Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Teaching Huckleberry Finn by John Nogowski

Editor’s Note:CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

Teaching Huckleberry Finn: Why and How to Present the Controversial Classic in the High School Classroom. By John Nogowski. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2018. Pp. 179. Paper, 5-7/8″ x 8-3/4″. $35.00. ISBN 978-1-4766-7428-5.

On the May 26, 2019, installment of CBS News Sunday Morning, in a segment called “On the River,” Lee Cowan reported on Tim DeRoche’s The Ballad of Huck and Miguel: A Novel (2018; Redtail Press, with illustrations by Daniel Gonzalez), a rewrite of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Proclaimed “a Huck Finn for today,” the novel was highlighted for its contemporary reimagining of Clemens’s classic. DeRoche explained that he sought to tell a story true to the original novel while making the text relevant to and for the twenty-first century (achieved most immediately by changing the Jim character to an undocumented immigrant and moving action to Los Angeles). In the segment, Cowan offers a context for the new work by discussing the original novel, explaining some of its initial readers “didn’t find it such a charming tale” and declaring “it’s now required reading in most schools.” This recent release and the recent news item show the continued relevance of Huckleberry Finn, but Cowan’s assertion that the book is required reading shows a limited realization about the current state of Mark Twain reading in schools.

In the current world of K-12 education, there are few texts that are literally “required reading in most schools.” Plenty of individual schools require texts for their students, and some works, of course, appear more often than others. However in today’s world, it is no longer the norm to expect that certain books be taught annually across the board at all schools. And despite the label of “Common Core,” students do not necessarily navigate a common curricular path through the contemporary classroom. The Common Core for English/Language Arts standards provides would-be teachers with lists of “exemplar texts,” and the use of these texts varies depending on both teacher preference and text availability. (The list of exemplar texts does promote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a text for middle school students, but its sequel does not appear on the equivalent list for secondary student reading.)

The selection of texts in the modern high school classroom is influenced by many factors. In the post-No Child Left Behind classroom, standardized testing remains dominant, and various forms of testing and other school requirements regularly cut time from teaching, making the choice of those literary works that are to be studied critical. However, even after factoring in the available time for a specific work to be taught, teachers then have to consider the availability and condition of copies (never guaranteed in an era with consistently limited resources, even with the move to e-texts in many schools); the curricular unit plans that will be used to teach those texts; the forms of assessment to be administered; and how well received the selection will be by the students, parents, and administration. With all of these factors at play, texts that are perceived as difficult and challenging are often avoided, and those works which evoke controversy are more and more regularly avoided by teachers as they plan their lessons. All of these issues are brought forth in John Nogowski’s Teaching Huckleberry Finn: Why and How to Present the Controversial Classic in the High School Classroom (2018, McFarland). Nogowski recounts his experiences, challenges, and triumphs teaching Huck in a Florida high school (although not necessarily in that order).

Readers who are removed from the high school experience may find some of the account surprising, but Nogowski does a good job painting a thorough version of his experience in a few pages. His book is a quick and appealing read driven and enhanced by his clear passion for his work in the classroom and for his students. Nogowski starts his preface by downplaying his own scholarship, saying it “might not be termed academic mainstream” (1), but this book is clearly meant to be a pedagogical approach to the use of the novel and not an academic treatise. Readers should approach Teaching Huckleberry Finn as a case study in teaching practices. Given that expectation, Nogowski is perhaps overstating the value he sees in teaching Clemens’s novel since those coming to this text likely are already convinced it should be taught. But, as he reveals throughout his work, there is still a need to argue for the teaching of this work with some school stakeholders. Unfortunately, some school administrators see the novel as too controversial a text to be worth the potential challenges. In the final chapter of this book, Nogowski details meeting an administrative roadblock after seven years of teaching Clemens’s novel. Despite his documented success reaching historically struggling students through Mark Twain and finding that students connect with Huck’s “street smarts” and quick thinking (66), Nogowski was blocked from continuing to use Twain’s novel once he was assigned to teach an Advanced Placement course. Apparently, he moved out from under the radar when he drew this teaching assignment, and the administration, which should have been aware of his teaching throughout the years, suddenly became wary of his text selection.

Clearly, Nogowski has both experience and expertise with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. However, his efforts to solidify his own ethos threaten at times to overstep, as he declares that, despite the fact he cannot and does not call himself a scholar, “I doubt there are many educators in America who have taken Twain’s work […] into the places I have” (2). There are a few moments early in the text which Nogowski seems to try a balancing act, disclaiming his expertise as a scholar while proclaiming his authority as a practical teacher. These attempts threaten to disrupt his purpose because of distractions. Luckily once he gets into the discussion of his actual teaching (which starts as early as the first true chapter), they stop. Having been a sportswriter before entering teaching, Nogowski knows how to write economically and engagingly, and his charming style enhances the overall work. Although one might presume a limited and very specific readership for a book of this type, any reader could pick up this work and both follow and enjoy it.

…continue reading Hugh Davis’s review on Mark Twain Forum.

Copyright © 2019 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Mark Twain’s Literary Resources: A Reconstruction of His Library and Reading (Volume 1) by Alan Gribben

Editor’s Note:CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

Mark Twain’s Literary Resources: A Reconstruction of His Library and Reading. Volume 1. By Alan Gribben. NewSouth, 2019. Pp. 350. $60.00. ISBN 978-1-58838-343-3 (cloth). ISBN 978-1-60306-453-8 (ebook).

