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23 September 1993
Was Huck Black? Mark Twain​ and African-American Voices 
by Shelley Fishkin.
Oxford, 270 pp., £17.50, June 1993, 0 19 508214 1
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Black Legacy: America’s Hidden Heritage 
by William Piersen.
Massachusetts, 264 pp., £36, August 1993, 9780870238543
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Black and White Strangers: Race and American Literary Realism 
by Kenneth Warren.
Chicago, 178 pp., £21.95, August 1993, 0 226 87384 6
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... Of course he wasn’t. By today’s accredited categories he was poor, male, white trash. So what – besides a desire to be arresting – lies behind Professor Fishkin’s clearly tendentious title? MarkTwain, Clifton Fadiman wrote, is ‘our Chaucer, our Homer, our Dante, our Virgil, because Huckleberry Finn is the nearest thing we have to a national epic. Just as the Declaration of Independence ...

Incandescent Memory

Thomas Powers: Mark Twain

28 April 2011
Autobiography of Mark Twain​ Vol. I 
edited by Harriet Elinor Smith et al.
California, 736 pp., £24.95, November 2010, 978 0 520 26719 0
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... next door prettier, nor his friends readier for bold adventure on a Saturday free of school than all did in the ‘white town drowsing’ on the Missouri shore of the mighty Mississippi River where MarkTwain in the 1840s drank deeply of the sweetness of life, and never forgot it. ‘Free’ was a word of powerful attraction for Twain. His friend Tom Blankenship enjoyed a glorious perfection of ...
18 February 1982
Plotting the Golden West: American Literature and the Rhetoric of the California Trail 
by Stephen Fender.
Cambridge, 241 pp., £15, January 1982, 0 521 23924 9
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Witnesses to a Vanishing America: The 19th-Century Response 
by Lee Clark Mitchell.
Princeton, 320 pp., £10.70, July 1981, 9780691064611
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... plotting’ – the American West. That these problems often proved intractable, even insoluble, points to one of the key sources for that kind of anguished energy which is so often a distinctive mark of American writing. Chapter One draws on Washington Irving and on less well-known figures such as Timothy Flint and James Hall, and, taking up the fairly familiar point that when confronted by any ...

Dislocations

Stephen Fender

19 January 1989
Landscape and Written Expression in Revolutionary America: The world turned upside down 
by Robert Lawson-Peebles.
Cambridge, 384 pp., £35, March 1988, 0 521 34647 9
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Mark Twain’s Letters. Vol. I: 1853-1866 
edited by Edgar Marquess Branch, Michael Frank and Kenneth Sanderson.
California, 616 pp., $35, May 1988, 0 520 03668 9
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A Writer’s America: Landscape in Literature 
by Alfred Kazin.
Thames and Hudson, 240 pp., £15.95, September 1988, 0 500 01424 8
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... turned into disorientation. Since the settlement of the North American continent proceeded roughly from east to west, the ‘West’ was a cultural as well as a geographical experience. To MarkTwain, whose letters from Nevada and California form the bulk of this long-awaited and deftly-annotated edition by the MarkTwain Project at Berkeley, the West presented economic and social, as well as ...
19 October 1995
Bret Harte: Selected Stories and Sketches 
by David Wyatt.
Oxford, 332 pp., £5.99, February 1995, 9780192823540
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... of 1849. They were, invariably, not native Californians (few were, then), but part of the aftermath of the original ‘Rush’. The most famous, and now most esteemed, of these ‘humorists’ is MarkTwain. The most famous and successful then, but now very much disesteemed, was Bret Harte. When he left California in 1871, at the age of 37 (never to return), he was offered an unprecedented $10,000 ...

Anglo-America

Stephen Fender

3 April 1980
The London Yankees: Portraits of American Writers and Artists in England, 1894-1914 
by Stanley Weintraub.
W.H. Allen, 408 pp., £7.95, November 1979, 0 491 02209 3
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The Americans: Fifty Letters from America on our Life and Times 
by Alistair Cooke.
Bodley Head, 323 pp., £5.95, October 1979, 0 370 30163 3
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... with it: ‘by now it is hard to see any reason why an American writer or artist should wish to settle either in Paris or London.’ Then, of course, it was another matter. James, Whistler, Sargent, MarkTwain, Bret Harte, Stephen Crane, Harold Frederick, Henry Harland of the Yellow Book, Pound, Eliot, Frost; from 1894 to 1914 it seems that all the crème, not to mention the avant garde, of American ...

