Thus, Cooper, Hawthorne, Melville, and Twain are the most American of nineteenthcentury novelists, and Whitman is our

true American poet, since something like an American identity can be discerned from reading their works. Ultimately, Spengemann has said, "America must make a difference in the way literature is written." I have in the past believed this to be so (the force of Spengemann's arguments to the contrary notwithstanding), and to some extent still do, though I am deeply troubled by the implications of extracting some notion of identity, some sense of representativeness, from a canonized literature written almost exclusively by white men. The newest anthologies of our national literature have attempted to vociferous, highly charged (but implicit) arguments centered, above all, on the meaning of America and who were its rightful inheritors. But the picaresque also had inherent weaknesses, the most glaring being an inconsistency in its point of view. It was often difficult, sometimes impossible, to tell where its author stood on the vital po-19- litical issues he (and it almost always was "he") was discussing. It was not until Mark Twain transformed the picaresque with the publication of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884-85 that any kind of stability in tone and vision entered the form. If the journey down the Mississippi seemed random and unplotted, Twain's purposes were nevertheless highly focused. Moreover, with the dual portrait of Huck and Jim, Twain achieved a clarity and depth in character that no other picaresque novel had previously managed. Earlier versions of the genre may also have highlighted socially marginal figures, pitting them against representatives of mainstream society, yet none could maintain the satiric perspective while at the same time realizing the emotional depths of, and eliciting compassion for, their wandering protagonists. The potential for greatness had always been there; it took a great writer, of course, to realize it. Originality of design and form would only arrive with great romantic writers of the nineteenth century; an authentic American idiom and a genuine "cultural voice" would have to await Mark Twain's arrival on the novelistic scene. And the American novel would not truly become "American" until the behavior of the Puritan male hysteric Arthur Dimmesdale). Responding to the energies of the new post-Civil War America, Mark Twain gave the period its name in a novel of the present, The Gilded Age (1873). In successive works, however, Twain moved farther into the past. He drew on his own boyhood and his years as a cub pilot in Old Times on the Mississippi (1875), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the

" Mr. For all the differences in class. becomes a metaphor for the fluid." It takes a special sensibility to see the virtue in these rapid changes and an equally special person to turn them to use. As a writer in such a destabilizing period. B. His sense of -168. explains. Twain taps into the energy of both traditions. and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). a tendency that intensifies in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). life-giving savior figure. his masterpiece of vernacular realism. In "Old Times on the Mississippi" the river in nightmare fog and darkness. As a realist. This language has a beauty appropriate to a developing realism. and saying. He thrives on the changing American world of the river. In these works he deals with contemporary concerns suggestively but indirectly. shifting American social world Mark Twain experienced in the years after he served his own apprenticeship as a cub. Isabel Archer and her epistemological situation are similar to those of Mark Twain's cub as he tries to learn the constantly changing shapes of the river. a deathdefying.the American present seemed to make it difficult for Twain to deal with it imaginatively in anything like the mode of realism he had perfected in Huckleberry Finn. "That's the very main virtue of the thing. as for the writer. Early in his career. for example. seeing.Twain began to develop his characteristic version of American realism as a way of knowing. set not in the America of Twain's lifetime but in the England of a mythical past. cultivation. He has also found a vital language rooted in ordinary American experience. Twain. the river with its energy and shifting banks and channels.Mississippi (1883). a colloquial language Twain perfected in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. "If the shapes didn't change every three seconds they wouldn't be of any use. But Twain and other realists experienced a dilemma as they attempted to render observed American life. however. American realists like Mark Twain may use such conventions to render a lifelike quality but they are rarely literal or onedimensional. For Twain the new language of realism is in part connected with the masculine realm of work and with an evolving professionalism that 2 . does justice to the world of the river in the 1850s and endows it with a suggestive charge that engages with his concerns as an American writer in the Gilded Age of moneymaking and accelerating technology. since they associated beauty with a set of conventions they were in the process of subverting. the pilot is a demigod. in Old Times on the Mississippi. and milieu. how does he know for sure? What can he rely on? What value does his work have? How trustworthy is the imagination? For the cub.

Davis. Chesnutt.involved a use of precise measurements at odds with the hyperbole of frontier humor and the irreverent colloquialism of ordinary speech. On this count the post — Civil War American writers are as full and perceptive as we can ask for. borrowed the strategies of popular literature to parodic effect in his handling of dime novel blood-and-thunder stories voraciously devoured by Tom Sawyer and piously sentimental. To shift to another highly charged concern. for example. Davis. Twain. Money in all its implications is the other major preoccupation of nineteenthand twentiethcentury realism. James. Twain. The concluding image of a mile of torches —187kerosene-lighted bodies — throws a terrible light on the grimmest side of American racism. Jim. a stage figure in Tom's romantic fantasy world. Updike. At the turn of the century Twain wrote "The United States of Lyncherdom" (1901). James. as humane and knowledgeable. in touch with the mysteries of the natural world and close to his family even as he is separated from them. female narratives hilariously misread by Huck Finn. one of the touchstone interests of the realistic novel from Balzac to the present. and Howells. responsive to the surfaces and recesses of American selves and society." For the professional and the realist. help us map the emerging new America whose construction is no more certain than the shifting shores of Mark Twain's fog-shrouded Mississippi. Their sense of reality is open and varied. from the vantage point of later generations. representative post — Civil War realists. Using the gendered image of the woman's body. later still. It was also at odds with his conscious conception of beauty. Twain. 3 . These contrasting views of Jim have implications within and beyond the novel. thwarted by the energies of the Gilded Age. with the flush of fever hiding "some deadly disease. "are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay?" In Huckleberry Finn Twain had earlier imagined the escaping slave. The fact that Twain was compelled to write "The United States of Lyncherdom" but decided not to publish it during his lifetime — he feared loss of sales in the South — highlights the situation of the realistic writer engaging with market pressures and with perhaps the deepest fault line in American culture. say of Dreiser or later Hemingway or. Stimulated and sometimes thwarted by the energies of the Gilded Age. Twain associates beauty with femininity and deceptive surfaces. But at the end Twain also allowed Tom Sawyer to turn Jim into an object. the firstgeneration American realists are circumspect or relatively indirect in their treatment of sexuality.

Twain's literature reflects his extensive and varied experience — he piloted a ship down the Mississippi. Connecticut. Twain turned to writing as a career. Twain is often regarded as the quintessential American author. Frustrated by his lack of financial remuneration in these fields. Roughing It (1872). The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894). they set an agenda that could not be ignored. 4 . served briefly in a Confederate troop. His numerous works include The Innocents Abroad(1869). their mixture of commercial rhetoric. A Tramp Abroad (1880). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). and searched for gold in the Mother Lode district of California. He also became a frequenter of European capitals. Twain combined social success and aspiration with a critical skepticism. the cheap publications affected the larger climate of conventions and expectations governing literary production and consumption. A complex figure. In 1870. fictionalized history.Story papers and dime novels were the most visible fictional forms of nineteenth-century America.wealthy and well-connected Olivia Langdon. The Prince and the Pauper (1882). Life on the Mississippi (1883). and merged his humor with a sometimes bleak vision of the human condition. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) (1835–1910) Born in Missouri. following his marriage to the -813. and "The Mysterious Stranger" (published posthumously). and reared in the small town of Hannibal on the shores of the Mississippi River. In literary historical terms. Culturally. explicitly conjoining the market economy with literary production. and democratized sensationalism created stories that could be appropriated and accented by quite opposite groups. Twain established his household in Hartford. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).

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