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac Donnell

Anyone familiar with Twain studies of the last four decades knows that the most eagerly anticipated work in the field is the revised and enlarged edition of Alan Gribben’s Mark Twain’s Library: A Reconstruction (1980). The first edition itself was eagerly anticipated: Six years before it appeared, Hamlin Hill’s famous must-read essay “Who Killed Mark Twain?” appeared in American Literary Realism, where Hill predicted that “source and influence hunters will have a field-day tracking through its encyclopedic catalog of volumes the humorist owned and annotated.” Published in an edition of 500 copies, nearly all were sold to libraries and the book quickly went out of print, driving the price for used copies as high as $450, putting it out of the reach of most Twainians. This was especially unfortunate because the immense utility of the work–the result of its ingenious conception and meticulous execution–had advanced the direction and scope of Twain studies more than any other work published since. It may be counted as one of the handful of essential reference works on Twain, along with Paine’s (albeit flawed) biography of Twain, the Mark Twain Project editions of Twain’s Letters and Autobiography, and R. Kent Rasmussen’s Mark Twain A to Z.

The first of the three volumes of the new edition has now been published; the second and third volumes will appear later this year and in 2020, and will be reviewed separately as they are published. Those second and third volumes will contain the catalogue of the books Twain actually owned or read, describing their editions, annotations, and ownership markings, and their influence on Twain’s writings. This first volume sets the stage for the two volumes to follow, and must be read first in order to fully understand Twain’s library, how he used it, and how best to apply that knowledge to any study of his creative process.

This first volume gathers together twenty-five of Alan Gribben’s essays about the formation, influence, and dispersal of Mark Twain’s library, along with a new introduction by Gribben, a foreword by R. Kent Rasmussen, and an expanded Critical Bibliography that nicely captures the crowded shelf of studies based upon Twain’s readings. The critical bibliography begins with Paine’s 1912 biography which foolishly projected Twain’s “reading interests during his final four years onto other periods of his life . . .” (269). The critical bibliography even includes a 1924 master’s thesis that was the earliest guide to Twain’s reading.

Gribben’s essays, published over the last forty-seven years tell one fascinating tale after another. He describes Twain’s “Library of Literary Hogwash” which consisted of books so bad that they were relished by Twain as “exquisitely bad.” He describes Twain’s uncanny ability to read sense into Robert Browning’s dense poetry, the evocative story behind Susy Clemens’s set of Shakespeare, Tom Sawyer’s (and America’s) falling under the spell of romantic adventure stories, the literary knowledge on display in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s favorite books, Twain’s earliest literary exposures, the popular myth of Twain as an unlettered author and how Twain himself promoted that public illusion, Twain’s familiarity with the Arthurian legends, Twain’s debt to “boy’s books” when composing his own greatest works, the ways certain books influenced particular writings by Twain, and how Twain’s reading habits and tastes evolved over time. Written during five decades, these accounts interconnect, and they are all page-turners, especially when Gribben describes his adventures in tracking down Twain’s widely dispersed library. He tracks down nearly 100 books from Twain’s library that had been given to Katy Leary. Another book from Twain’s library shows up through interlibrary loan. Forgeries are discovered in public and private collections. The maddening story of how Twain’s library was scattered in all directions is balanced by the gratifying story of how much of it has been recovered and preserved.

In addition to enlarging the inventory of surviving books and identifying the specific editions of the books listed in the various sales of books from Twain’s library, Gribben has also identified much new evidence of Twain’s readings in Twain’s own writings. In his writings Twain often mentions authors or books by name, but he more often alludes to people or events, both fictional and nonfictional, that reflect his own reading. Of course, Gribben is not the only person who has identified such sources, and he includes the findings of many others’ work, all reflected in his extensive Critical Bibliography or in the individual catalogue entries.

Twain’s reading habits had already expanded beyond the horizons of Hannibal when, as a teenager in 1852, he read an issue of the Philadelphia Courier that gave him the idea of writing an essay about Hannibal that he published in that paper a short time later. He would remain a daily reader of newspapers for the rest of his life. Thanks to the newspaper exchange system, he read papers from all over the country every day, seeking fodder to fill the pages of the newspapers where he was employed early in his career, and later as a newspaper owner and editor. As a young man he read obscure short-lived comic journals, and all his life he read the major magazines of his day. He was photographed with piles of magazines and newspapers, sometimes reading a magazine or paper whose name and date can be identified.

Twain was a life-long patron of libraries, taking advantage of two printers’ association libraries (one held 4,000 volumes) while employed as a type-setter in New York City in 1853. He was awarded a sterling silver key in return for officiating at a library opening in England, and he befriended Andrew Carnegie, who established more public libraries in the United States than any other library benefactor in US history. Twain himself gave books from his own library to libraries several times in his life, most notably establishing a public library in Redding, Connecticut, with a large donation of books from his own shelves.

Mark Twain was as much a reader as a writer, a bibliophile and connoisseur who appreciated fine printing and elegant bindings, and also an avid reader who literally consumed books, sometimes tearing or cutting them to pieces. Twain’s copy of Francis Galton’s Finger Prints (1892) does not survive, but he clipped out the illustration of fingerprints from the title-page of his copy and sent it to his publisher when brainstorming an idea for the title-page design for Pudd’nhead Wilson. On the other hand, the books he gave his wife and daughters were often sumptuously bound with heavily gilt full leather bindings with silk end papers, like the edition of Browning he gave his daughter Susy, or a set of Sir Walter Scott he gave his wife. A copy of Bayard Taylor’s Home Ballads (1882) that Olivia Clemens gave her mother on behalf of Jean and Clara (Susy was then old enough to select her own gift for her grandmother) was elaborately bound in leather with striking bird’s-eye maple panels inset on the front and back covers. Although Twain sometimes destroyed books in the service of his art, beautiful examples of the book arts adorned the shelves of the Clemens family library and were prized.

