The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Century With and Without Mark Twain

Yesterday was the centennial of Mark Twain's death, with Halley's Comet in the sky. In the years since his death, his writings have been swept aside and minimized by critics from Van Wyck Brooks to Charles Neider (who, in fairness, loved Twain, but reduced him to an anecdotist). But they don't stay gone. Like Halley's Comet itself, Twain's words come back to us when we need them--when we have lost touch with our own inner sense, we turn to Twain's the War Prayer to right ourselves, or Huckleberry Finn, or the Gilded Age, or--well, you get my point.

A century since he died, and yet books from his hand continue to issue--soon, his Autobiography will at long last be published--just as Twain predicted. I wrote my senior thesis on the Autobiography, and tried to get a sense of it from the fragments published in various fora and formats over the years. I look forward to that thesis's coming obsolescence.

Twain was a genius on the platform--and, sadly, no trace remains. Here's his foremost interpreter, Hal Holbrook, with a taste.

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