Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(39) Mark Twain and American Oral Culture: Tall Tale and Hoax, J. C. Harris, Ballads and Fables.

T h e  G i l d e d  A g e

[See "Background for Topic 39..."]


M a r k  T w a i n  ( 1 8 3 5 – 1 9 1 0 )

L i f e :

- b. Samuel Langhorne Clemens

- grew up in Hannibal, a frontier town by Mississippi = the cross-section of all the directions and the infl. of the Western wilderness x Eastern civilisation, Southern slavery x Northern abolitionism

- apprenticed in a printing shop, worked from 12 to support family after his father’s death

- largely self-educated

- intended to go to Amazon to find adventure and wealth x but: instead apprenticed to a pilot of a MS riverboat > adopted the penname of Mark Twain = ‘safe water’

- himself a middle class, married a genteel and gentle woman of upper class, and had servants to run the house

- befriended with the master storyteller B. Harte, the lecturer A. Ward, and the critic W. D. Howells

W o r k :

- a humorist, realist, social realist, and the repres. man of Am. pop. culture: more successful than any of the authors before him

- began writing humorous accounts of his riverboat pilot activities for the Keokuk Saturday Post [= Iowa Sat. Post], establ. the pattern of peripatetic journalism

- after the success of his The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County refined his narrative technique: a written equivalent of ‘deadpan’ lecturing = convincing the audience he simply reports what oth. said and did

- remained the rough Westerner with no uni education (unlike former authors) => establ. a new pattern of writing incl. the frontier humour and the storytelling conventions of his journalistic experiences

< journalism > his critical sense of violence, corruption, and the decay of the Am. dream

< local colour realism: local aspects, aspects of sentimentalism, and nostalgia > his nostalgia for the Age of Innocence (= the pre-Gold Rush x the Gilded Age) and criticism of the damaging infl. of commercialism and industrialism

< folklore, the oral tradition of Tall-Tale > his interest in local customs

- experimented with various genres

- W. D. Howells’s memoir My Mark Twain: T. = ‘the Lincoln of our literature’, both raised from provincialism to the world-wide acknowledgement, and spoke to and for the common man

“The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (1865):

- the 1st piece to bring him pop.

- an ed. coming to the county from the East encounters a local character with his crazy tales

The Innocents Abroad (1869):

- a travel book

- the narrator = an average Am., a certain protagonist x but: mainly local characters described

- orig. a series of letters for newsp from his excursion to Eur. and the Holy Land

- a satire against the pretentious, decadent, and undemocratic Old World (the East x the West)

The Gilded Age (1873)

- in collab. with Charles Dudley Warner

Roughing It (1877):

- the same pattern as in his Innocents x but: applied to the Wild West

- an account of his and his brother’s adventures in the NV territory and the schemes he devised to get rich quick

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876):

- a myth of the endless summer of childhood pleasures mixed with terror

- pop. x but: primarily important as a place of orig. of his Huck

Old Times on the Mississippi (1875) >> Life on the Mississippi (1883):

- orig. instalments for the Atlantic Monthly ed. by W. D. Howells >> enlarged into a book

- a chronologically backward and psychically inward return to the Hannibal of his boyhood

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884):

- his realistic, satiric, yet lyrical masterpiece

- whole in a very natural spoken vernacular language

- a sequel to Tom x but: more serious

- a change of the POV to the 3rd person narrator

- an attempt of a more complex explanation: deconstructs some myths x but: reconstructs oth.

T h e  ‘ G r e a t D a r k ’  P e r i o d  (mid 1880s – mid 90s):

- a decline of his lit. achievement

- a lecture tour through the world to cover his bankrupt

- a decade of his daughter’s death, his wife’s decline into invalidism, and his own deteriorating health

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889):

- his anarchic impulses end up in a massacre and rejection of old and new values alike

The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894):

- disastrous effects of slavery on the victimiser and victim alike

- his satire turns to scorn and contempt for the ‘damned human race’

Following the Equator (1897):

- an account of his lecture tour

- written in En. where he settled, and where learnt about his daughter’s death

Which Was the Dream? (1967):

- a coll. of unfinished and perhaps unfinishable symbolic stories of his ‘Great Dark’ period

- a sense of madness, guilt, and responsibility for his daughter’s death

T h e  ‘ R e s t o r a t i o n  ’ P e r i o d  (mid 1890s +):

What Is Man? (1899):

- his ‘Bible’

- man = a machine driven by self-interest and craving for approval

- his indignation directed at orthodox Christianity, racism, imperialism, etc.

The Mysterious Stranger (1916):

- a bleak, despairing, and sarcastic exploration of contemp. city people


J o e l  C h a n d l e r  H a r r i s  ( 1 8 4 8 – 1 9 0 8 )

L i f e :

- b. in GA

- apprenticed in a printing shop, worked from 14 for regional newsps, then for the Atlanta Constitution

- largely self-taught <=> M. Twain

W o r k :

< dialect tales heard in childhood by slaves: the oral tradition of gospels, spirituals, fables, and tales

- Uncle Remus = an old slave of age-old wisdom outwitting that of his masters, and a ‘best friend’ creating a relationship with the wide-eyed audience, likened to a little white boy from the plantation household

=> introd. a new lit. tradition and a memorable new character

- author of ed. writing, early humorous pieces for newsps, and dialect tales

- an excellent ear for dialect

- an ability to emphasise the universal nature of the tales

Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings (1881): a coll. of folk poems and proverbs

Nights with Uncle Remus (1883)

Uncle Remus and His Friends (1892)

Uncle Remus and the Little Boy (1905)

Free Joe and Other Georgian Sketches (1887): a sense of the tragic dislocation of the South Af.-Am. after 1865


Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.

Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American  Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.

Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.

McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.

Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od  puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.

Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.

Other Sources

Peprník, Michal. Semináře: Americká literatura 1. ZS 2004/05.


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