….continue reading Kevin Mac Donnell’s review on the Mark Twain Forum

Copyright © 2019 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: SeaWolf Press Mark Twain 100th Anniversary Collection by Mark Twain

Editor’s Note:CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

Mark Twain 100th Anniversary Collection. By Mark Twain. Orinda, Calif.: SeaWolf Press, 2018. 10 titles to date. Paper, 6″ x 9″. $6.95 to $15.95 per vol.

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by R. Kent Rasmussen

Recent decades have seen the publication of many facsimile reprints of Mark Twain books–both individual titles and large sets. The most ambitious of these reprints has been Oxford University Press’s 29-volume facsimile set of American first editions that were originally published during Mark Twain’s lifetime. First issued in uniform hardback volumes in 1996, the Oxford set was edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin, who invited more than 60 noted authors and scholars contribute new introductions, afterwords, and other editorial notes to the books. Each volume contains photo-facsimile pages of its title’s first-edition text along with as many as 50 to 100 pages of completely new material that make the books a uniquely valuable resource. (For more on the Oxford Mark Twain, see my Forum review at <http://www.twainweb.net/reviews/omt1-rev.html>.

In 2010, Oxford reissued its Mark Twain set in a paperback edition. Around that same time, a company called the Bradford Exchange began issuing expensive, full-facsimile replicas of first editions on a subscription basis. It began with 15 titles, later adding 6 more with so little fanfare one might not even know they existed, were it not for their occasional appearance on eBay. By “full-facsimile,” I mean reprints that match original editions both inside and out in almost every detail, including physical size. The Oxford facsimiles differ in being issued in uniform-size volumes and in duplicating only the books’ textual pages, whose sizes were adjusted to fit the edition’s standard dimensions.

Other publishers had sold full-facsimile editions of selected Mark Twain titles before Bradford, but that company’s books carried facsimile reproduction to an even higher level by duplicating every physical aspect of each book–dimensions; paper; bindings; cover designs; embossing; and gilding. Indeed, the company carried duplication so far that its books don’t contain a single date or word identifying them as reprints–a fact that may tempt ignorant or unscrupulous dealers to try passing them off as genuine first editions.

Now, yet another ambitious reprint edition is coming out, and it is something quite different than earlier reprints. Last year, SeaWolf Press, a small company based in Orinda, California, began issuing Mark Twain reprints in what it calls the “Mark Twain 100th Anniversary Collection” (a curiously delayed allusion to the 2010 anniversary of the author’s 1910 death). SeaWolf plans to reprint about 45 titles, including several not in any previous uniform edition, such as Mark Twain’s (Burlesque) AutobiographyA True StoryPunch, Brothers, Punch!; and a number of post-1910 Harper first editions. The company has already published reprints of books by other 19th century authors, including Jules Verne and Robert Lewis Stevenson, as well as 50 Jack London titles–the last scarcely a surprise, incidentally, considering the Bay Area company’s name.

Sturdily bound paperback volumes sold primarily through Amazon.com, the SeaWolf books are manufactured by Amazon’s print-on-demand service, using acid-free and moderately heavy matte paper that has a nice feel. Like Oxford’s paper-bound edition, the SeaWolf volumes are uniform in size but somewhat larger. Each 6″ x 9″ volume is about a half-inch taller and an eighth-inch narrower than its Oxford counterpart and is also substantially thicker, despite having fewer pages. SeaWolf books also differ from the Oxford books in several other ways.

SeaWolf books resemble facsimile reprints in physical appearance but are not facsimiles. Each book has completely reset type and new page layouts designed to fit the set’s uniform dimensions. Resetting type to reprint books is not unusual, of course. What makes these books different is that their pages are designed to mimic those of the first editions. They use the same or very similar typefaces and contain all the original illustrations. SeaWolf’s success in emulating first editions is especially impressive in volumes such as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which has numerous pages with text wrapped closely around irregularly shaped illustrations. I should also add that my cursory examination of the texts found no typesetting errors.

….continue reading R. Kent Rasmussen’s review on the Mark Twain Forum

Copyright © 2019 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Gears and God: Technocratic Fiction, Faith, and Empire in Mark Twain’s America by Nathaniel Williams

Editor’s Note: CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

Professor Williams discussed his upcoming book as part of the Fall 2017 “Trouble Begins” Lecture Series.

  • Nathaniel Williams, “Mark Twain and the Inventor Fiction Boom: Technology Meets American Conceit, 1876-1910” (October 11, 2017 – Quarry Farm Barn)

Gears and God: Technocratic Fiction, Faith, and Empire in Mark Twain’s America. By Nathaniel Williams. University of Alabama Press, 2018. Pp. 206. Hardcover $44.95. ISBN 978-0-8173-1984-7.

Mark Twain’s relation to technology, religion, and imperialism has been examined by a number of scholars, especially in recent years, but these topics have not been examined together, and they have certainly not been examined in light of proto-science fiction dime novels. In Gears and God, Nathaniel Williams has done just that. While only one of his study’s six chapters focuses solely on Twain, his thoroughly researched book sheds light on Twain by placing him in a context that has been previously ignored. The result is a study that succeeds in opening up new vistas in Twain criticism.

Williams’s introduction, “This is Religion and Totally Different,” relates Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894) to the “boy inventor” dime novels of the time, over 300 of them, which melded travel, technology, and Christian exceptionalism. Williams states that he wants to accomplish two things: “reevaluation of the portrayal of empire that has pervaded earlier, genre-exclusive studies of these texts, and a consideration of their role in larger nineteenth-century conversations about science and technology’s impact on religious faith” (5). In six chapters, he achieves those two goals.

