Cover image for Proper Mark Twain
Proper Mark Twain
Krauth, Leland.
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Publication Information:
Athens : University of Georgia Press, [1999]

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xvi, 304 pages ; 24 cm
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Mark Twain is often seen as a transgressive humorist out to undermine the conventional. But there is another Twain, argues Leland Krauth, one who honours conventions, espouses commonplace notions and upholds the moralities of his time. This Twain stays within the boundaries of his culture.

Author Notes

Leland Krauth is an associate professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Students of Mark Twain have generally preferred to see him as a rebel; here Krauth, who teaches English at the University of Colorado-Boulder, issues them a challenge. His detailed, scholarly study marshals evidence that Twain "was on the side of orthodoxy" and "the product of his culture." Each of the eight chapters describes a type of Victorian writerÄthe moralist, the sentimentalist, the travel writer, etc.Äand places Twain in that tradition. Most of Twain's full-length books are covered, including the much-neglected A Tramp Abroad and Following the Equator. Krauth takes up Twain's love letters to Olivia Langdon and shows that they are "thoroughly literary," and reveals how Twain's courtship forced him into respectability to impress the conservative Langdon family. Krauth deftly explores Twain's literary personae as repentant sinner, gentleman, man of feeling, man of the world and man of letters. Krauth's approach allows him to account easily for passages that have stumped other critics, usefully correcting the one-sided view of Twain as purely radical. But Krauth's thorough catalogue of conventional attitudes and statements in these books does not suffice to prove his broader point, and he is forced to acknowledge a "self-loathing, socially subversive other within [Twain]." As strikingly conventional as Twain may have been in some respects, there's no denying that the great satirist found the urge to thumb his nose at society all but irrepressible. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The Mark Twain who emerges from these pages probably won't please readers who like to see him as an irreverent opponent of sentimentality and social convention. But by looking at Twain's career from beginning to end, Krauth (English, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) makes a strong case that, whatever role transgressive humor played in his work, in Mark Twain Sam Clemens tried to project the persona of the Victorian gentleman. Krauth's re-examination of Twain via this lens highlights some interesting issuesÄTwain's concern with sentiment (or "right feelings"); the conventional, scarcely unbuttoned self-portrait presented in selections of the autobiography that appeared, late in Twain's life, in the North American Review; and the symbolism of Twain's famous white linen suit, which he sported in the last decade of his life. Although Krauth may neglect the transgressive in Twain's genius, his view of Twain sheds new light on the man and artist. Recommended for all libraries. Charles Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Moralist of the Main Sam Clemens's time in the West, 1861-66, was probably the most erratic period in his unsettled early life. It was also one of the most formative. Fleeing the Civil War by lighting out for the Nevada Territory, he entered a world in the making, and in it, by default, chance, and design, he made himself. He discovered his vocation as a writer and his talent as a lecturer. He shaped a personal identity, facets of which were to remain with him throughout his life. And, of course, he found--he created--Mark Twain, his creative persona. His self-fashioning was, however, a hit-and-miss enterprise, for he was often as unsteady as the tumbleweed. He shifted jobs, moved homesites, changed outlook, vacillated in confidence, and suffered mood swings from jubilation to despondency. Complicating the contraries of his life and temperament, he began to live and write with an eye on those who had their eyes on him; he began, that is, a process of mythologizing himself, even though the self to be mythologized was only nascent: Yet for all of its vagary, Clemens's life in the West has a discernible drift to it, and in the early Mark Twain we can see at least the shadowy outline of the figure that would become proper Mark Twain.     The western world Clemens entered was itself remarkably fluid. From the physical state of its camps and towns to its mixed economies to its social order, the West was in flux. This instability offered opportunities, but also posed problems. The economic, social, political, and cultural lines along which one usually lived must often have seemed in the Nevada Territory to have been drawn in sand. The institutions and values of the East were replicated in the West, and those who believed in them often upheld them with a stridency that suggests desperation. But there were also new systems, new values, that vied with the old. Clemens experienced this creative collision, sometimes to his dismay, often to his delight.     