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Mark Twain Speaks for Himself

Paul Fatout, ed. Rpt. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1997. xxi + 244 pp. paper. $14.95. Orig. pub. 1978.

This informative collection of diverse newspaper articles, sketches, and memoirs reminds us of Samuel Clemens's productive career, his uncanny insight into human nature, and the complex, multifaceted persona of his greatest creation, Mark Twain. In assembling various so-called "fugitive pieces" (xiv) from Twain's journalistic work, the late Paul Fatout provides valuable insight into Clemens's fervent efforts to create and maintain the iconoclastic persona of Mark Twain.

Culling articles, sketches, editorials, and other materials from Twain's work on such publications as the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, the San Francisco Golden Era, the New York Daily Graphic, the Hartford Courant, and the New York Times, Fatout presents an intriguing survey of Twain's career-long work in print journalism. In these pieces, published together here for the first time, Fatout offers us the opportunity to survey Twain's development as a journalist, satirist, and humorist over many decades. Rather than employ the pieces to support a theory about the Clemens-Twain dichotomy - the topic of "split personality" that, as Fatout notes, has intrigued critics and biographers for years - Fatout lets the entries speak for themselves.

Fatout's collection, first published in 1978 and available for the first time in a paperback edition, is a valuable addition to any collection of critical and biographical works on Twain. The book's illustration of Twain's roles as writer, journalist, and observer of human foibles - as well as his more amorphous role as American icon - complements such earlier landmark works as Albert Bigelow Paine's three-volume Mark Twain: A Biography, the Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1912), Justin Kaplan's Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography (1966), Edgar Lee Masters's Mark Twain: A Portrait (1966), Edward Wagenknecht's Mark Twain: The Man and His Work (1967), and Van Wyck Brooks's crucial text, The Ordeal Of Mark Twain (1970). Fatout's book effectively demonstrates Twain's textualization of the Clemens-Twain dichotomy, which has generated much critical and biographical discourse since Twain's death in 1910.

In presenting these "little-known efforts, oral and written, out of which the reader, if so minded, may construct any hypothesis he chooses" (xiv), Fatout places the pieces in chronological order. Spanning the vast amount of time between Twain's first days as an enthusiastic and imaginative reporter for the Territorial Enterprise and the last few years of the author's life, the entries reflect Twain's remarkable literary output and, in Fatout's terms, provide a "sporadic glimpse of almost his entire career as writer and talker" (xiv). The seventy-six entries - ranging in length from two or three paragraphs to four or five pages (the longest piece being a twelve-page memoir of Marjorie Fleming, one of Twain's beloved Angel Fish) - are preceded by Fatout's detailed and insightful notes throughout the book. In these notes, Fatout offers concise, useful explanations of biographical and sociohistorical contexts, illuminating many relevant and significant facets of Twain's artistic methodology in the process. In addition to this background information and the publication data pertaining to each entry, the editor occasionally offers a thoughtful, brief evaluation of the tone or style of the pieces, which adds a certain charm to the text. For example, Fatout notes that the aforementioned Fleming memoir is "informative, gentle, and affectionate" (225), and he states that the entry, "Mark Twain in a Railroad Car," published in the Jackson, California Amador Dispatch on December 30, 1871, reveals "a tongue-in-cheek spirit of misdirection that no doubt made the editors hospitable to the tall tale impulses of Mark Twain" (65). Beginning with "The Indian Troubles on the Overland Route," one of the author's earliest contributions to the Territorial Enterprise (published on October 1, 1862, before the creation of the Mark Twain nom de plume) and closing with "Marjorie Fleming, the Wonder Child" (published in Harper's Bazaar in December, 1909), the collection attests to the longevity and substance of Twain's journalistic output.

Throughout, Twain's vivacious humor is in good supply. In describing being robbed in "Mark Twain in New York" (published in the Auburn, California Stars and Stripes on June 23, 1870), Twain writes: "It fairly curdled my blood to hear [the robber] swear such awful swears. I never had my blood curdled before, so I put some in a bottle to look at" (64). In "Mark Twain's Baby" (published in the Nevada City, California Daily Transcript, January 12, 1881), the author concludes a piece on the trials of fatherhood by telling the editors "if you will start a society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Fathers, I will write you a whole book" (126).