Ch.1, “Inventing the Technocratic Exploration Tale: God, Gears, and Empire,” examines how “American dime-novel invention stories performed significant cultural work in the United States” (13). Science fiction scholars have called this dime novel sub-genre “Edisonades,” after the inventor, but Williams adds the term “technocratic exploration tales” (14), emphasizing technocracy as a building block of empire. He shows how these texts both justified and undermined American imperialism.

In his second chapter, “Building Imperialists: The Steam Man, ‘Used Up’ Man, and the Man in the Moon,” Williams covers the early development of the sub-genre, looking back to Washington Irving’s 1809 tale of an invasion of the Earth by the Moon, and to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Man That Was Used Up” (1839), about a soldier who has lost his limbs in the Indian Wars, and through the use of prosthetic devices becomes what science fiction scholars have called the first cyborg in fiction. His overview culminates with an 1868 dime novel by Edward S. Ellis, The Steam Man of the Prairies, which has been accepted as the first American science fiction novel. This early text set the prototype for the genre: a boy inventor and his steam-driven automaton, embarking on travel and adventure to conquer the West.

Ch. 3, “Imagining Inventors: Frank Reade and Dime-Novel Technocratic Exploration,” focuses on boy inventor Frank Reade Jr., the subject of many dime novels, written by Luis Philip Senarens, a prolific Cuban American writer. Frank Reade Jr. uses technology to travel to distant places, interfere in events, and right wrongs, which Williams aligns with Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. A few of the titles give a sense of the inventions and the locales: Frank Reade, Jr., and His Steam WonderFrank Reade, Jr., and His Electric BoatFrank Reade, Jr., and His Air-ShipFrank Reade, Jr.’s Great Electric TricycleFrank Reade, Jr., and His Electric Prairie Schooner; or Fighting the Mexican Horse ThievesAdrift in Africa; or Frank Reade, Jr., among the Ivory Hunters with His New Electric Wagon, and Frank Reade, Jr.’s Electric Buckboard; or, Thrilling Adventures in North Australia. His analysis of the Frank Reade Jr. novels chronicles the shift from American settings to international ones, including coverage of the Cuban Revolution, with Senarens siding with Cuba. One reason for the uproar over Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Williams argues, was the perceived deleterious effects of dime novels on American youth. Williams moves to religious matters in his fourth chapter, “Discovering Biblical Literalism: Frank Reade Redux,” documenting a turn toward biblical issues: plots that found lost tribes and identified with conservative, literal interpretations of the Bible.

.continue reading John Bird’s review on The Mark Twain Forum

Copyright © 2018 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Mark Twain Among The Indians & Other Indigenous Peoples by Kerry Driscoll

Editor’s Note: CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

Professor Driscoll has given a number of lectures on the topic of Mark Twain’s response to indigenous populations.  Her lectures can be streamed and downloaded as part of our Trouble Begins Archives.  These lectures include:

  • Kerry Driscoll, “Mark Twain and the Native Other” (July 11, 2018 – The Park Church)
  • Kerry Driscoll, “Mark Twain, The Maori, and The Mystery of Livy’s Jade Pendant” (October 1, 2014 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Kerry Driscoll, “Mark Twain and the American Indian” (May 7, 1986)

Mark Twain among the Indians and Other Indigenous Peoples. By Kerry Driscoll. University of California Press, 2018. Pp. 448. Hardcover $95.00. ISBN 9780520279421 (hardcover). ISBN 9780520970663 (ebook).

An irksome puzzle has persisted through more than a century of Mark Twain scholarship. It has usually been avoided altogether, or at best it has been briefly touched upon by a handful of scholars. In her ground-breaking new study, Kerry Driscoll spells it out clearly: “While Twain’s view on blacks . . . [demonstrate] unequivocal growth away from the racism of his origins in the antebellum South, his representations of Indians do not follow a similarly redemptive arc. They are instead vexingly erratic and paradoxical, commingling antipathy and sympathy, fascination and visceral repugnance” (4). Driscoll credits scholars who have dealt briefly with Twain’s attitude toward America’s indigenous people–Ned Blackhawk, Louis J. Budd, Joseph Coulombe, Leslie Fiedler, Philip Foner, Max Geismer, Harold J. Kolb, and Jeffrey Steinbrink–and points out that they tend to fall into two camps that either idealize or vilify Native Americans. Both camps distort Twain’s own views by over-simplifying the issue. The truth is more complicated, and a book length study to explore these complications is long overdue.

Driscoll’s book is that much needed and long overdue study, and well worth the wait! “Mark Twain did not care for Indians. This book is an attempt to understand why” says Driscoll (3). Driscoll describes her approach as “chronological and geographical” (7) and she documents when and where Twain met Indians, when and where he read about them, when and where he heard about them, and when and where he wrote or spoke about them. She lays out her evidence like a prosecutor, challenges her own evidence, and in doing so avoids the overgeneralizations that have plagued previous brief studies that have touched on this topic. At one point the CIA looms large in her narrative, but more about that later. She also refutes the conventional notion that Twain’s animosity toward Indians was fiercest when he was out west and that it steadily modulated during his Hartford years. His views modulated at times, but his antagonism often erupted in later years, and at best settled into an antipathy toward Indians.

Driscoll makes clear that she does not intend to “defend or defame” Twain, and reminds us that “his intellectual journey–sprawling, untidy, incomplete–matters more than where he ultimately arrived” (13). It is an amazing journey, and if Driscoll’s account of it at times seems sprawling, untidy, or incomplete, it is only a reflection of Mark Twain himself, whose genius as a storyteller and brilliancy in capturing the voice of America is justly celebrated, but whose failure to grasp the humanity of Native Americans is a flaw that cannot be ignored.

