The Twain Shall Not Meet

18 Jan

This past year has seen an interesting expansion of the Mark Twain bibliography, not the least of which is Twain’s post humously published, unexpurgated autobiography (which surprisingly is in Amazon’s top 25.) And then there is the literary revision(exorcism) of the so called N word from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I say so-called because there appears to be great squeamishness about actually saying or printing the word nigger. Master story teller Lorrie Moore effectively trashes the Finn Revision (and does not miss an opportunity to take a pole at literary sacred cow To Kill A Mockingbird.

There have been books about Mark Twain’s other woman, his final years, his transformation as he journeyed West and a volume entitled God’s Fool, and this oddity—Twain’s Feast: Searching for America’s Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens, to list a few. One tome not to be overlooked in the current mini Twain boom is Twain scholar Joe Fulton’s The Reconstruction of Mark Twain:How a Confederate Bushwhacker Became the Lincoln of Our Literature (Louisiana State University Press).

Fulton’s thesis is simple and well illustrated—Clemens/Twain served asa second lieutenant in a Confederate militia, for two weeks, raising the issue of his loyalty to the Confederate cause and requiring a drawing out of the long and winding road along which Twain moved from being a pro slavery secessionist to being racially enlightened and our so called “The Lincoln of our Literature”. Fulton discovers and explicates hitherto ignored texts to chart Twain’s conversion or should we say enlightenment. Its a pretty good story and far more interesting than the stale notion that Clemens/Twain was always a paragon of enlightenment and rectitude. Something significant that famed Twain acolyte Bernard DeVoto seemingly overlooked.

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