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By Peter Messent

"This creation offers a biography of the writer and situates his works within the ancient and cultural context of his instances. Peter Messent supplies readings of the best-known writings together with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He can pay specific awareness to the way in which Twain's humour works and the way it underpins his prose sort. the ultimate bankruptcy offers updated research of the new severe reception of Twain's Read more...

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Extra resources for The Cambridge introduction to Mark Twain

Sample text

I reckon they would, I dunno. (LE, 166–70) The very idea of evolution, either in terms of a providential scheme with man at the universe’s centre or in terms of progressive improvement in intellectual or moral power (see that ‘to all appearances’ above) is thrown into relativistic comic doubt. And yet . . Twain is uncertain about the position he takes, as the repeated ‘I dunno’ suggests. There is something here that strains against the lack of human or anthropological/historical meaning he would seem comically to propose.

His humour also relies on the gap between the controlling authorial position and the representation of the character and voice of the ‘Mark Twain’ protagonist and on the playfulness of the relationship between language and the reality it describes. These (and many others) are all techniques that Twain refines and develops – and sometimes abandons – as his career develops and as his control over his comic materials becomes increasingly skilful. To suggest just something of Twain’s comic ability, I focus briefly on his first great success, the ‘Jumping Frog’ sketch, before offering a highly selective overview of his humorous career, illustrating as I do so something of its increasingly darkening tone.

They nearly always played together; and, so accustomed was their mother to this peculiarity, that, whenever both of them chanced to be lost, she usually only hunted for one of them – satisfied that when she found that one she would find his brother somewhere in the immediate neighborhood. And yet these creatures were ignorant and unlettered – barbarians themselves and the offspring of barbarians, who knew not the light of philosophy and science. What a withering rebuke is this to our boasted civilization, with its quarrelings, its wranglings, and its separations of brothers!

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