The journey begins in Sam Clemens’s early years when he likely heard his mother Jane Clemens recite the story of her own grandmother’s survival of the “Montgomery Massacre” in Kentucky in 1781, in which her father and four other family members were killed, along with some neighbors in nearby cabins, and some of her playmates captured. Although some accounts of that first attack are contradictory, it is clear that after Jane Clemens’s grandmother married, she and her husband survived three more Indian attacks on the Kentucky frontier and she displayed clear symptoms of PTSD. Jane Clemens exerted enormous influence on young Sam, and Jane did not like Indians. Despite his family heritage, sixteen year old Sam romanticized Indians on par with James Fenimore Cooper when he wrote an account of Hannibal that he published in 1852, calling them “children of the forest” who once gave “the wild war-whoop” where Hannibal now stood, but were now “scattered abroad . . . far from the homes of their childhood and the graves of their fathers” (14). Likewise, Sam’s brother Orion expressed sympathy for the displaced Indians of the region just a few years later when he penned an essay about Keokuk for the town’s first directory which he printed while Sam was in his employ.

But the brothers’ attitude toward Indians did not remain in sync. During their years in Nevada, Orion continued to express sympathy for the local Indians, while Sam’s view evolved in the opposite direction. With the exception of a single letter, he viewed the local Indians as violent, ignorant, lazy, untrustworthy, and filthy “savages”–describing them with contempt, amusement, and sometimes pity (72-73). Orion would retain his sympathy for Indians for the rest of his life, but not even the charitable views of Sam’s friend William Wright (Dan De Quille) could soften Sam’s bias. Twain could even distinguish cultural differences between the local tribes while sustaining his prejudices toward all of them. As Driscoll observes at one point, Sam Clemens “sees, in other words, but does not comprehend” (74).

.continue reading Kevin Mac Donnell’s review on The Mark Twain Forum

Copyright © 2018 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

 

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Splittin’ The Raft by Scott Kaiser

Editor’s Note: CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

Splittin’ the Raft. By Scott Kaiser. CreateSpace, 2017. Pp. 110. Paperback. $11.99. ISBN 978-1-981954162.

The genre of plays is one of the least-explored offshoots of Twain’s legacy, perhaps with good reason. He did have one unqualified success in the format, “Colonel Sellers,” based on characters from The Gilded Age (1873), co-authored with Charles Dudley Warner. It had a run of over ten years and earned Twain more in royalties than Tom Sawyer or Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, enticing Twain to make at least two more attempts to repeat its success. The first, Ah Sin (1877), co-written with Bret Harte, had a run lasting a month, and Is He Dead? (1898), titled after the repeated joke line in The Innocents Abroad (Twain likely “borrowed” the line from Artemus Ward), was unpublished until 2003. There are also snippets of other plays in Mark Twain’s Satires and Burlesques (University of California Press, 1967), suggesting that, whether for lucre or “littery” reasons, Twain had as much difficulty relinquishing a self-perception of a writer adept at all literary forms as he did giving up any presumptions regarding his investing prowess.

There have been many sound film versions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, dating from a 1931 version starring Jackie Coogan, largely devoid of any hints of Twain’s crafted clash between a “sound heart and a deformed conscience.” More notable is the 1985 musical, Big River, with songs and music by Roger Miller, a surprisingly entertaining, insightful and serious treatment of Twain’s work. In a more literary vein, Jon Clinch’s Finn (2007), shows what an imaginative writer is capable of when he tackles some of the same themes of racism and violence, with a completely different focus, in this case, Pap Finn. As Twain scholar R. Kent Rasmussen noted in his Mark Twain Forum review of Finn in 2007, “Huckleberry Finn is the sacred scroll of the Mark Twain world, and true believers do not take kindly to seeing their scriptures tampered with.” Scott Kaiser, in his play, Splittin’ the Raft, dares to tamper with scripture in what he describes as an “entertaining whirligig of a play,” which “melds Mark Twain’s humor, Frederick Douglass’ brilliant language, traditional spirituals and provocative ideas about race relations in America . . .”

This distilled two-act version of the Huck Finn saga features scenes from Huck’s tribulations under Widow Douglas, Pap’s abuse and Huck’s escape, meeting Jim on Jackson’s Island, the rattlesnake incident, the Huck-in-drag meeting with Mr. Loftus, an introduction to the King and Duke, the “All right then, I’ll go to Hell” declaration, meeting Jim and Tom Sawyer at Phelps’s farm and the convoluted “freeing” of Jim. Even in this truncated version, this is a lot to tackle in a 110-page play which takes about two hours to perform. WorldCat database entries indicate at least one film production of the play was made in 2005 running 116 minutes.

Omitted are many of the book’s episodes such as the Shepherdson-Grangerford feud, the mob confrontation with Colonel Sherburn and the attempted swindle of the Wilks family. The unique twist in Kaiser’s play is the appearance of historical spokesperson, Frederick Douglass, an African American abolitionist and a personal friend of Mark Twain who “tries to set the record straight” about Mark Twain’s masterpiece. Kaiser attempts to do this by scripting portions of Douglass’s own published works into the play as asides and short lectures to the audience. The book features no bibliography but Douglass scholars will likely recognize these passages such as this one from an 1852 speech on the subject of religion and slavery:

I have to inform you that the religion of the southern states, at this time, is not only indifferent to the wrongs of slavery, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. Many of its most eloquent Divines have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity (17).

