R. Kent Rasmussen (Editor)
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DescriptionOne hundred years after his death, Mark Twain remains one of America's most beloved literary figures. Eminently quotable, his best writing combines irreverent humor with practical good sense and deep human feeling and, perhaps more so than the work of any other author, defines what it is to be an American. Born in Florida, Missouri, in 1835, Twain watched the country grow up from patchworks of small towns amid unsettled wilderness into sprawling urban centers filled with factories and connected by railroad tracks and telegraph lines. He traveled extensively throughout his life-first within his own country as an itinerant printer, prospector, and newspaperman, then abroad as a travel writer and lecturer-and excitedly took in all of the technological, social, and cultural changes accompanying the approach of the twentieth century. But even as Twain looked toward the future, his most beloved novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is a nostalgic paean to a simpler, more innocent America, one in which it is still possible to "light out for the Territory."
This volume in the Critical Insights series, edited by R. Kent Rasmussen, author of Mark Twain A to Z and Critical Companion to Mark Twain, collects a variety of new, classic, and contemporary essays on Twain's life and works. Rasmussen's introduction offers a reflection on the author's enduring popularity, and Sasha Weiss, writing for The Paris Review, praises Twain's skillful re-creation of an authentic American vernacular in "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" and Huckleberry Finn.
For readers studying Twain for the first time, Rasmussen outlines the essential details of Twain's life, and four new essays provide valuable introductory material. Stephen Railton situates Twain's work within the broad currents of nineteenth-century culture to show how intimately connected Twain was with his time period, and Alan Gribben surveys the author's critical reception to show just how his work has achieved the place it currently holds within the American canon. Hilton Obenzinger then analyzes Twain's view of masculinity, and Lawrence I. Berkove, in a comparative analysis of Twain and Ambrose Bierce, finds more than a few startling similarities between the two humorists.
The volume continues with a selection of previously published essays that provide readers with a deeper understanding of the critical issues surrounding Twain's work. First, Larzer Ziff offers an analysis of two of Twain's travel books, Innocents Abroad and Roughing It. Moving into Twain's fiction, Cynthia Griffin Wolff unveils the darker side of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Huckleberry Finn is then treated in three pieces: one by Tom Quirk, who discusses the novel's overall structure and theme; one by Everett Carter, who examines its humor; and one by David L. Smith, who addresses its treatment of race. Another essay by Berkove makes a case for the mastery of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and David Ketterer argues that Twain's later work presents convincing evidence of his skill as a science-fiction writer. Finally, Michael J. Kiskis offers an examination of Twain's relation to domesticity.
Concluding the volume are a chronology of Twain's life, a list of his principal works, and a lengthy bibliography of critical works for readers desiring to study this quintessential American author in greater depth. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:
A chronology of the author's life
A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
A general bibliography
A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
Notes on the individual chapter authors
A subject index
Salem Press Inc
15 December 2010
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