The entries reflect a diversity of genres and topics, demonstrating Twain's talents and the complexities of the Twain persona. The genres of the pieces include newspaper stories, commentaries, a "pseudo-obituary" ("Mark Twain on 'The Unreliable,'" published in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, and reprinted in the Marysville, California Daily Appeal, February 28, 1863), editorials, freelance articles published under other names (such as S. Browne Jones), addresses ("Mark Twain Accepts Honorary Degree," published in the Hartford Courant, June 29, 1888), letters to the editor, memoirs (such as "Races on the Mississippi," published in the New York Times, March 31, 1903 - a moving recollection of Twain's days as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River), travelogues, sketches, fabricated interviews, exposees of political corruption, satires, messages to the public ("Mark Twain's Farewell," published in the New York Daily Graphic, April 22, 1873, shortly before the author's departure for England), observations, thinly veiled hoaxes ("Mark Twain as a Presidential Candidate," published in the New York Evening Post, June 9, 1879), fictional stories ("Two Little Tales," published in Century Magazine, November, 1901), and confessions (such as "A Humorist's Confession," published in the New York Times, November 26, 1905, in which the author confesses, "Whenever I've got some work to do I go to bed" [1941).

The topics of the pieces are equally as diverse as the genres and styles, ranging from the serious and the universal to the trivial and the commonplace. Topics include the telephone and its annoyances ("Mark Twain and the Telephone," published in the New York Times, December 23, 1906), sexual seduction and consent ("Why Not Abolish It?" Harper's Weekly, May 2, 1903), hazing practices at West Point ("Mark Twain on Hazing," the New York Times, January 20, 1901), copyright laws, Artemus Ward, presidential campaigns, England, Bret Harte, the author's appreciation of the Millicent Library in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, work habits ("Mark Twain on His Methods of Work," the Bombay Gazette, January 23, 1896), Shakespeare, crime in the western territories, travel by railroad, travel by sea, children, and laziness.

The collection is a valuable contribution to Twain scholarship. The various articles, sketches, and accounts reflect the numerous and diverse roles that Twain played throughout his life and career, including, as Fatout notes, the roles of "observer and reporter, reflective moralist, teacher and preacher, advocate of causes, teller of tall tales, hoaxer, crusader for copyright, [and] industrious writer of letters to the editor" (xiv). These works - many of which are obscure and rarely seen in print - show the many aspects of Twain's multidimensional persona. In these entries we see Twain the public man, Twain the private citizen, Twain the celebrity, Twain the philosopher, Twain the nonconformist. The pieces demonstrate the author's development as a journalist, writer, humorist, and social commentator.

Overall, these "fugitive pieces" support Fatout's assertion in the preface that Twain's complex persona defies easy categorization. Whether denouncing reckless automobile drivers ("overspeeders"), commenting on the details of copyright law, or recommending himself as a presidential candidate ("I recommend myself as a safe man - a man who starts from the basis of total depravity and proposes to be fiendish to the last" [117]), Twain remains the elusive, endearing, hilarious, and poignant artist.

Richard Williamson Muskingum College

Notes on Contributors

Charles Altieri ( teaches modern literature and literary theory at the University of California, Berkeley. His Subjective Agency develops the expressivist model on which these arguments are based, and his Postmodernism Now, published in Fall 1998, takes up questions of how postmodern texts and painting involve ethical questions.

Wayne C. Booth, Distinguished Service Professor of English Emeritus of the University of Chicago, thinks of himself as always having taught "English" as a cross between philosophy and rhetoric. His books include The Rhetoric of Fiction (now available in eight languages), A Rhetoric of Irony, Critical Understanding: The Powers and Limits of Pluralism, The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction, and For the Love of It: Amateuring and Its Rivals (Forthcoming, 1999).