Douglass’s frequent interjections are certainly relevant and informative with respect to slavery and racism, but this technique, which at first glance seems ingenious–a grafting together of two famous writers–quickly becomes ponderous in the reading of the script. If a reader stitched all of the Frederick Douglass asides together, one would have a brief lecture on the history of American slavery. However, what appears to be most lacking is a dramatic depiction of slavery that allows the audience to extract its own emotionally-laden conclusions that are more likely to endure.

…continue reading Martin Zehr’s review on the Mark Twain Forum.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: The Ballad of Huck & Miguel by Tim DeRoche

Editor’s Note: CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

The Ballad of Huck & Miguel. By Tim DeRoche. Illustrated by Daniel Gonzalez. Redtail Press, 2018. Pp. 270. Hardcover. $26.95. ISBN 978-0-9992776-7-6.

Hardly a season passes without another Twain’t springing up from the fertile soil tilled so long ago by Mark Twain. His influence seems everlasting, and his writings, biography, and cultural iconography continue to inspire bountiful crops of works based upon his writings–borrowing characters, titles, or plots–or stories featuring Twain himself as a character. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn alone has inspired attempts to write sequels (beginning with Twain’s own efforts), modern day adaptations, pastiches, stage and musical and movie versions, and even comic books, graphic novels, and one robotic version. These Twain’ts (they ain’t Twain; hence they are Twain’ts) have sometimes taken successful innovative directions, like Jon Clinch’s masterful Finn (2007), that provided a startling dark counterpoint to the original novel, illuminating the character of Pap Finn and shedding light on Huck’s maternity, or Tim Champlin’s recent time-traveling romps for young readers that insert modern characters into reimagined adventures of Huck, Tom, and Becky. Some Twain’ts succeed and some fail, and the vast majority fall somewhere in between, so the arrival of a successful Twain’t is cause for notice.

The partnership of Tim DeRoche (text) and Daniel Gonzales (illustrations) is just such a success. In their deckle-edged, sturdily bound, beautifully designed ballad, their Huck is what Twain’s Huck was–an abused child looking for a safe haven, who struggles and eventually finds humanity and freedom. Like Twain’s Huck, he finds these things through a series of episodic adventures while escaping a hostile world in the company of another outcast of society–an undocumented immigrant named Miguel. Their adventures take place on the Los Angeles River, a concrete-lined urban version of Twain’s Mississippi River that is just as treacherous as Twain’s wild untamed land and waterscape. No attempt is made to imitate Twain’s original work chapter by chapter, or character by character, or even theme by theme, or trope by trope–after all, it takes place more than 150 years after Twain’s adventure in a sky-scrapery West Coast environment, but the reader will certainly notice that the more things change the more they stay the same.

The story is told by Huck, whose language and childish innocence are a modern reflection of Twain’s Huck. Just as in Twain’s original, the characters don’t all talk alike, nor do they try. Huck uses perfectly descriptive words like rubbleshackle, flabbergassed, seriosity, immediously, meamble, adjusticated, proxicality, satisfactual, and earsplicing, and Miguel, who is this modern-day Huck’s paternal mentor in much the same way Jim mentored and protected Twain’s Huck, often speaks Spanish. Huck’s Pap, as would be expected, speaks like a vulgarian, and other characters speak in still other ways, befitting their roles.

Besides the language and viewpoint, the story itself is structured like Twain’s original, and is not merely episodic, but cinematic, a reminder that Twain’s original novel is a modern novel in every way–not because it is ironic and part of the shift toward realism in its day, but in language, viewpoint, and structure. Likewise, just as E. W. Kemble’s sketchy rough-hewn illustrations are integral to Twain’s original, the forty-five sharp linoleum block prints (linocuts) by Daniel Gonzales are integral to DeRoche’s tale. Skyscrapers loom overhead or in the background dwarfing Huck and Miguel, light and dark are in constant contrast and remind the reader that dangers lurk in the shadows, and the characters they meet seem to lunge from the page at the reader exactly as they lunge at Huck and Miguel.

…continue reading Kevin Mac Donnell’s review on the Mark Twain Forum.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Twain at Sea, edited by Eric Paul Roorda

Editor’s Note: CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

Twain at Sea: The Maritime Writings of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Edited by Eric Paul Roorda. University Press of New England, 2018. Pp. 263. Hardcover $65.00. ISBN 9781512602722. Paperback $19.95. ISBN 9781512601510. Ebook. ISBN 9781512602739.

Mark Twain was a man of the waters. His nom de plume signifies two fathoms–safe water when navigating out of the shallows–dangerous water under other circumstances. He spent his boyhood just a few blocks from a steamboat landing, dreamed of becoming a steamboat pilot (or else a pirate) and realized that dream for a time. He lost childhood friends to drownings and lost a beloved brother in a steamboat accident. His first piece of writing to be published in a nationally recognized publication was about a disaster at sea, his first best-selling book was the result of a four months voyage with stops on several continents, and his literary masterpiece takes place on the dangerous waters and shores of the Mississippi River. When his second daughter died (in water) and he was suffering from late stage congestive heart failure (edema), he lit out for the island of Bermuda for his last months of life, and when Paine was bringing him home to die he begged for a fatal dose of morphine to end his life while at sea.

