Category Archives: Huck Finn

Finding the Flow: Mark Twain, the River, and Me

While writing Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain had some trouble finding his flow.  The manuscript was clearly important to him, and clearly troubling.   His early mentions of it in letters are ecstatic — the writing was moving swiftly and clearly.  But soon he hit snags.  He ended up putting the manuscript away several times and writing three other books before it was finished.  One of these books, Life on the Mississippi, has clear ties to Huck, but there are several significant scenes in his European travel “buddy” book,  A Tramp Abroad, that also resonate strongly with his most famous novel.  One of the funniest, and one of my favorites, involves crashing a raft.

Until this past Sunday, I had never really appreciated, except in a distant and intellectual way, Twain’s fascination with rivers.  Even though I’ve been kayaking numerous times, and I’ve always had fun, I’ve never before tackled it with such a strong sense of my own mortality, the inscrutable flow of the current, and the exhilarating and hilarious terror of crashing.  And now, frankly, I find myself even more puzzled by readings of the novel that focus on the idyll of the river and see the tension and the terror coming solely from the society’s intrusions on that peace.

A river, really, is a fucking scary place.

Those moments of calm, drifting slowly along with the current, fill you with the delusion that you understand the flow, that you’ve surrendered to it, that it will in some way take care of you.

What utter horseshit.

The river is a powerful and inexorable force, utterly oblivious to your puny self, and it is best that you never forget that — at least while you’re actually still in its reach.  It is just as happy to have you smash into a boulder as it is to have you flow gently and peacefully in its lullaby.

WaterfallSunday was a lovely, lovely day.  As I embarked on the annual Mother’s Day “Broads on the Broad River” trip, I remember thinking that it could not be more idyllic.  The weather was perfect, sunny but not too hot, a constant breeze flowing; the company, of the best sort.  I let myself go with the flow of the current, looking for the arrows in the water that mark the safe passages between the rocks in the rapids, floating with exhilaration when I hit them just right and shot through.  And I laughed, too, when I missed the sweet spot and bumped over the rocks instead.  The first small waterfall, pictured here, was easy this year, and I grew cocky as I made it through without dumping.  The even smaller waterfall downriver, though — one that I wasn’t expecting — was another story.

Heavy rainfall had changed the river that I thought I remembered.  Our group had gotten spread out, and I learned of the second waterfall only when I saw a distant friend ahead suddenly disappear.  Her head reappeared downriver, and I marked the spot I thought I had seen her navigate the hazard.

Boy, was I wrong.

Only when I was on the crest did I realize how poorly I’d chosen my spot.  Looming right in front of me with remarkable insouciance was a gigantic fucking boulder, lying crosswise, right in my path.  I turned the kayak as fast as I could, to try to shoot the narrow space between the bottom of the fall and the rock, congratulating myself when I succeeded.


As soon as I shot out of the ironic shelter of that rock, the full force of the river hit the kayak broadside, throwing me and all of what Huck would call my “traps” into the current.  I got my head above water, and ducked again just in time to keep from getting brained by my own overturned boat, maniacally spinning its own dance in the current.


“A Deep and Tranquil Ecstasy”

Believe it or not, it wasn’t my life that passed before my eyes at that moment, it was this picture from Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad.  (Twain scholars are truly weird people.)  Here, the two friends sit blithely on their raft, with umbrellas to protect them from the sun, bathing their feet in the cooling water, and there is Sam, smoking away, like nothing will ever go wrong.  But to me, now, it seems that there is a pensive gleam in his eyes, absent from his friend’s blank and vacuously smiling face.

As a child, Sam almost drowned in the Mississippi river numerous times.  His brother Henry died on it, as did countless others he knew, and the slave trade was active up and down its waters.  Mark Twain could have had no illusions about the ephemeral nature of the river’s idyll, whether the inevitable disruptions came from man or from the oblivious beast of the river itself.  He had to be fully aware of the inevitability of the crash, of one’s helplessness in the current, of the hubris and strength with which we go against the current for a time or mistakenly believe we actually have control.   Or peace.

In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the raft crash comes at a turning point in the novel.  It is abrupt and terrifying, and it comes almost right after Huck has realized at last the magnitude of the crime he is committing by traveling with Jim.  Further, he realizes at last that Jim has children of his own and an agenda of his own beyond helping this young white ragamuffin escape his father.  But even then, Huck protects Jim from some slave catchers by telling them a lie, because Jim has praised him for being the only friend he has now, and for being “de on’y white genlman dat ever kep’ his promise to ole Jim” (124).   But fog, the river, and a careless steamboat pilot result in a violent crash that separates them and changes the course of the novel.