G. Thomas Couser (, professor of English at Hofstra University, is the author of American Autobiography: The Prophetic Mode (Massachusetts, 1979), Altered Egos: Authority in American Autobiography (Oxford, 1989) and Recovering Bodies: Illness, Disability, and Life Writing (Wisconsin, 1997). His current project focuses on the ethics of life writing.

Todd Davis (, guest co-editor of this issue of Style, is associate professor of English at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana, where he teaches creative writing, film, and American literature. He has published or forthcoming essays in such journals as Critique, Studies in Short Fiction, Mississippi Quarterly, Literature/Film Quarterly and Yeats Eliot Review. His poems have appeared in numerous literary reviews, including The Red Cedar Review, The Worcester Review, Yankee, Appalachia, Blueline, The Journal of Kentucky Studies, Image, and Aethlon.

Marshall Gregory (mgregory@thomas.butler) is the Harry Ice Professor of English and former department head at Butler University. He is the co-author (with Wayne Booth) of The Harper & Row Reader and The Harper & Row Rhetoric, the former president of the Association of General and Liberal Studies, the former president of the Indiana Teachers of Writing, and the former national director of the Lilly Endowment Post-Doctoral Teaching Awards Program. Gregory publishes and speaks frequently on issues in literary criticism, pedagogy, and liberal education. Gregory has recently published articles in, among other journals, Narrative, Modern Language Studies, CCTE, and College English, and has just finished a book manuscript on ethical criticism, The Sound of Story: Ethics, Fiction, Criticism.

Kathleen Lundeen ( has written articles on Blake, Keats, and Austen, as well as on film and intermedia art. She is an Associate Professor of English at Western Washington University.

Adam Zachary Newton is Associate Professor of English, and member of the Committee on Comparative Literature and the programs in Middle Eastern Studies and Jewish Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Narrative Ethics (Harvard UP, 1995), Facing Black and Jew: Literature As Public Space in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge UP, 1999), and most recently The Fence and the Neighbor: Emmanuel Levinas, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, and Israel Among the Nations (Forthcoming). He has published articles in SAQ, Prospects, Social Identities, Narrative, and several essay-collections.

James Phelan, Professor and Chair of English at Ohio State University, is the editor of Narrative and the author of several books, the most recent of which is Narrative as Rhetoric. He is currently writing a book on the rhetoric and ethics of first-person narration.

Daniel R. Schwarz ( is a Professor of English at Cornell University, where he has received Cornell's Russell Award for Distinguished Teaching. His books include Reconfiguring Modernism: Explorations in the Relationship Between Modern Art and Modern Literature (1997), Narrative and Representation in Wallace Stevens (1993), The Case for a Humanistic Poetics (1991), The Transformation of the English Novel, 1890-1930 (1989; revised 1995) Reading Joyce's "Ulysses" (1987); The Humanistic Heritage: Critical Theories of the English Novel from James to Hillis Miller (1986); Conrad: The Later Fiction (1982); Conrad: "Almayer's Folly" through "Under Western Eyes" (1980); and Disraeli's Fiction (1979). He has edited The Dead (1994) and The Secret Sharer (1997) in the Bedford Case Studies in Contemporary Literature Series, and is co-editor of Narrative and Culture (1994). He has directed nine NEH seminars, and has lectured widely in the United States and abroad.

Kenneth Womack (Guest Co-Editor, is Assistant Professor of English at Penn State Altoona. In addition to co-authoring Recent Work in Critical Theory, 1989-1995: An Annotated Bibliography and co-editing Nineteenth-Century British Book-Collectors and Bibliographers, he has published articles in the Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature, Biography, The International Fiction Review, Style, Literature/Film Quarterly, Cahiers Victoriens et Edouardiens, Bulletin of Bibliography, and The Library Chronicle. He also works as a Correspondent for the World Shakespeare Bibliography and serves as Associate Editor of George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies.
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Author:Williamson, Richard
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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