even more nihilstic and bitter than the rest of the story, and represents perhaps the peak (or would it be the nadir?) in Twain's pessimism.

CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN is more light-hearted, although Twain still takes plenty of shots at organized religion. Many are on the level of the old story about a new arrival being taken past the building with the Jews, and the one with the Baptists, and so on, but when they go to pass the one with the Catholics, his guide whispers, "Quiet while we're passing here--they think they're the only ones here." Twain does not use this specific joke, but the style is similar. He addresses people's beliefs that in Heaven you have a halo, wings, and a harp; that you will meet all your relatives, as well as the Patriarchs; that you will be this age or that; and so on. Twain examines these ideas with the same sort of rational, and at times mathematical, approach that one sees in such recent articles as why Heaven is actually hotter than Hell. (It has something to do with a description of Heaven having the brightness of a large number of suns or something.)

LETTERS FROM THE EARTH (ISBN 0-060-92105-6), a collection of similar material containing "Letters from the Earth", "The Papers of the Adam Family", "Letter to the Earth", "and other unrelated works, was not published until a half a century after Twain's death, and goes onto my list of books to read "real soon now". (See for the story of how these came to be withheld for so long.) Also related in theme, though far less pessimistic, are "Extracts from Adam's Diary" and "Eve's Diary". Note that while Twain may have been negative on organized religion, he was a great admirer of faith. In such works as THE INNOCENTS ABROAD, he could deride the former while respecting the latter. The one biography he wrote was a very favorable biography of Joan of Arc, a girl of faith not well served by the organized Church.

Note: Most of the books I mention are available in various collections of Twain's works, and also--because they are in public domain--free on line in Project Gutenberg and elsewhere. (CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN is sometimes called AN EXTRACT FROM CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN, though whenever I see that it seems to be the complete text that Twain wrote.) "Letters from the Earth" and other related works that appeared with it in the 1962 Bernard DeVoto edition seem to surface on-line from time to time as well.

To order The Mysterious Stranger from amazon.com, click here.


To order Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven from amazon.com, click here.


To order Letters from the Earth from amazon.com, click here.


WHAT IS MAN? by Mark Twain:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/25/2003]

I'm gradually working my way through Mark Twain's writings. It was easy enough to get and read all his novels, and some of his non-fiction (though perhaps JOAN OF ARC straddles the two), but a lot of his shorter pieces are more difficult to find. Yes, there are volumes titled "The Complete Essays" and "The Complete Short Stories", but those titles are not accurate. So I6m gradually picking up the Harper and Brothers edition of "The Complete Mark Twain"--volumes such as "Europe and Elsewhere", "In Defense of Harriet Shelley", "Mark Twain's Notebook", "Mark Twain's Speeches", "Sketches Old and New", and "What Is Man?" The title piece of the latter is a long Socratic dialogue dealing with the mind-body problem--not the sort of thing one would expect to find Twain writing about. And the end-piece is another long work, this one an essay, "Is Shakespeare Dead?", explaining that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays, or at least that Shakespeare didn't. Also included are essays on history, travel, English, and the death of his daughter Jean. All in all, it's a very varied collection, well worth reading. (I'm sure the pieces are available on-line, since Twain is well past copyright, even with the massive extensions Congress keeps voting.)

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WHO IS MARK TWAIN? by Mark Twain:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/02/2011]

WHO IS MARK TWAIN? by Mark Twain (ISBN 978-0-06-173500-4) is a collection of previously unpublished works (as of 2009) by Mark Twain. Well, mostly previously unpublished--three appeared in small press publications (two of which I have, so I had seen them before), and several have been quoted at least in part elsewhere. In particular, I am sure I have read parts of "The Missionary in World-Politics" before:

"We regard as a base creature the man who deserts his flag and turns against his country, either when his country is in the right or when she is in the wrong. We hold in detestation the person who tries to beguile him to do it. We say loyalty is not a matter of argument but of feeling--its seat is in the heart, not the brain. I do not know why we respect missionaries. Perhaps it is because they have not intruded here from Turkey or China or Polynesia to break our hearts by sapping away our children's faith and winning them to the worship of alien gods. We have lacked the opportunity to find out how a parent feels to see his child deriding and blaspheming the religion of its ancestors. We have lacked the opportunity of hearing a foreign missionary who has been forced upon us against our will lauding his own saints and gods and saying harsh things about ours. If, some time or other, we shall have these experiences, it will probably go hard with the missionary."

Twain goes on in this vein, reminding one of Ted Chiang's "Hell Is the Absence of God" in his depiction of how the convert is expected to accept that his unbaptized children who have died are in Hell and he is supposed to abandon them there.

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