In the complementary raft-crash scene of A Tramp Abroad, however, the moment is brief and fleeting — a minor but significant incident in the course of the novel.  Here, in chapter nineteen, Twain’s narrator revels in his hubris and takes exuberant credit for the crash: Continue reading →

Teaching Humor with Multicultural Texts; Teaching Multiculturalism with Humor

Understanding humor is all about understanding context — often about understanding shifting contexts.  The more you know about the different contexts in the text or performance, the deeper (and sometimes the more painful) your laughter — especially, sometimes, when you ruefully recognize yourself or people you know well as a part of the complex target of a joke.  Of course, if the joke cuts too deep, too close, or you feel it misrepresents too much, you may “get” the joke, but not find it funny at all.

Which is why I tell students in my multicultural humor courses that if they are not offended at least once during the semester, they are not paying attention.

But, I continue, they should not consider this as a negative thing, but as an opportunity.  An opportunity to learn more about themselves and others.  An opportunity for self-examination, societal examination, historical understanding, and growth.  A chance to learn that before you take offense, you should make sure you fully understand the joke and its (usually) limited target.  Jokes with broad targets are rarely funny — it is as we understand the subtleties and nuances of the defined target that we truly understand the joke.  Own only what truly belongs to you, I tell them — don’t just assume that the joke is talking about you.

Teaching humor with an deliberate awareness of multicultural contexts, teaching humor that comes from a variety of cultural groups, is a great way of digging into the way context affects humor.  It is also a great way to explore the different ways people use humor, what humor means to them, how humor functions as a part of one’s world view, how humor affects the way people deal with each other.  Teaching humor with that deliberate awareness of multicultural humor and context helps us to see subtleties that we might otherwise miss with a singleminded focus, or a focus on humor that discounts cultural differences and similarities as significant factors.  Because teaching American humor usually means at least some consideration of Mark Twain, we can use Huck Finn as a quick example.  If we consider Twain’s humor there from the limited perspective only of a white male, we miss the ways in which Jim uses humor to negotiate position and authority with Huck, or the way Jack uses exasperated humor in order to maintain plausible deniability (and the way Huck sees and points out Jack’s intelligence, but completely misses the humor).  And we miss the opportunity to have the difficult discussion about how much Twain really understood and how much he unselfconsciously portrayed.

And how much richer our understanding of the period as a whole, and American uses of humor in general, if we read humor from Frederick Douglass, Charles Chesnutt, Alexander Posey, W. E. B. Du Bois, John Milton Oskison, E. Pauline Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and others?

Humor can also open doors for us if multicultural literature is our teaching focus.  Often, when we think of multiculturalism, we are trained to think in terms of “tolerance” or “tolerating differences.”  And yet, to stop with “tolerance” can actually serve to increase social and cultural divisiveness.  The focus on “tolerance” assumes that something different must be tolerated rather than celebrated.  Humor is one way that many cultures attempt to cross boundaries, to understand and celebrate what makes each community unique.  At the same time, the ambiguity of humor and its intended audience can expose inequities and inconsistencies, both within the community and in its relation to other communities or to society at large.  We laugh at ourselves, at each other, and with each other: each interaction presents its own risks and raises its own set of questions.  It is a risky endeavor, not one for the faint at heart, but the potential rewards are strong.

Not least of all, from my perspective, is that teaching humor with multicultural texts and teaching multicultural texts that utilize humor are great ways to broaden my own horizons and to teach my students research methods.  I cannot pretend that I understand all cultural and historical references in the texts we read together, and I do not.  I openly invite — and require — students to engage in primary source research, in order to understand the cultural contexts and specific references in the texts.  And I share my own findings with them.  This means that each time I teach a text, I learn something new.

What better reason to teach? Continue reading →

Shirtless Mark Twain: The Subversion of a Hairy Chest Meme

Shirtless Mark Twain

Mark Twain was a hairy dude.  We have always known this. His unruly shock of hair balanced by the tire brush of a mustache gave us all the information we needed. The man could grow hair. Now we all also know without a doubt hat he had one hairy chest. The image above has enjoyed (endured) a recent viral spread on the web. Type in “shirtless Mark Twain,” and you will find somewhere around 137,000 hits.