Here is a teasing letter home to his mother and sister (with a word about his nephew) written after Clemens had been in the territory for an eye-opening five months: "Pa wouldn't allow us to fight, and next month Orion will be Governor, in the Governor's absence, and then he'll be sorry that his education was so much neglected. Now, you should never despise good advice, you know, and that is what I am giving you when I warn you to teach Sammy to fight, with the same care that you teach him to pray" ( L1 160). Although he is joking, his play registers a key difference between East and West: the rule of law versus the rule of physical force. Neither was absolute in either region, and Clemens had certainly known violence growing up in Hannibal (Wecter, Brashear, Blair, MT&HF ). But in the territory, force more often held sway. Significantly, to make the point that Orion is unfit for office in the West by virtue of his upbringing, he evokes the figure of their father, John Marshall Clemens, the lawyer and sometime justice of the peace, known as Judge Clemens. In the town of Hannibal--and in his own home--Judge Clemens was an adjudicator of law and a keeper of the peace. He emerges casually here, but he loomed for his son Sam almost as the eponym of civilization itself, and, as I shall suggest, his father's memory haunted Clemens during his time in the West.     Adjusting to the frontier, Clemens was slow to commit himself to any particular line of work. During his first year in the territory he was, in somewhat slow sequence, Orion's assistant, a noticeable loafer, a grudging, then frenetic prospector, and finally a reporter for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise . It was only after five months of writing for the Enterprise that he discovered himself as Mark Twain. Indeed, it was not until 1865, four years after he first arrived in the West, three years after he became a full-time newspaperman, that he would somewhat stagily announce that he had had a "`call' to literature, of a low order-- i.e. humorous" ( L1 322). Clemens's work as a reporter put him in intimate contact with the full spectrum of western society, as Twain later explained in his "Roughing It" lecture: A nice, gentlemanly reporter--I make no references--is well treated by everybody. Just think of the wide range of his acquaintanceship, his experience of life and society. No other occupation brings a man into such familiar sociable relations with all grades and classes of people. The last thing at night--midnight--he goes browsing around after items among police and jailbirds, in the lockup, questioning the prisoners, and making pleasant and lasting friendship with some of the worst people on earth. And the very next evening he gets himself up regardless of expense, puts on all the good clothes his friends have got--goes and takes dinner with the Governor, or the Commander in Chief of the District, the United States Senator, and some more of the upper crust of society. ( MTSpk 60)     Clemens was well positioned to savor such extremes. He had been bred with an acute sense of social class--his father conducting himself as one of the F.F.V.s, his mother imagining herself a descendant of English royal blood, his childhood community dividing itself along social lines defined by race as well as wealth, lineage, and cultural literacy. But his family's financial misfortunes--John Marshall Clemens had, in Robert Penn Warren's haunting phrase, gone "failing westward"--left Clemens without the means to support the pretensions instilled in him. And this, together with his own early knockabout life as itinerant typesetter and occasional writer, left him déclassé. Faced with the openness of the West, he had two divergent responses: he turned bohemian, defying the strictures of class respectability, and he played the gentleman, honoring the standards of proper society.     In biography and scholarship, the bohemian Sam Clemens is by far the most familiar. (Mack, Fatout, Benson, and Lennon all track this beguiling figure.) He makes exciting copy today, just as he made local news during his actual time in the West. Loafer, drinker, rowdy; frequenter of saloons, theaters, and, in all likelihood, brothels; braggart, vilifier, and hoaxer; he lived loose and fast, both in Nevada and later on the California coast. While his late hours, heavy drinking, flamboyant antics, and verbal as well as literary fisticuffs are accepted lines in the standard portrait of Clemens as a bohemian, his sexual outlook at the time is unclear. Some recent scholarship has emphasized the importance of his male friendships without being able to fix exactly their nature--asexual, homoerotic, homosexual, or homosocial (Hoffman, "Mark Twain and Homosexuality"). What should, I think, be clear, however, is that in his bohemian living Clemens indulged a sexual consciousness (of whatever sort--and with whatever consummations) that was itself in conflict with the circumspection of strict Victorian mores. In all his wayward living, he cultivated a kind of freedom, laying the groundwork for his eventual image as nonconforming rebel humorist. Yet cavorting with the rowdy was by no means the whole of his pastimes. Nostalgically recalling his western days, in later years he paid tribute to "the unforgotten and unforgettable": "Goodman, McCarthy, Gillis, Curry, Baldwin, Winters, Howard, Nye, Stewart; Neely Johnson, Hal Clayton, North, Root--and my brother, upon whom be peace!" ( MTL 2:773). Revealingly, with the single exception of Steve Gillis, the compositor for the Enterprise , this list is a roll call of the most prominent citizens of Nevada. Sam Clemens hobnobbed with the elite. If he drifted outward toward the margins of society one day, he drove inward toward its center the next. In his fine study of pioneer response to western experience, Stephen Fender has argued that Clemens "lost his cultural bearings" in the West (8). Clemens did express conflicting attitudes and cultivate opposing lifestyles, but he understood precisely the world he first inhabited, then reported on, and finally fictionalized. His difficulty was a problem not of discernment or comprehension but of allegiance: he was uncertain whether he wanted to be a reliable citizen or a dissolute larker.     