Mark Twain as a Literary Artist

Excerpt

This book is an attempt to evaluate Mark Twain as professional author, as craftsman, indeed as literary artist. Its starting point was my conviction that Mark Twain was much more the conscious craftsman than is generally believed; but the phase of the subject which became most interesting to me was the way in which Mark Twain's work reflects his basic attitudes towards mankind, towards life itself; finally, the study led to the application of certain aesthetic principles to that work. At the risk of overemphasis, I have stressed a side of Mark Twain which has hitherto been largely overlooked. It is not that many things formerly said of him have not been true; it is only that these things, too, need to be said. In the light of much new material by Mark Twain, published since 1935, a revaluation is called for. The analysis I have made has required extensive quotation, since I believe that the reader should view the evidence which has led me to certain formulations about Mark Twain. In using this method, I echo F. O. Matthiessen in saying that "Only thus can the reader share in the process of testing the critic's judgments, and thereby reach his own."

Excellent studies of special phases of Mark Twain's life and work have been published, notably those of Ivan Benson, DeLancey Ferguson, and Effie Mona Mack. The Mark Twain specialists to whom I am most heavily indebted, however, are Bernard DeVoto, Walter Blair, Minnie M. Brashear, Van Wyck Brooks, and Edward Wagenknecht. In fact, I have read and re-read Mr. DeVoto, Mr. Blair, and Mrs. Wagenknecht, and my debt to them is profound. Mr. Brooks, too, I have found stimulating, even when I have disagreed with him, just as I have occasionally disagreed with Mr. DeVoto and Mr. Wagenknecht. Other numerous indebtednesses I have tried to list in my text or notes. A flood of Mark Twain criticism has poured through the literary journals in recent years; I have read a good part of it, and I am deeply grateful to the various writers who have worked with perception in this field. The book lying outside my subject which has been of greatest benefit is F. O. Matthiessen American Renaissance; its author's sensitive treatment and...

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