Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Ordeal of Mark Twain. Van Wyck Brooks.

New York: Meridian Books. 1920/1955.

Why read it? Twain was a writer who could have made a significant contribution to the world’s literature, but became sidetracked by his success and popularity as a humorist. Possibly explains his extreme bitterness in the latter part of his life. He never fulfilled his destiny. Desired wealth and prestige as well as fulfillment of his creative instinct. He couldn’t have both. “The poet, the artist in him consequently…withered into the cynic and the whole man had become a spiritual valetudinarian [invalid].”

Sample Quotes:

Mark Twain on the afterlife: “Heaven for climate. Hell for society.” p. 179. ………. Mark Twain on America: “In our country…we have these three unspeakably precious things: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and the prudence never to practice either.” p. 105. ……… Mark Twain on art: “Whenever I enjoy anything in art it means that it is mighty poor.” p. 152.

Mark Twain on business: “…the business man shuns everything that distracts him, stimulates him to think or to feel; such things are bad for business.” p. 206. ……… “Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were constantly being suppressed as immoral by the public libraries, and not in rural districts merely: in Denver and Omaha in 1903, in godly Brooklyn as late as 1906.”p. 219. ………. “By temperament, I [Mark Twain] was the kind of person that does things; does them and reflects afterward…could hardly ask for a better definition of immaturity.” p. 149.

Mark Twain on civilization: “My idea of civilization…is that it is a shabby poor thing and full of cruelties, vanities, arrogances, meannesses and hypocrisies; as for the word ["civilization"], I hate the sound of it, for it conveys a lie; and as for the thing itself, I wish it was in hell, where it belongs.” ………. p. 217. Mark Twain: “Another dream that I have…is being compelled to go back to the lecture-platform; I hate that dream…. In it I am always getting up before an audience with nothing to say, trying to be funny; trying to make the audience laugh, realizing that I am only making silly jokes; then the audience realizes it, and pretty soon they commence to get up and leave; that dream always ends by my standing there in the semi-darkness talking to an empty house.” p. 196. ………. Mark Twain: “A man is never anything but what his outside influences have made '"? That every man is strong until his price is named.”

This book presents the dark side of Mark Twain. And these quotes are only a sampling. Rays.

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