The Mark Twain Anthology edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin

April 10, 2010
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The Mark Twain Anthology
Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Editor

Library of America
4/10/2010
Trade Paperback/492 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59853-065-0
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". . .a collection of praise and criticism . . ."

Controversy, criticism, praise and adulation for a true American original in a well chosen sampling of the world's best and brightest.

Few writers are able to turn criticism into humor, but Mark Twain was one of them. A truly original American writer, Twain was reviled as a coarse, crass, uncivilized barbarian by some of his contemporaries, the same contemporaries who praised his wit and masterful turns of phrase. Seen through the eyes of those whose customs and countries Twain lampooned, like Thérèse Bentzon, a classically educated French writer, and Eduard Engel, an influential German novelist and critic, Twain came off as little more than a brute who didn’t have the education or the intelligence to appreciate any culture but his own, roundly panning The Innocents Abroad. Yet neither could ignore the humor or the wonder of earlier writing, like Tom Sawyer and The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Even in their criticism, there was praise.

It seems Twain’s magic captivated even the English, although he satirized what he thought would be a bad review of the travelogues, ending up with his own negative version and the English version praising his writing.

Twain awed younger writers, like Rudyard Kipling, who traveled from Alahamabad, India to meet with his idol, and affected future generations in all genres, from Ralph Ellison and Ursula K. Le Guin to Chuck Jones and Toni Morrison. He reached beyond the borders of the New World and affected writers in Russia, China and Japan, showing them how it was done and letting them know that no subject is taboo.

The Mark Twain Anthology is a collection of praise and criticism that shares the same magic, mystery and wonder with the cave of the forty thieves in which Aladdin got his first taste of real wealth. Among this collection of reminiscences, diatribes and viewpoints changed, lies the heart of Mark Twain’s enduring legacy and a hint of how humor and fearlessness crosses boundaries and ideologies to show at heart we are all one.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell

 

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