The image has appeared in the last couple of weeks on under the title “Book News: Even Mark Twain Has A Shirtless Picture on the Internet”:

The Daily Beast also includes the photo in a spread called “Shirtless Mark Twain and Other Naked Writers.” It includes among others, by the way, Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway (guess which one is holding a shotgun):

Likewise, The Huffington Post joins in with a short piece titled simply “Mark Twain, Shirtless (PHOTO):

The story implies that the picture was discovered or revealed by Open Culture, a website dedicated to providing open-source educational content. The picture has in no way been hidden, however, and has been rather easily available. This recent run of online postings has nonetheless created a new and energetic life on the web that cannot be denied. It thus feels like a new thing for most viewers and a big surprise for most.

In the reader comments below the Huffington Post image, the depth of analysis seems rather typical:

“Anyone think he kinda looks like Mario?”

“Looks like Tom Selleck in the video pic”

“Pretty decent bod. Harkens back to the day when people walked everywhere, chopped their own wood and did many other physical labors that we no longer feel the need or don’t have to do any longer. He probably didn’t go to the gym every day.”

That’s true, Twain rarely went to the local Gold’s Gym more than two or three times a week. But I do agree that Twain did chop wood for his family at the log cabin in Hartford, CT. That experience helped him to create an appealing public persona that would later be crucial to his election as President of the United States, you know, the one that starred in that recent movie. But I digress.

Continue reading →

If I Hear it Again, I Swear I’ll Scream: Hemingway, Huck Finn, and “Cheating”

See also:

The Critics Dream Mark Twain: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Michael Kiskis

Finding the Flow: Mark Twain, the River, and Me by Sharon McCoy


Mark Twain has more quotations he didn’t say attributed to him than any other person I’ve ever heard tell of.  One of the most recent ones making the rounds of the Internet goes something like this:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born . . . and the day you find out why.    — Mark Twain”

Google this sentiment a few weeks ago, and you would have gotten hundreds of hits, all claiming that Mark Twain said it. Some of them add italics for the important words.  Some of them omit the ellipses, which clearly are a modern marker for a pause, rather than an indication of anything left out.  But hundreds of sites all agree on one thing:  Mark Twain said it.

Go a little further back, and no one attributes it to him — mostly because he never would have said such a thing.  He wouldn’t have believed in its truth, and if he did, he would have changed that word “important” to something profane and blasphemous.

But almost in spite of himself, Twain is one American writer that many people — and not just academics — have a personal stake in.  He means something to them.  And every time they find a sentiment that fits their preconception — whether bitingly funny, simply curmudgeonly, or fundamentally humane — the sentiment often gets attributed directly to him.  Twain is a slippery figure, hard to see clearly in spite of extensive biographies and autobiographical writings, partly because he created a multifaceted character so many people still want to believe in.

“My Mark Twain.”   “Our Mark Twain.”  Who the hell is Mark Twain?

Even scholars and critics are not immune to this trend, wanting Mark Twain to be somebody in particular, or to mean something in particular. (An early re-blogging on Humor in America addressed one aspect of this topic, in Michael Kiskis’s The Critics Dream Mark Twain”).

While scholars and critics are adept at sifting through quotations that Twain did not and would not have said, we often get just as stuck behind an idea of Twain that gets in the way of clear understanding.  What I want to focus on here, though, is not a quotation attributed to Twain, but a notorious and often-quoted statement about Twain in a book by Ernest Hemingway.  Mostly, I want to focus on it because it makes me crazy.

Even crazier than the idea that Twain would have written Hallmark sentiments.

Because it seems to me that so often the picture of Twain that people have in their minds gets in their way whenever this statement is brought up.  And it has been brought up many times over the years, to make many arguments.  The passage comes in the early part of Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa.  During a fairly sociable encounter in the relative wilds of Africa, Hemingway’s narrator pontifically tells his chance companion:

All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. If you read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating. But it’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.

Many scholars and critics, who otherwise have provocative and trenchant insights into Twain, Huck Finn, and literature in general, read this quotation in terms of their own desires and anxieties, rather than on its own merits.  Hell, I probably quoted it myself in some dubious passage of my dissertation.

