Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Mark Twain & Europe by Takeshi Omiya

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Mark Twain and Europe. By Takeshi Omiya. Osaka Kyoiku Tosho, 2015. Pp. 417. Hardcover. $58.00. ISBN 978-4-271-21040-5.

For Mark Twain scholars, the subject and title, Mark Twain and Europe, will not conjure any reaction resembling surprise. After all, Twain spent a significant portion of his adult life visiting and living in Europe. From the beginning of his rise to celebrity status, European countries would be the inspiration for travelogues and fiction, including The Innocents Abroad (1869), A Tramp Abroad (1880), The Prince and The Pauper (1882), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896). Several studies have been published with a focus on particular venues in Twain’s European sojourns including Howard Baetzhold’s Mark Twain & John Bull: The British Connection (1970); Carl Dolmetsch’s Our Famous Guest: Mark Twain in Vienna (1992); Andreas Austilat’s Mark Twain in Berlin: Newly Discovered Stories (2013); and the most recent addition to this genre, Mark Twain and France: The Making of a New American Identity, by Paula Harrington and Ronald Jenn (2017). Twain’s travels in other more-or-less circumscribed regions of the globe have also attracted focused energies like Miriam Jones Shillingsburg’s At Home Abroad: Mark Twain in Australasia (1988).

In Mark Twain and Europe Takeshi Omiya, an independent Mark Twain scholar from Fukuoka City, Japan, with M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Hiroshima University “aims to examine the influence that Europe, at that time, had on Mark Twain and his works, that is, the significance of Europe to Twain” (p. 2). The book is divided into two major sections with the first devoted to Darwin’s influence on Twain. The second section discusses the interactions and influences of Robert Louis Stevenson, Matthew Arnold and Shakespeare on Twain and his writings, particularly A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The Innocents Abroad. This selection of topics and subjects hardly justifies the book’s wide-ranging title, a misnomer that could have been rectified by the more apt or more accurate, Mark Twain and the Four Englishmen. Further compounding this misnomer are discussions, well-researched and interesting, but tangential, such as the exposition of imperialism, China, and Twain’s “The Fable of the Yellow Terror” (1904-05) and Ah Sin (1876). Such digressions are not without merit, of course, but serve to underscore the conclusion that this book would have benefited from a more appropriate title to underscore its actual focus. Another criticism is the pronounced didactic approach taken by Omiya, with the phrase “First, I will show . . .” cropping up with a regularity that begs a rejoinder of the writer’s creed, “Show, don’t tell.”

The discussion of Twain’s developing determinism and its Darwinian roots has been the subject of numerous studies such as Tom Quirk’s classic Mark Twain and Human Nature(2007). Omiya’s expressed intention is “to provide a thorough examination of this subject,” asserting that prior attempts have not been “comprehensive” (p. 2). His book does include a more than adequate introduction to Darwinism and social Darwinism as a predicate to analyzing the impact of their ideas and conclusions on many of Twain’s writings, especially during the latter years of his career. Omiya traces Twain’s determinism through his notebook entries and many of his published writings, including The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, “The Turning Point of My Life,” What Is Man?, “Corn-Pone Opinions,” “The Victims,” and “Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes.” Omiya asserts that “Twain maintains a duality inconsistent with determinism” (p. 79) because Twain considers “each human being to have an important, unchangeable, stable part within himself or herself that is never influenced by heredity and circumstances . . .” (p. 79). He seems to suggest that Twain’s concept of determinism, sufficiently broad to include the Lamarckian idea of inherited characteristics, such as morals, allows Twain to maintain a belief in God and Darwinism simultaneously. However, Omiya’s arguments in service of this thesis are not entirely convincing. Nonetheless, this discussion is undoubtedly one of the most extensive tracings of Darwin’s influences in Twain’s thought and writings and well worth the consideration of scholars who have long ago jettisoned the idea of Twain as a “mere humorist.”

Omiya’s chapter on Robert Louis Stevenson focuses on ideas relevant to psychology in the latter half of the nineteenth century which he traces to the duality theme of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Omiya attempts to make the case that Twain, who read and enjoyed Stevenson’s book, shared Stevenson’s fascination with the notion of “double personality” (p. 173) and the influence of dreams on writing. Omiya discusses a short piece by Twain titled “The Art of Authorship” (1890) as an example of Twain’s thinking with respect to the role of the unconscious in his writing (p. 175) and cites examples in works such as A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur. He also notes the limitations of the idea that Stevenson influenced Twain, particularly with respect to the role of the conscience, which, according to Omiya’s analysis did not constitute “another distinct self” (p. 178). This chapter includes subsections devoted to the work of Jean Martin Charcot, Pierre Janet, Sigmund Freud, and Mark Twain’s friend, William James. According to Omiya, Twain “obtained the idea of unconsciousness” from Charcot and Janet (p. 179). Twain’s friendship with William James and their mutual interests in psychical research and, later, in the anti-imperialist movement in the United States, is cited by Omiya for James’s influence on Twain’s writing on dreams, including “No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger.” Twain, according to Omiya’s argument, “owes much of his notion of ‘the Dream Self’ to James’s notion of the subliminal self” (p. 184). Citing Kent Rasmussen’s Mark Twain A to Z (1995), Omiya repeats the unproven, and likely fake news, that Twain met Sigmund Freud in 1898, when no documentation exists from either party to support the claim, but correctly notes evidence of the one-way influence based on the later references to Twain in the writings of Freud.

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