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The following review appeared 1 March 2001 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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In the last few decades a number of books on Mark Twain have been published with mixed audiences in mind, written for scholars and laypersons alike. Not so with Joe Fulton's Mark Twain in the Margins. This is a book written for Twain scholars by a Twain scholar. Its specialized subject matter concerns the primary evidence of Twain's own marginalia found in the resource books the author used during his composing processes while thinking and writing during his spent summers at the Quarry Farm near Elmira, New York. In this book, Fulton presents the marginalia in four large appendixes as a resource for future Twain scholarship. These appendixes take up nearly half of the book. He also analyzes this previously unavailable evidence in five concise and focused chapters, concentrating on Twain's novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
Fulton begins his first chapter with a defense of Twain's composing process as set against those scholars who have always considered Twain to be only an unconscious, psychological and experiential writer. Rather, Fulton believes that Twain was both an experiential writer and a careful craftsman and researcher, as demonstrated through the author's manuscript revisions and, importantly, through his existing marginalia. Defending Twain from being pidgeonholed and defined too narrowly by definitions of either Howellsian or Jamesian realism, Fulton makes a case that Twain wrote with a purposeful aesthetic of his own brand of literary realism in mind. Fulton also quickly refutes recent claims, from the likes of Levine, Meindle and Stern, among others, that literary realism is no longer worthy of serious study. The rest of Chapter One ruminates between discussions of Twain's aesthetics and realism's importance, all through the lens of Twain's composing processes during the creation of A Connecticut Yankee. Fulton defendsTwain against his own self-deprecating words, phrases taken up and emblazoned time and again by literary critics as valid analyses of Twain's own methods of writing. Fulton's primary forms of evidence, that Twain did not simply write from "personal experience" and "unconscious motivation," are the author's extensive use of outside sources, mostly histories, in planning and composing his fiction. He builds a working definition of Twainian literary realism as defined by a "compass of fact," or "uncovering the truths of human character by studying the history of humankind" (14). The essence of this argument identifies Twain's fictional verisimilitude as projected from and outlined by known and recorded historical reality. This leads naturally into the uses and importance of the marginalia from the researched historical texts Twain consulted in creating his novels. A personal note on the opening chapter: The myriad, and sometimes clashing, discussions from the parlor of assembled scholars that Fulton has invited into this chapter might at times seem a bit overwhelming. I would have liked to hear, perhaps, a bit more of Fulton's voice rising above the polyglot of critical voices present.
Each of Fulton's remaining chapters concern the marginalia found in a particular book or set of volumes that directly influenced A Connecticut Yankee and reflect the historical foundations of Twain's fiction. Chapter Two treats W.E.H. Lecky's History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism; Chapter Three Macaulay's History of England from the Accession of James II; Chapter Four Lecky's A History of England in the Eighteenth Century; and Chapter Five, Carlyle's The French Revolution.
Fulton demonstrates that Twain's comments and markings in The Spirit of Rationalism illuminate Twain's fascination with and condemnation of humanity's acceptance and belief in "witches, magic and the supernatural" (32). By using Lecky's book to develop an understanding of the culture and beliefs of an age and a people, Twain is provided with a sort of template for the truth, or a "means of achieving fictional verisimilitude," allowing Hank Morgan to follow a "compass of fact" (33). This chapter also contains interesting comparisons between the Scotch, who are being subjected to the stresses of advanced civilization in Lecky's book, and the Iroquois and other natives of America that Twain knew. It focuses mostly, however, on the sins of the unified Church for "failing to use its great power for equally great ends" (38). These arguments set the stage for Twain's attacks against the Church throughout his novel.
In his third chapter, and in fact all his chapters, Fulton attempts to pinpoint the precise period in which Twain's marginalia were penned, thus affecting our understanding of the composition of A Connecticut Yankee. Marginalia placed in Macauley's History of England in 1887, according to Fulton, offer a fuller understanding of Twain's preoccupation with social class structure in his novel and also offers two possible models after whom Hank Morgan's character was structured, King James II and the Master of Stair. Fulton also offers insights on the influences that Macauley's style had upon Twain's own novel structure, telescoping "all history into a very short period of time" (61).
