A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Synopsis

A Connecticut Yankee is Mark Twain's most ambitious work, a tour de force with a science-fiction plot told in the racy slang of a Hartford workingman, sparkling with literary hijinks as well as social and political satire. Mark Twain characterized his novel as "one vast sardonic laugh at the trivialities, the servilities of our poor human race." The Yankee, suddenly transported from his native nineteenth-century America to the sleepy sixth-century Britain of King Arthur and the Round Table, vows brashly to "boss the whole country inside of three weeks." And so he does. Emerging as "The Boss," he embarks on an ambitious plan to modernize Camelot--with unexpected results.

Excerpt

Feudal Europe occupies a place in Mark Twain’s imagination second only [o the river towns of his boyhood, so it should come as no surprise that he followed Huckleberry Finn (1884) with a book set in Camelot.

Charmed by Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur. Mark Twain originally planned a genial burlesque of the knights of the Round Table. His first notes for a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court show the fun he planned to get out of his idea: “Dream of being a knight errant in armor in the middle ages…. No pockets in the armor. No way to manage certain requirements of nature. Can’t scratch. Cold in the head—can’t blow—can’t get at handkerchief, can’t use iron sleeve…. Make disagreeable clatter when I enter church.”

The story developed much as be bad conceived it: a tale of the shrewd Hartford workman who hoped by parlaying his knowledge of nineteenthcentury technology and his flair for showmanship to become the beneficent, all-powerful ruler of a modernized Camelot. But during the nearly five years Mark Twain spent writing his book, its lighthearted tone shifted dramatically.

Drawing on his wide reading of European history, Mark Twain began to pour into his book a savage attack on feudalism, which he regarded as still very much alive in the laws and institutions of the Old World, especially in Victorian England. He lost the optimistic belief in a perfectible world with which he had endowed his hero, Hank Morgan. Instead, he adopted a critical stance toward the entrepreneurial capitalism that Hank calls a “new deal” for the backward kingdom.

What Hank sees as he journeys through the realm, first with the book’s heroine, Sandy, and then with King Arthur himself, constitutes an indictment of human tyranny and cruelty. Progress, Hank finds, will not suffice to uproot them. Having read Carlyle’s French Revolution for a third time while writing his book, Mark Twain characterized his change of heart to a friend: “In 1871, I was a Girondin,” a moderate, but “now I lay the book down once more, &. recognize that I am a Sansculotte!_____And not a . . .

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