Best Known for His Guzzleosity

Helen Hackett: Shakespeare’s Authors

11 March 2010
Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? 
by James Shapiro.
Faber, 367 pp., £20, April 2010, 978 0 571 23576 6
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... is almost impossible. Shapiro wisely concentrates on two leading claimants – Bacon and Oxford – and on some of their most prominent adherents. Among the best-known Baconians are Delia Bacon, MarkTwain, Helen Keller and Henry James; among Oxfordians, Freud and J.T. Looney. Shapiro is a gifted storyteller, whether describing Helen Keller’s visit to MarkTwain in 1909, or his own discovery ...

At Tranquilina’s Knee

G. Cabrera Infante

2 June 1983
The Fragrance of Guava: Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza in conversation with Gabriel Garcia Marquez 
translated by Ann Wright.
Verso, 126 pp., £9.95, May 1983, 0 86091 065 2
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... Garcia Marquez calls ‘special hospitals for the rehabilitation’ of soldiers whose families shouldn’t know the ‘state they were in’. This kind of news-writing and storytelling combined makes MarkTwain, the famous author of ‘The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’, look like a Jehovah’s Witness delivering a Sunday sermon. I must remind you that MarkTwain never got the Nobel ...

Haute Booboisie

Wendy Lesser: H.L. Mencken

6 July 2006
Mencken: The American Iconoclast 
by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers.
Oxford, 662 pp., £19.99, January 2006, 0 19 507238 3
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... In the schools children are taught that the war was fought for freedom, the home and God. If you think you can hear in these passages the ringing tones of the progressive tradition extending from MarkTwain and William Dean Howells through Norman Mailer, Murray Kempton and beyond, you are mistaken. Mencken also wrote this: The educated Negro of today is a failure, not because he meets insuperable ...
19 June 1997
American Original: A Life of Will Rogers 
by Ray Robinson.
Oxford, 288 pp., $30, January 1997, 0 19 508693 7
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... no one knew who he was. Nor, having now read Ray Robinson’s reverent but clear sighted biography, do I. Will Rogers was billed as ‘America’s Greatest Humorist’, the successor to MarkTwain. But the legendary examples of his humour – ‘We are the first nation in the history of the world to go to the poorhouse in an automobile’; ‘My epitaph: Here lies Will Rogers. Politicians ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Big Short’

18 February 2016
The Big Short 
directed by Adam McKay.
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... are socially dysfunctional but honest in their contorted way, and the ignorant mass has carefully and in many cases profitably cultivated its ignorance. The film has an epigraph supposedly from MarkTwain – ‘It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so’ – and like all good epigraphs, it invites us to rework it a bit. The film ...

Every Latest Spasm

Christopher Hitchens

23 June 1994
A Rebel in Defence of Tradition: The Life and ‘Politics’ of Dwight Macdonald 
by Michael Wreszin.
Basic Books, 590 pp., £17.99, April 1994, 0 465 01739 8
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... with disquieting relish. I would guess, though, that the bitterness of Macdonald’s scornful and anarchic laughter springs from a foundered idealism, and that his closest analogue is the later MarkTwain. In any case his primary commitment to the Arnoldian role of being the disinterested critic of modern culture is surely what has saved him from collapsing into silence or obscurantism like so many of ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: How to Type like a Man

10 May 2007
... proportion of typists in America soared from 4 per cent to 95.6 per cent, the bulk of The Iron Whim concerns itself with the likes of Paul Auster, Bram Stoker, William Burroughs, David Cronenberg, MarkTwain, Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, J.G. Ballard and Hunter S. Thompson: in other words, men. He says more than once that he’s less interested in typewriters as machines (once upon a ...

At the Nailya Alexander Gallery

August Kleinzahler: George Tice

11 October 2018
... photographs of Fairmount, Indiana; Dixon, Illinois; and Hannibal, Missouri present us with another America, of main streets, front yards, soft, riverine light: home to James Dean, Ronald Reagan and MarkTwain, three utterly dissimilar characters but emblematic for Tice of a certain idea of America. The images in Lincoln at first seem something else entirely. In fact, through these photographs of ...

Why are we bad?

Paul Seabright

15 November 1984
Wickedness: A Philosophical Essay 
by Mary Midgley.
Routledge, 224 pp., £14.95, September 1984, 9780710097590
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... Of all the creatures that were made,’ wrote MarkTwain, ‘man is the most detestable. Of the entire brood he is the only one, the solitary one, that possesses malice. That is the basest of all instincts, passions, vices – the most hateful. He is the ...

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