Chapter Four returns to Lecky, this time treating the Twain marginalia in History of England in the Eighteenth Century. This is by far Fulton's best and strongest chapter, where the marginalia he has uncovered is put to the best interpretive use. Dating the marginalia at 1888, Fulton demonstrates how the specific passages from Lecky, that Twain found important, point to revisions and redirections in completing the Yankee text. Fulton focuses on Lecky's theme of change that Twain found in the book. As such, Fulton discards the notions that the novel concerns any debate between either criticisms of English society or critiques of American society. Instead, he argues we should be reading a novel that "involves the concepts of change, progress and historicity" (65). According to Fulton, Twain uses History of England to come to the realization that social progress cannot be significantly accelerated without bloodshed, something Twain had hoped for early in his novel through Hank's ministrations. Fulton's thesis for the chapter can be summarized as such. "From his intensive study of history Twain realized that substantive change required that the men of old ideas die off" (68). The rest of the chapter goes on to reinforce the idea that the two major institution that Hank had to battle were composed of these "old men of ideas," the Church and the aristocracy, all leading to the inevitable Battle of the Sandbelt. In fact, Fulton argues that after absorbing Lecky's histories completely, Twain was convinced that in the end there was little, if any, difference between supposed civilized behavior and uncivilized behavior. Hank, in the end, shows himself to be a "man of old ideas" too.
The fifth chapter examines Twain's commentary on Carlyle's The French Revolution. Here, Fulton turns to Twain's rereading of Carlyle during the summer of 1888 as inspiration for a number of specific incidents occurring within A Connecticut Yankee, including Hank's Battle of the Sandbelt. We find direct references in Carlyle to particular Yankee mob scenes, depictions of slavery, and the near hanging of Arthur. Most importantly, Fulton concludes that Twain's novel was a response to Carlyle's "Bucket of Blood" description of the French Revolution (95). In fact, apparently Carlyle leads Twain to a deterministic understanding of history as chaos, as acted out in the conclusion of A Connecticut Yankee.
Fulton concludes his book with a touching biographical perspective on the importance of Twain's visits to the Cranes' Quarry Farm, and how those visits ended with Theodore Crane's stroke in September of 1888. Finally, I will be the first to admit that such chapter summaries as these do little justice to the richness and complexity of Fulton's overall arguments. I have oversummarized and skipped many of the interesting and intricate debates presented here. Two observations: I have concerns for those who may attempt to use this book who are not already fairly well versed in Connecticut Yankee scholarship. The author assumes this knowledge of his readers, so little space is devoted to summaries or extended references of earlier criticism. For example, quick references to Baetzhold's chronology and Carter's dichotomy of the hard and soft critics are expected to be understood. Also, I was a bit disappointed that this study did not unveil more that has not already been discussed in existing criticism. But that is not Fulton's point nor purpose here. These chapters do reinforce, with specific new outside evidence, much of what we already know about the genetic composition of the novel. Obviously, for present and future Connecticut Yankee scholars this will be an indispensable book. There are plenty of marginalia warehoused in the appendixes that remain to be analyzed and treated. With this volume, Fulton has provided a store of potential future scholarship and he has certainly raised the bar in our overall understanding and appreciation of Twain's creative processes and the ongoing debate on the importance and place of American literary realism.
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgements Method of Transcription
List of Abbreviations
1. Following the "Compass of Fact": Rethinking Mark Twain's Composing Process
2. Twain's "Cloud of Witnesses": The 1885 and 1887 Marginalia in Lecky's Spirit of Rationalism
3. Macaulay's "Stately Sentences": Twain's 1885 and 1887 Marginalia in The History of England
4. "The Men of Old Ideas Must Die Off": Mark Twain and Lecky's England in the Eighteenth Century
5. Thomas Carlyle's "Bucket of Blood": Twain's Rereading of The French Revolution