Some critics focus on the inflated praise of Twain as the foundation and pinnacle of American literature.  Some focus on the phrase “the Nigger Jim” (which Twain never used) or the word “nigger” itself (which Twain used frequently and in multiplicitous, ambiguous, and ambivalent contexts).

Still others focus on the “cheating” part, arguing that Hemingway’s narrator’s praise of the novel includes significant criticism; to them, Hemingway means that the “real end” of the book should come in Chapter 31, when the Duke and the King take Jim away and sell him down the river, when Huck decides to “go to hell” to rescue him.  These scholars and readers focus on the extended “evasion” sequence — in which Tom Sawyer plays grotesque romantic games with a grown black man’s freedom and terrorizes an entire village regardless of the increasingly feeble protests of his insecure white trash companion — as what Hemingway would characterize as “cheating.”

I mean, this is Hemingway, for heaven’s sake.

Why on earth would anyone who has ever read Hemingway’s books — any of his books, but especially, perhaps, To Have and Have Not  — think that he would ever have any objection to the evasion sequence of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or think that he would characterize it as “cheating”?  (If you have any doubts, you might enjoy Toni Morrison’s reading of To Have and Have Not in her book Playing in the Dark.)

Folks, Hemingway would have found the extended evasion sequence hilarious. Continue reading →

Mark Twain and The Jumping Frog

Tracy Wuster

One of the key moments in the career of Mark Twain was the tremendous success of his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” first published in the Saturday Post on August 12, 1865.  The reputation of this magazine as a key New York periodical, different in tone but of similar importance in its own literary culture as the Atlantic Monthly was in Boston, was certainly a boon to Twain’s East Coast reputation.  But as James Caron has argued in Mark Twain: Unsanctified Newspaper Reporter, the importance of the jumping frog story in establishing Twain’s reputation may be overstated.[1]  Instead of a sudden burst into public consciousness, the piece represents the culmination of more than a year of success on both coasts, where newspapers had published Mark Twain’s writings for the Californian, a magazine aimed at national and international, rather than regional, audiences.[2]

Nevertheless, the story of the Jumping Frog quickly took a central, if possibly oversized, role in the public’s view of Mark Twain.  Writing in the New York Tribune in May 1867, the drama critic Edward “Ned” House wrote:
The chance offering of ‘The Jumping Frog,’ carelessly cast, eighteen months ago, upon the Atlantic waters, returned to him in the most agreeable form which a young aspirant for public fame could desire.  The wind that was sowed with probably very little calculation as to its effect upon its future prospects, now enables him to reap quite a respectable tempest of encouragement and cordiality.
For many years in the early career of Mark Twain, newspapers and magazines linked the fame of the Jumping Frog story to the fame of Mark Twain–sometimes very literally.
I would like to share three major images of Mark Twain in conjunction with his jumping frog.  First, and undoubtedly most famous, is the illustration by Frederick Waddy from the English journal Once a Week from December 1872, shortly after Twain’s first visit to England.
Mark Twain Jumping Frog Calaveras County
**Keep reading for two more images of Twain and the Jumping Frog.**

Rarely Seen!

                                                                                   Can’t be missed!

Teaching the Irony of Satire (Ironically)

Any time I get the chance to teach American satire, I begin by asserting its power. I use Mark Twain (who else?) to frame the course, taking a line from the Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” I imagine many teachers do the same thing. It is a wonderfully useful statement that grants an aura of legitimacy for the course.  It is also a rather conspicuous effort, as I fight off a perpetual fear that my students (and my peers) hold fast to an underlying belief that “serious” and “humorous” are opposing forces. I confess also that I add Twain’s line to soften my lurking guilt for being able to do something so thoroughly interesting and fun for a living. Still, I believe Twain’s assertion.

But I am having doubts.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone (29 Sep. 2011), Jon Stewart shares his own misgivings about his role as a court jester and, more specifically, as a satirist. In commenting on the work of The Daily Show, he acknowledges the intent of the writers to engage in social criticism with comedy as their tool. Stewart observes, however, that satire as a weapon for demanding cultural change has significant limitations. In reference to the unique position shared by satirists on the whole as they mock social mores, he claims, “It’s the privilege of satire, and it’s also the albatross around its neck. It can be sharp and it can be pointed and shaming, but at heart it’s impotent and sort of feckless” (47). In his role as writer and host of The Daily Show, Stewart is arguably the most powerful satirical voice in the United States, but he is nonetheless cynical about the prospects of applying whatever power that entails, if any. He continues, “everyone overestimates the power of satire. There’s a great thing Peter Cook once said. Somebody said to him that the most powerful satirists in history were the cabaret artists in Berlin during the 1930s. And Peter Cook said, ‘Yeah, they really showed Hitler, didn’t they?’ In a lot of ways that’s how I feel about it” (47).

