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The Ordeal of Mark Twain

Van Wyck Brooks

Book Overview: 

This book analyzes the literary progression of Samuel Clemens and his shortcomings (which are debatable). Brooks attributes Clemens' increasing sense of pessimism to the repression of his creative spirit due largely to his mother and his wife.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Hannibal, Mark Twain picked up a loose page, the page of some life of Joan of Arc, which was flying in the wind. That seed, so planted, was to blossom half a century later: even now it began to put forth little tentative shoots. "It gave him his cue," says Mr. Paine, "the first word of a part in the human drama," and he conceived a sudden interest in history and languages. Anything might have come of that impulse if it had had the least protection, if it had been able to find a guideway. As a matter of fact, as a matter of course, it perished in a joke.

In all his environment, then, we see, there was nothing to assist in the transformation of an unconscious artistic instinct, however urgent, into a conscious artistic purpose. "Dahomey," wrote Mark Twain once, "could not find an Edison out; in Dahomey an Edison could not find himself out. Broadly speaking, genius is not born with sight but blind; and it is not itself that opens its eyes, but the subtle influences . . . Read More