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FW: BOOK REVIEW: David Rachels, ed., _Mark Twain's Civil War_

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  • huddleston.r@comcast.net
    Those not up on the latest in Mark Twain studies will find much of interest in this new book. -- Take care, Bob Judy and Bob Huddleston 10643 Sperry Street
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 17, 2008
      Those not up on the latest in Mark Twain studies will find much of interest in this new book.

      --
      Take care,

      Bob

      Judy and Bob Huddleston
      10643 Sperry Street
      Northglenn, CO 80234-3612
      huddleston.r@...

      "Problems will always torment us because all important problems are insoluble: that is why they are important. The good comes from the continuing struggle to try and solve them, not from the vain hope of their solution."

      - Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.


      -------------- Forwarded Message: --------------
      From: Barbara Schmidt <schmidt@...>
      To: TWAIN-L@...
      Subject: BOOK REVIEW: David Rachels, ed., _Mark Twain's Civil War_
      Date: Thu, 17 Jan 2008 12:12:16 +0000
      > The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Harold K.
      > Bush, Jr.
      >
      > ~~~~~
      >
      > _Mark Twain's Civil War_. Edited by David Rachels. University of Kentucky
      > Press, 2007. Pp. 220. Cloth. $30.00. ISBN 978-0-8131-2474-2.
      >
      > Many books reviewed on the Forum are available at discounted prices from
      > the TwainWeb Bookstore, and purchases from this site generate commissions
      > that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit <http://www.twainweb.net>.
      >
      > Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
      > By Harold K. Bush, Jr.
      > Saint Louis University
      > <bushhk@...>
      >
      > Copyright (c) 2008 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
      > redistributed in any medium without permission.
      >
      >
      > _Mark Twain's Civil War_ is a fine, readable collection of writings on the
      > Civil War by and about Mark Twain. Surprisingly, David Rachels begins his
      > collection by telling the story of the U. S. Congressional debate regarding
      > new postage stamps in 1940. Odd as it seems, this is a particularly apt
      > anecdote with which to begin, because it was at this time that a number of
      > mistaken and amusing impressions about Twain's war experiences were aired
      > to the general public. The kicker came when Congressman Joseph Shannon
      > opined that Twain's war service proved that he was "not of the same kidney
      > as real Missourians" (p. 2).
      >
      > This minor controversy emerged from a debate over the best place to issue
      > the first day stamps bearing the image of Mark Twain: should it be in
      > Hannibal, or Hartford? (Such weighty matters, then as now, are evidently
      > important enough to require the time of tax-paid legislators and to take up
      > valuable space in the Congressional Record, which surely would have
      > delighted, or irritated, the man under discussion.) But a remarkable
      > aspect of this opening episode of the volume is to highlight how Mark
      > Twain's participation (or non-participation) in the War of Secession
      > immediately broaches matters of pride, masculinity, national memory, and
      > the tricky lines separating fiction from fact all at the same time.
      >
      > Thus does Rachel's interesting introduction focus on two important themes
      > that emerge in his analysis of Mark Twain's war record and the various
      > writings in which they are expressed. First is his consideration of the
      > obvious confusions that turn up from account to account, and indeed overall
      > the sense of confusion that constitutes a major theme in most of these
      > different tales. Rachels does a worthwhile job of showing how confusing
      > service in Missouri really was during these heated times. Nowadays, it is
      > becoming more common for critics to refrain from calling Twain a
      > "Confederate," even though he occasionally used that moniker for himself.
      > Indeed, when I undertook my own lengthy study of the scholarly work on
      > Twain's Civil War writings, I was struck over and over by the sheer number
      > of (often famous) critics who stated unapologetically that Twain was, in
      > fact, a Confederate soldier. However, as several scholars have recently
      > shown (most notably Terrell Dempsey in his excellent historical account,
      > _Searching for Jim_), Twain was never a Confederate. Rachels does admit as
      > much ("he was technically never a member of the Confederate Army" [p. 7]),
      > but he simultaneously shows how confusing the situation must have been. I
      > would even venture to say that his comments succeed in complicating this
      > issue somewhat, and in emphasizing these difficult distinctions, so that I
      > come away from the introduction slightly less certain of my own
      > understanding about Twain's situation. Despite his important
      > qualifications, Rachels grounds Twain's wartime movements within the sphere
      > of the Confederacy, and some of Rachel's comments are worth questioning,
      > such as when he claims that Twain "fought in support of slavery," or that
      > it was clear to him that he had "answered the call of the Confederacy" (pp.
      > 12, 6). The header of the section on _Roughing It_ begins, "After quitting
      > the confederate cause, Sam Clemens traveled west ..." (p. 21).
      >
      > We might quibble with these matters, I suspect, but it is also necessary to
      > state, at the very least, that opinions do vary on these matters. In fact
      > Rachels shows admirably that such confusions were relevant to Twain's
      > personal experience of enlisting, and that they are solidly written into
