Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mark Twain: In Celebration

A few random notes and quotes in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Mark Twain's death.

First a couple of my favorite short pieces from the man himself:

The Way Prayer

On the Decay of the Art of Lying

A few random Mark Twain quotes:

This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.
—Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar, entry for April Fool's Day

Arguments have no chance against petrified training; they wear it as little as the waves wear a cliff.
—from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

I will now claim—until dispossessed—that I was the first person in the world to apply the typewriter to literature. . . . The early machine was full of caprices, full of defects—devilish ones. It had as many immoralities as the machine of today has virtues. After a year or two I found that it was degrading my character, so I thought I would give it to [William Dean] Howells. . . . He took it home to Boston, and my morals began to improve, but his have never recovered.
—"The First Writing Machines"

The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example.
—from A Tramp Abroad

You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by.
—Letter to Orion Clemens, 23 March 1878

A long interview with Hal Holbrook regarding a special performance he will be doing of his one-man Mark Twain show to mark the anniversary. (Hat tip to Frank Wilson.)

This past month, even the SyFy Channel on cable has done a sideways Mark Twain celebration, by presenting a mini-series based on Philip José Farmer's epic RiverWorld novel series, a major character in which is riverboat captain Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. (This isn't the first adaptation of the Farmer's sprawling novel series undertaken, and I'm not certain that the previous adaptation wasn't more faithful to the letter of the books, but in my opinion this adaptation was certainly fun, and hit many of the right notes to capture the spirit if not the letter of Farmer's novels.)

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Needless to say Twain tends to get overshadowed over here. I actually don’t think I’ve read anything by him (not even Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer) but then I’m sure many Americans will be equally ignorant of the verbal skills of G B Shaw and Oscar Wilde who are also – sadly- better known these days for their one-liners than for anything more substantial they may well have produced.

2:05 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Shaw and Wilde are both known in the US, but it's a niche thing.

Shaw plays are still regularly done, in my experience, at various colleges and drama schools within universities. That's how I saw "Candida" a few years ago. But I agree that they're not well known to the general public.

Oscar is considered an iconic cultural hero, even a brilliant martyr, in LGBT circles, where people read him for insight as well as wit. He was in fact a very smart man, who deeply observed human behavior. The general public knows about his "Picture of Dorian Gray," perhaps because we're a culture obsessed with youth and avoiding aging; and "The Importance of Being Earnest" is pretty well known, too.

Still, I take your overall point.

11:47 AM  

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