Mark Twain may have been the most widely travelled man of his times. He travelled by foot, train, automobile, stagecoach, horse, wagon, donkey, donkey cart, steamboat, ocean steamer, sailboat, yacht, and motorboat. He paddled his own canoe at Lake Saranac and even rode a bicycle–very briefly. He spent more time on land than on water, but he travelled more miles on water. He crossed deserts and climbed in the Alps, and traversed several oceans, and he once flirted with the notion of writing a novel while staying on board a ship the entire time, going back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean. He never visited the north or south poles, but seems to have visited just about everywhere else in between. It is a challenge to think of any author or explorer who saw as much of the world in the nineteenth century as Mark Twain. From his childhood to his final days, water was a presence in Twain’s life and a metaphor in his writings. Metaphorically he could be explicit: In an 1887 letter to Howells he echoed an 1885 entry in his notebook when he compared his writings to water, admitting that great literature was fine wine, and that what he wrote was merely water, “but everybody likes water.”

Twain’s travel writings have attracted a steady stream of readers and scholars since the beginning. The Innocents Abroad (1869) was quickly imitated by Twain’s Hartford neighbor, Charles Dudley Warner, and a host of others. Others retraced his steps during his lifetime, including his official biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, and wrote travel narratives of their own, a tradition that has continued to the present. While most readers think of The Innocents Abroad, A Tramp Abroad, and Following the Equator as Twain’s trio of “travel books,” travel is a critical element in many of his other writings: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (time travel), Roughing It, and many shorter works.

Writings about Twain’s time in foreign lands (England, Europe, Australia, Bermuda, India, the Middle East) are too numerous to enumerate here, as are the book-length treatments of his major travel books. More general accounts of his travels and travel writings form an entire genre. A representative sampling of the latter are Charles Neider’s Travels of Mark Twain (1961), Arthur L. Scott’s Mark Twain at Large (1969), Robert Cooper’s Around the World With Mark Twain (2000), Jeffrey Melton’s Mark Twain, Travel Books, and Tourism (2002), Peter Kaminsky’s Chicago of Europe and Other Tales of Foreign Lands (2009), Gribben and Melton’s Mark Twain on the Move (2009), and Roy Morris’s American Vandal: Mark Twain Abroad (2015).

Into this crowded genre comes Eric Roorda’s Twain at Sea, an anthology of Mark Twain’s maritime writings. The title evokes oceanic writings, but Roorda begins with Twain’s accounts of his experiences on “brown” (fresh) water before moving to “blue” (salt) water writings. The excerpts are arranged more or less chronologically, moving from the Mississippi River to Hawaii and the Pacific, then on to New York and the Quaker City excursion, followed by letters from his trans-Atlantic trips and side-trips of the 1870s and 1880s. Finally comes his round the world tour, which is then followed by shorter extracts from throughout his life at sea. The familiar and expected travel writings are all included, but even a well-read Twainian will find pleasant surprises and some unfamiliar pieces. Roorda casts a wide net that yields a harvest of letters, maxims, autobiographical writings, and forgotten short extracts. His introduction, notes, and afterward are both well-informed and informative, and his map of most of the routes followed and the appendix listing the ships (not steamboats) upon which Twain sailed are excellent, but the book suffers for lack of an index. Roorda’s assessment of Twain’s relationship with the sea reflects both his familiarity with Twain’s writings and his own maritime expertise, which transforms what otherwise could have been just one more anthology of Twain’s writings into a valuable contribution to Twain studies.

…continue reading Kevin Mac Donnell’s review on the Mark Twain Forum.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: The Huckleberry Cookbook by Stephanie & Alex Hester

Editor’s Note: CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

The Huckleberry Cookbook. By Alex & Stephanie Hester. TwoDot, 2017. Second Edition. Pp. 158. Hardcover $19.95. ISBN 978-1-4930-2836-8. Ebook. ISBN 978-1-4930-2837-5.

Huck Finn’s name signifies an insignificant (huckleberry) Irish child (Finn). The stereotypical Irishman of the nineteenth century was a drunkard and thief, and Irish immigrants frequently were met by signs in shop windows reading “No Irish Need Apply.” Although Irish women could get jobs as housekeepers, Irish males were more often hired as day laborers and rarely hired as butlers or allowed to work in a home; African-American males were more often hired as house-servants than Irish-American males. If African-Americans occupied the bottom rung of the social ladder during and after slavery, Irish-Americans, who flooded into the country in the 1840s to escape the cruelties of British rule and forced starvation (not famine), were only one rung up the ladder – which bred resentment and racism. Huck was the son of Pap Finn, the town drunk, an Irishman who need not apply, nor should his son.

None of this is mentioned in this wonderful cookbook. In fact there is no mention of Mark Twain at all even though every page glorifies huckleberries. The introduction credits Henry David Thoreau as the first American writer to seriously study the huckleberry, tracing them back to 1615 when explorer Samuel de Champlain noted that Native Americans harvested them. Next comes Captain William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame) who describes them in 1806. They were used for food, for dyes, and as medicine. They were mixed with meats, and also mashed and dried and made into cakes. Early settlers took their lead from Native Americans and likewise made good use of them. During the Great Depression “huckleberry camps” attracted eager pickers, especially in the northwest, and by 1937 the huckleberry industry had developed enough to require regulation.

Not all huckleberries are the same; there are three dozen species of huckleberries in North America, and they have been mistaken for blueberries, and called by other names: hurtleberries, bilberries, dewberries, and whortleberries. Grizzly bears love them, and no wonder: the aroma of huckleberries can permeate a plastic bag (NB: double bag them when freezing them for storage). In some regions huckleberry bushes grow barely two feet high, but in other climates they grow over five feet tall. They tend to grow best on sloping ground, but thrive at both lower elevations and at 6,500 feet. Most huckleberries are smaller than blueberries, and unlike blueberries they tend to grow further apart on the bush rather than in clumps like blueberries. Anyone who has tasted fresh huckleberries and fresh blueberries knows that huckleberries will win any flavor contest hands down. Huckleberries have a balanced (not too sweet, not too sour) lingering taste and a complex texture that makes blueberries seem dull in comparison. There is nothing insignificant about huckleberries.