Continue reading →


Sam Sackett


At least since the days of Aristotle, and probably long before, lovers of literature have identified tragedy as the pinnacle of literary art.  What is Shakespeare’s greatest work?  Hamlet, of course.  The Taming of the Shrew or The Merchant of Venice?  Very good of their type, but the type itself is not the highest.  In this, as in many other things, I stand in the minority; I find it odd that the judgement should favor tragedy.

In my long and not terribly successful career as a writer, I’ve found that tragedy is much easier to write than comedy.  Certain situations are a cinch to jerk a tear.  Poe mentioned the death of a beautiful maiden as one.  Another is the situation in Hamlet itself, or Oedipus Tyrannos for that matter: a man sets out to accomplish a purpose, but just at the moment of achieving victory by accomplishing it, he receives defeat – in Hamlet’s case, the ultimate defeat of death.  Nobody I know of, not even Aristotle, has ticked off the number of sure-fire tragic situations, but I suspect that if you have two fully functional hands your fingers are adequate to enumerate them.

On the other hand, I confess that I have not tried very often to write tragedy.  It never appealed to me.  My most significant venture was the science-fiction story “Hail to the Chief,” which has appeared in four anthologies.  “There Are Smiles,” a story in my collection Snapshots of Thailand, is sad, but it’s not really a tragedy.  The writers in English who have appealed to me most are Geoffrey Chaucer, Henry Fielding, and Mark Twain; I see life pretty much as they did.  Of writers in other languages, my favorite is Miguel de Cervantes.  So I am predisposed to the comic.

What makes comic writing so difficult?  The answer was given by the late Eddie Cantor, who said, “One man’s gag, gags another man.”  I can testify that that is true, for when I have read from my books to audiences, sometimes they have laughed at what I thought were the funny parts, and sometimes they have not.  Chacun à son goût, as the old lady said when she kissed the cow.  Or as Prince Orlofsky said in Die Fledermaus.

Continue reading →

The Mark Twain Circle of America

Linda Morris

President-Elect, Mark Twain Circle of America

The Mark Twain Circle of America, founded in 1986, is dedicated to the study of Mark Twain, his work, and his life and times.  It is the largest single-author society in the country.  Almost all of the prominent Mark Twain scholars in the U. S. and abroad are members of the organization, but so are many non-academics, humor scholars, Mark Twain impersonators, and lay fans of his writings.    Membership costs only $30 a year for U. S. members, and $32 for those from abroad, and for that they receive many benefits.  The Web site for the Mark Twain Circle is to be found on the University of Illinois Honor’s Program home site.Mark Twain cigar rocking chair Samuel Langhorne Clemens

The most prominent benefit is receipt of the Mark Twain Annual, a journal dedicated to publishing critical and pedagogical articles, as well as substantive book reviews.  The Annual is edited by Ann M. Ryan.  The most recent issue for 2010 contained eleven articles by prominent Twain scholars reflecting often in a personal way on earlier scholarship that influenced their own work; three critical essays; two “notes;” and six book reviews.  The Annual is published by Wiley-Blackwell in their American Literature Collection, and all articles are peer-reviewed.  The 2011 issue is due out in February and will be delivered promptly to all Circle members.

The Mark Twain Circle also publishes a newsletter, called the Mark Twain Circular, which is edited by Chad Rohman.  The Circular, published twice a year, typically includes a “President’s Letter,” information about upcoming Circle and other Mark Twain events, and short reviews of recent books on Mark Twain, his life and work.  All current members of the Circle receive the Circular, in April and in November.

Mark Twain Puck lecture Samuel Langhorne Clemens illustration  In addition to its publications, the Circle sponsors panels each year at the  MLA (the Modern Language Association) and the ALA (American  Literature Association).  Anyone may apply to present a paper, but we ask all those chosen to participate to join the society before the conference takes place.  At the upcoming MLA conference in Seattle in January of 2012, the Circle is sponsoring two panels, one entitled “Mark Twain:  Editing and Editions,” and the second entitled “Mark Twain and ‘The Other.’”  The call for papers for Circle-sponsored MLA panels and papers goes out as early as February of the previous year, so watch for the call for next year if you are interested in presenting a paper.