      > several of the accounts, notably his very first public speech on the war,
      > delivered in 1877, when he states that the competing loyalties sent
      > ambiguous signals: "Well, you see, this mixed us. We couldn't really tell
      > which side we were on" (p. 5). This comment is slightly amended in the most
      > famous narrative he produced, the "Private History of a Campaign that
      > Failed" (1885), where Twain says, "This mixed us considerably, and we
      > could not make out just what service we were embarked in" (7). These young
      > recruits were obviously mixed up as to their proper loyalties, and besides
      > Missouri, this must have been a common emotion faced by enlisted soldiers
      > throughout the border states--and quite possibly, affecting many other
      > southerners as well.
      >
      > The second important idea that Rachels develops is when he utilizes Tim
      > O'Brien's distinction between what he calls "happening truth" and "story
      > truth," a paradigm O'Brien first put forth in his Vietnam novel, _The
      > Things They Carried_. Rachels broaches the important question of the
      > "truthfulness" of Twain's accounts of his war was experience. Fifty years
      > ago, John Gerber produced a paper, "Mark Twain's Private Campaign," that
      > outlined the various manifestations of this tale; Gerber counted eight,
      > including Absalom Grimes's account in his book published over 65 years
      > after the war's inception. Among other things, the many years between the
      > publication of various accounts, and the fact that several people produced
      > these differing versions, allow readers today to be rather uncertain about
      > what actually occurred. Most famously, did Twain witness, and perhaps even
      > have a hand in, the death of a soldier, as narrated near the end of the
      > "Private History"? Probably not, is the consistent response of the
      > biographers and historians. However, Rachels's implementation of O'Brien's
      > model allows us to envision a somewhat different response to that tricky
      > question. Yes, in terms of happening truth, it probably did not really
      > happen. But the story truth contained in the "Private History" is much more
      > enduring because of that single death. Whether or not readers of Rachels's
      > book would agree, at least his invocation of story truth brings a fresh
      > perspective to this chestnut of Twain biography.
      >
      > Indeed, the value of the "story truth" in these tales takes on new life,
      > when they are read with O'Brien's paradigm in mind. It is worthwhile to
      > have finally in one volume the many versions of Twain's war record
      > presented here. The book comprises two main sections, besides the
      > introductory essay. The first section, called "Nonfiction," includes
      > Twain's first known remarks about his war experience in 1877; the "Private
      > History" of 1885; Twain's remarks made in 1887 at a veteran's banquet in
      > Baltimore; his 1901 speech in New York (notable for its praise of Abraham
      > Lincoln); and some interesting excerpts from the autobiographical
      > dictations of January, 1907. There are one or two other pieces that might
      > have been included here, such as Twain's plea for the Lincoln memorial in
      > 1907, which would have been a nice complement to the 1901 speech. This
      > section also contains the account by Absalom Grimes, composed in 1926, and
      > the sections of Albert Paine's biography that cover the war period. It also
      > takes in a few non-fictional excerpts from _Roughing It_ and _Life on the
      > Mississippi_, though a few of the very fine sections of _Life on the
      > Mississippi_ that deal with war issues are not included here.
      >
      > The second large section is titled "Fiction," a strong collection of the
      > stories in which Twain dramatizes events during the war years: "An
      > Exchange of Prisoners" (1863), "Lucretia Smith's Soldier" (1864), "The
      > Facts in the Case of the Great Beef Contract" (1870), "A True Story"
      > (1874), and "A Curious Experience" (1881). These tales still entertain,
      > such as the ending of "Lucretia Smith's Soldier," which reveals that the
      > soldier Lucretia was pining for was not her lover at all. An excerpt from
      > _The Gilded Age_ rounds out the section, and the book ends with the "Battle
      > Hymn of the Republic (Brought Down to Date)," a parody of the most famous
      > song of the war years that remained unpublished during Twain's lifetime.
      >
      > The book is handsome, well produced, and well illustrated. One might
      > question the inclusion of a piece such as the "Private History," or for
      > that matter even certain speeches, into a section called "Nonfiction."
      > Indeed, we might even quibble with the desirability of separating the
      > writings out as either fictional or nonfictional, given the content of the
      > introduction and the emphasis on the blurring of lines between these two
      > categories. More positively, many of the selections, such as the "Private
      > History," "A True Story," "The Facts in the Case of the Great Beef
      > Contract," and the excerpts from the novels, all present the original
      > illustrations, an additional boon. Although it does not include very much
      > scholarly apparatus (no index and little historical support for unknown
      > names, places, events, and so on), the volume is a nice addition to the
      > Twain bookshelf, and perfect for reading in an easy chair, with its roomy
      > pages and comfortable font and style. More should be written about Mark
      > Twain and the Civil War--the central event in American history--and this
      > volume is a timely contribution to that enterprise.
      >
      >
      > Harold K. Bush, Jr.
      > Saint Louis University
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