A Historical Guide to Mark Twain

A Historical Guide to Mark Twain

A Historical Guide to Mark Twain

A Historical Guide to Mark Twain

Synopsis

Mark Twain (born Samuel Clemens), a former printer's apprentice, journalist, steamboat pilot, and miner, remains to this day one of the most enduring and beloved of America's great writers. Combining cultural criticism with historical scholarship, A Historical Guide to Mark Twain addresses a wide range of topics relevant to Twain's work, including religion, commerce, race, gender, social class, and imperialism. Like all of the Historical Guides to American Authors, this volume includes an introduction, a brief biography, a bibliographic essay, and an illustrated chronology of the author's life and times.

Excerpt

Shelley Fisher Fishkin

On July 3,1907, George Bernard Shaw wrote Samuel Clemens that "the future historian of America will find your works as indispensable to him as a French historian finds the political tracts of Voltaire." Shaw's insight was remarkably prescient. For more than a century Twain's work has been quoted, valued, cited, mined, and invoked as much for what it illuminates about the cultural conversation as for what it contributed to that conversation itself.

Why has the work of this imaginative writer provided generations with such rich insight into his country's zeitgeist? Twain himself suggests one answer to this question when he observes that "almost the whole capital of the "native" novelist is the slow accumulation of unconscious observation—absorption." Knowledge of a nation's "soul, its life, its speech, its thought," Twain wrote, "… is acquirable only one way …" by

years and years of unconscious absorption; years and years of
intercourse with the life concerned; of living it, indeed; shar
ing personally in its shames and prides, its joys and griefs, its
loves and hates, its prosperities and reverses, its shows and
shabbiness, its deep patriotisms, its whirlwinds of political

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