We are also affiliated with the ALA, and that conference takes place each May, alternating between San Francisco and Boston.  We always sponsor at least two panels there, as well as a lively reception for all Circle members and friends.  Please see the conference program for the 2012 papers.  Please check the Circle’s webpage for future CFPs for MLA and ALA.

The Circle is affiliated with all of the key Mark Twain sites in America.  These include the Mark Twain Papers and Project at the University of California at Berkeley, The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain StudiesThe Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, and The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri.

We’re a wide-ranging, inclusive organization, and all are welcome to join us.  We hope you will consider it.  It is hard to imagine an author more central to the study of American humor than Mark Twain.

Editor’s Note: We hope to have a number of academic societies describe their work.  If you run a society, or know someone who does, please get in touch with us.

For other posts on Mark Twain, use the category cloud in the side bar, or:

Mark Twain Prize

Mark Twain and Black Face

Huck Finn and the Critics

Huck Finn and Teaching

Mark Twain Links

Mark Twain and Medicine

Mark Twain’s Tale within a Tail within a Tale

Teaching the Irony of Satire (Ironically)

Mark Twain and The Jumping Frog

Happy Birthday Hal Holbrook!


Mark Twain Samuel Langhorne Clemens white suit

Five Subjects Behind: Some thoughts on grunge, time machines, and “Clam Chow-Dah!”

by Tracy Wuster

On January 11th, 1992, I gathered with a group of friends to watch Saturday Night Live, our usual Saturday night activity as high school sophomores.  This was a special night.  Nirvana was playing, and we were living just north of Seattle.  Grunge was our thing: flannel, mosh pits, and, most of all, music.

This was the episode on which the band played “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” thrashed their instruments during “Territorial Pissings,” and kissed each other during the closing credits. The band’s anarchic spirit expressed not only our (possibly exaggerated) teen angst but also the humor of destruction, noise, and pissing off parents and other authorities that went hand in hand with the angst.

But, oddly enough, what I remember most from that episode of Saturday Night Live is not Nirvana’s performance but a sketch featuring the host Rob Morrow.  The sketch is entitled, “Five Subjects Behind,” but I have always referred to it as “Clam Chow-Dah!”


In the sketch, Morrow is at a diner with two friends–a man and a woman.  As the conversation proceeds, Morrow awkwardly and consistently returns to previous subjects with a punchline now hopelessly outdated, interrupting the flow of conversation to the increasing consternation of his friends.  At one point, the character played by Mike Myers mentions Boston and clam chowder.  After several subjects go by, Morrow bellows out: “Clam Chow-dah!” in a Boston-esque accent, and then awkwardly recreates the context, defeating the humor of the comment and, in fact, forcing an awkwardness that might be described as “anti-humorous.”*

Continue reading →

Productination: Mark Twain

Mark Twain plays a central role in the history of American humor and humor studies.  And since I am teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the first time currently, this week’s productination will be mostly Mark Twain.

Mark Twain achieved scale, with the gusty breadth astir in the country as the Pacific was reached. Huckleberry Finn belongs within the scope of that epical impulse which had taken shape in the ’50’s : it has indeed a cumulative epical power as its main story branches off in innumerable directions under the stress of an opulent improvisation. In this book Mark Twain gave to the great flood of the Mis sissippi its elementary place in the American experience, with the river as a dominating fantasy, with the small human figures as prototypes of those untethered wanderers who had appeared so often on the popular horizon.

–Constance Rourke, American Humor: A Study in the National Character (1931)

Mark Twain, Words and Music, more

Mark Twain’s guitar

A slightly cheaper collectible

The Trouble Begins at 5:30: Mark Twain Among the Microbes

Will Ferrell wins Mark Twain Prize

English as She is Spoke

A review of Hal Holbrook’s new book.

What made Mark Twain so funny? one answer: cannabis

Twain and James Fenimore Cooper

Mark Twain and Tom Benton

“Mark Twain” as a Career

Digging for Twain, take one

Digging for Twain, take two

Nation’s Teens and Banned Books

And a happy birthday to Amy Poehler. If you don’t watch Parks and Recreation, you should catch up in preparation for the new season.


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