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Literary Giant: Mark Twain (1835-1910)
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2006-10-30 14:31:08    博士教育网  
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    "Criticism is a queer thing. If I print 'She was stark naked' - & then proceeded to describe her person in detail, what critic would not howl? - who would venture to leave the book on a parlor table, - but the artist does this & all ages gather around & look & talk & point. I can't say, 'They cut his head off, or stabbed him, ' & describe the blood & the agony in his face."

    Mark Twain - Notebook #18, Feb. - Sept. 1879

    Mark Twain - A Brief Assessment

    As one of America's first and foremost realists a humorists, Mark Twain, the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens usually wrote about his own personal experiences and and things he  knew about from firsthand experience. His life spanned the two Americas, the frontier America that produced so much of national mythology and the emerging urban, industrial giant of the 20th century. At the heart of Twain's achievement is his  creation of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, who embody the mythic America, midway between the wilderness and the model state.

    The Gilded Age, came in 1873. It was one of the first novels, which tried to describe the new morality (or immorality) of post-Civil War America. One of the new elements of this novel is that it creates a picture of the entire nation, rather than of just one region. Although it has a number of Twain's typically hu­morous characters, the real theme is America's loss of its old idealism. The book describes how a group of young people is morally destroyed by the dream of becoming rich.

    Twain, the third of five children, was born on Novel 1835, in the village of Florida, Missouri, and grew up in t river town of Hannibal, that mixture of idyll and nigh and around which Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn live i adventure-filled summers. Hannibal was dusty and quit large forests nearby which Twain knew as a child and uses in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)w kidnaps Huck and hides out in the great forest. The sit which passed daily were the fascination of the town am the subject matter of Twain's Life on the Mississippi (1?town of Hannibal is immortalized as St. Petersburg in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). Twain's father was an ambitious and respected mildly successful country lawyer and storekeeper. He v ever, a highly intelligent man who was a stern disci? Twain's mother, a southern belle in her youth, had ; ley Warner,

    In 1870, Twain married Olivia Langdon. They finished their Hartford mansion and moved into it in 1871. Their infant son Langdon died in 1872, the year Susy, their first daughter, was born. Her sisters, Clara and Jean, followed in 1874 and 1880. Twain's most productive years as a novelist came in this period, when his daughters were young and he was prospering. His The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was a story about "bad boys? a pop­ular theme in American literature. The two young heroes, Tom and Huck Finn, are "bad" only because they fight against the stu­pidity of the adult world. In the end they win. Twain creates a highly realistic background for the story. We get to know the vil­lage very well with its many colorful characters, its graveyards and the house in which a ghost is supposed to exist. Although there are many similarities between Tom and Huck, there are al­so important differences. Twain studies the psychology of his characters carefully. Tom is very romantic. His view of life comes from books about knights in the Middle Ages. A whistle from Huck outside Tom's window calls him out for a night of adventures. Afterwards, Tom can always return to his Aunt Polly's house. Huck has no real home. By the end of the novel, We can see Tom growing up. Soon, he will also be a part of the adult world. Huck, however, is a real outsider.

    Some critics complain that Twain wrote well only when he was writing about young people. They say that his psychology was really only child psychology. This may be true. But in his greatest novel. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain gives the national heart. Most agree , however, that it抯 from even deeper currents. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is Twain's best book because, for whatever reasons, he brought  together in it, with the highest degree of artistic balance, those most fundamental dualities running through his work  and life from start to finish.

    In his later novels, Twain seems less hopeful about democra­cy. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), the hero is the boss of a factory. He is hit on the head and wakes up in sixth-century England. Because he is a nineteenth-century in­ventor, he begins to modernize this world, and because he knows so much, he becomes a kind of dictator, called "the Boss". In many ways, Twain seems to be praising both the technology and the leadership of the bosses of American business during the "Gilded Age". Like Twain Twain's hero, these bosses thought they knew more than the ordinary people of society.

    By 1890, Twain's financial fortunes were crumbling, mostly owing to bad investment in a publishing firm and in the Paige typesetter. In 1891,Twain closed the Hartford mansion, sold the furniture, and went to Europe to economize. While he was lectur­ing in Europe, his daughter Susy died, and his wife, Livy, shortly afterward suffered a nervous collapse from which she never re­covered. Twain blamed him for bringing on his beloved family the circumstances that led to both tragedies. Twain's pessimism grew deeper and deeper. His abiding skepticism about human natrue deepened to cynicism and found expression in those dark stories of his last years, "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" and "The Mysterious Stranger". In the former, Twain describes a town that had been famous for its honesty". In the end, everybody in town has lied in order to get a big bag of gold. In the latter, published in 1916 after Twain's death, an angel visits three boys in an English village in the Middle Ages. He becomes their friend and shows them evil of mankind. After destroying their innocent happiness, he finally announces that he is Satan. Twain saw human nature as a kind of machine; "I see no great difference between a man and a watch, except that a man is conscious and a watch is not. "Human evil comes from something being wrong with that machine. Throughout all of Twain's writing, we see the conflict between the ideals of Americans and their desire for money. But Twain never tried to solve the conflict. He is like a newspaperman who reports what he sees. His humor was often rather childish. This may bespeak why the critic P. Abel said: "Twain was ably and an old man, but never was he a man. "

    His literature explored questions of freedom, independence, and identity. In a steady evolution, lie moved from the confidence and self-reliance of the brash westerner to the questioning and contradictory stance of the agnostic, until he could write in his notebook in the last years of the century, "The human race consists of the damned and the ought-to-be-damned." It could be argued that, almost single-handedly, he liberated American fiction from the rigid conventions of the mid nineteenth century-its stilted dialogue, its stereotyped characters, its didactic impulse, its optimistic impetus. At the same time, lie lowered 'American literature to the plane of the mass audience and elevated it to a distinct, in digamous height which no one else has reached.

     

    One of the great writers of American literature, Twain is admired for capturing typical American experiences in a language which is realistic and charming. Howells was one of Twain's early admirers, and he wrote the following on Twain's style: "So far as I know, Mr. Clemens is the first writer to use in extended writing the fashion we all use in thinking, and to set down the thing that comes into his mind without fear or favor of the thing that went before or the thing that may be about to follow." Most of the critical attention has been given to Huck Finn, Clemens' greatest achievement. This book concerns itself with a number of themes, among them the quest for freedom, the transition from adolescence into adulthood, alienation and initiation, criticism of pre-Civil War southern life. A remarkable achievement of the book is Clemens' use of American humor, folklore, slang, and dialects. There is critical debate, however, concerning the ending of the book - some call it weak and ineffective, others feel it is appropriate and effective.

     

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