…continue reading Kevin Mac Donnell’s review on the Mark Twain Forum.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Rafts & Other Rivercraft in Huckleberry Finn by Peter G. Beidler

Editor’s Note: CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

Rafts & Other Rivercraft in Huckleberry Finn. By Peter G. Beidler. University of Missouri Press, 2018. Pp. 179. Hardcover $40.00. ISBN 978-0-8262-2138-4.

“It’s lovely to live on a raft” says Huck just a few paragraphs into chapter 19 of Mark Twain’s masterpiece. But what kind of raft is it lovely to live on, and does it even matter what kind of raft Huck lived on? Of course, everyone who has read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn knows that the raft that transported Huck and Jim into literary immortality was a tiny affair consisting of a few short logs tied together with barely enough room to hold the two of them. Proof of this can be found on the covers of many modern paperback editions of the book. But looking at more covers it becomes obvious that their tiny raft was made of logs with a plank deck on top, and a wigwam. Of course, anyone who has studied the one dozen illustrations in the first edition of the book (found in chapters 12, 15, 16, 20, 21, 24, 29, and 40) knows that their raft was in fact made of planks and had a wigwam and a long steering oar, but nowhere in the book does an illustration depict the entire raft, so even a careful study of E. W. Kemble’s drawings does not tell the whole story. Finally, anyone who has read the text carefully, knows that Huck gives a fuller description of their raft, declaring that it measured twelve feet by fifteen or sixteen feet, and that it was made of pine planks that had broken off of a much larger lumber raft, and that it sat a good six or seven inches out of the water, and had one long oar. They also know that Jim had to fashion a second steering oar to control their not-so-tiny raft, make a raised platform of dirt upon which to build a fire, and build a wigwam large enough to accommodate that fire. They also know that the raft later had room for the Duke and the King. These astute readers think they know more than those readers who misplaced their trust in those modern paperback covers, but even astute readers don’t know the half of it.

In Rafts & Other Rivercraft in Huckleberry Finn, Peter Beidler knows the other half of it and a good deal more, and attacks a topic most Twainians might think could be vanquished in one short journal article. Beidler comes at this topic from every flank, armed to the teeth with meticulous research and 60 informative illustrations, and wins the battle in less than 200 pages. Beidler leaves no plank unturned, so to speak, and investigates things like whether the pine planks were seasoned or green (fresh) and how much they weighed per cubic foot, how and where lumber rafts were constructed (Wisconsin) and how they were steered (with sweeps), what Twain knew or did not know about lumber rafts and other rivercraft, and a myriad of other historical facts wisely separated from river lore, and convincingly concludes that Huck and Jim’s raft was a “crib”–a twelve by sixteen foot section of a lumber raft (which usually consisted of six such cribs held together by “yokes” dropped on top of “grub stakes”)–made entirely of fresh pine planks. Early on (page 35), he calculates that if six or seven inches of those planks were above the waterline, then another eighteen inches of planks were below the waterline giving the raft its buoyancy, and that this 12x16x2 foot raft was made of 384 cubic feet of green pine that weighed thirty-six pounds per cubic foot, bringing the weight of their raft to 13,824 pounds–nearly seven tons!–not counting the pad of dirt for the building of fires, the wigwam, Huck, Jim, various supplies, and two rapscallion guests for a portion of the journey.

Just about now, even the most astute reader must be rethinking everything they thought they knew about that flimsy little raft and its precious human cargo. And what the heck is a grub stake and how do you yoke one–or two–or, damn it, how many grub stakes do you have to yoke anyhow? And what exactly does a yoke look like? And what made their raft a crib? And how does Beidler know that lumber rafts were made of green wood? And, while we’re at it, just what the heck is a lumber raft, and what “pints” does Beidler see about a lumber raft that make it any better’n any other raft? And now that readers know the dimensions and origins of the raft, why should they care to know more? The astute reader might even begin to wonder why it is significant that Huck uses a canoe, the slave traders a skiff, and the Duke and the King arrive in style on a yawl posing as the English brothers of Peter Wilks.

The good news is that Beidler provides clear explanations augmented by contemporary drawings and photographs as well as modern diagrams that answer these questions. By the end of this book, every reader will know if there is any difference between a flat, a flatboat, a woodboat, a wood-flat, or a broadhorn (spoiler alert: nope). The reader will also know what a sweep is, and what to do with one (well, you don’t sweep with it), and how to use it with a headblock (no football or wrestling is involved either). The reader will know the difference between a rapids-piece, a skiff, a yawl, a scow, and a string. He’ll know a Mississippi raft from a Wisconsin raft, and how you make one out of several of the others. He’ll be able to distinguish a drift canoe from driftwood, and a witch from a thwart. He’ll know how to reconfigure a lumber raft to run a rapids, and what can go wrong, and how such a mishap yielded the raft that is central to Huck and Jim’s story. Huck and Jim knew these things, so it behooves the reader to know them too. As Beidler says “We might wish that Huck had explained some of his nautical terms more fully, but we can scarcely fault Twain for not anticipating that readers a century and more after he wrote his book would not be aware of the meanings of some of his terms. Surely it is our job as readers and as researchers to figure out what Huck means when he talks . . . . [T]o assume that we can always accurately guess from the context what Huck means . . . is to miss the boat” (117-118).

…continue reading Kevin Mac Donnell’s review at Mark Twain Forum.

You may also be interested in Peter Beidler’s discussion of Huck and Jim’s raft from earlier this month!

Copyright © 2018 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.