So was Mark Twain. Significantly, the first extant piece actually signed "Mark Twain," the now famous "Letter from Carson City" ( ET&S1 194-98), is centered on the comedy of social ins and outs. In the letter Twain reports on a soiree at the governor's house, to which he says he is invited, alternately mocking the evening's pastimes--dancing quadrilles, singing sentimental songs, playing gracefully at the piano--and praising them as courtly graces in contrast to the behavior of the crude, party-crashing Unreliable, his caricature of Clement T. Rice, a fellow journalist and good friend. Mark Twain has it both ways: he spoofs the genteel at the same time he makes fun of the vulgar. Exaggerating his own traits for comic effect, he depicts himself as both refined and crude. Thus while he shows himself to be the equal, at least in style and vanity, of the social dandy Horace Smith, Esq. (who shatters a mirror by gazing into it), he also displays himself as a match in excessive drinking for the vulgar Unreliable (he empties the punch bowl). The sketch adumbrates a refined social world and defines the roughs who are out of place in it. Twain's account makes him superior to both, aligned with neither.     Such double-dealing is as characteristic of the early Twain's writings as it was of Sam Clemens's actual living. While the source of his ambivalence must remain conjectural, I want to suggest that he was emotionally in the throes of a belated warfare with his dead father, or more accurately, with the standards of respectability and strictures of authority internalized under the influence of that father. Although Clemens seldom mentions his father directly in his letters or his writings, by a kind of metonymy John Marshall Clemens looms in his consciousness in the infamous Tennessee lands. Purchased by his father to promote prosperity, the property became for his son the "heavy curse of prospective wealth" ( L1 79 n. 11). He observed ironically that although his father had left "a sumptuous legacy of pride in his fine Virginia stock and its national distinction," he soon discovered that he could "not live on that alone" ( RI 271). His father's notion had been that, in time, as the land accrued in value, the family could sell it and live on the profit. However, both the increase in value and the prospect of sale had proved to be chimeras--only the taxes were real. While he was in the West, Clemens tried repeatedly to rid himself of this paternal "curse" by selling even at a loss, only to be thwarted again and again by Orion. Significantly, whenever he writes of the Tennessee lands, Clemens becomes angry and turns himself into an object of pity. Most often he imagines that he is deeply impoverished and severely suffering. Complaining to his brother about the lands, for instance, he depicts himself as a "beggar" struggling in an "accursed homeless desert" ( L1 326) and as an exile in "poverty" desperately "battling for bread" ( L1 341-42). There is more psychological disclosure than financial truth in these self-dramatizations. They reveal not his actual circumstance but his resentment toward his father.     Throughout his life Clemens recalled his father with respect and barely controlled bitterness. Judge Clemens was apparently an upright man of high principle, rigid discipline, impeccable honor, and irascible temper who deported himself as a southern gentleman. To his son he was also a cold, intimidating man. Though few, Clemens's recorded recollections of his father are remarkably consistent. Here are four that range in time from 1870 to 1906: He was a stern, unsmiling man, and hated all forms of precocity. ("Wit-Inspirations of the `Two-Year-Olds'"; rpt. CG 55) My father was a refined and kindly gentleman, very grave, rather austere, of rigid probity, a sternly just and upright man. ( FE 351) Stern, unsmiling, never demonstrated affection for wife or child.... Silent, austere, of perfect probity and high principle; ungentle of manner toward his children, but always a gentleman in his phrasing. ("Villagers," AI 104) He was a proud man, a silent, austere man. ( AMT 23) Clemens acknowledges his father's moral rectitude at the same time he links it to an appalling emotional reserve. Stern, austere, rigid--these are the remembered, defining traits. They are, of course, antithetical to the character Clemens assumed in the West when he chose to live in his bohemian mode as a warmhearted, warm-blooded, luxury-loving, easygoing good fellow. And in contrast to the "unsmiling" father who was "always a gentleman in his phrasing," Clemens not only smiled at the world through Mark Twain but also articulated his experience of it in dialects that were anything but gentlemanly. His conduct and writing in the West seem to constitute a rebellion against all that his father represented as it was embodied in the socioeconomic power structure of the region. But, of course, the only way to finally defeat a father, at least according to both Freud and Lacan, is to become him.     Anger at the father may account for the violent hostility Clemens sometimes levels at authorities in the West. To be sure, the style of much western journalism was itself a harsh one that often employed ridicule and invective, but Mark Twain's version of this mode is often unaccountably savage. His disgust and outrage seem at times to exceed their occasion. Here, for instance, a description of the San Francisco police court moves from factual measurements to virulent--unprovoked--condemnations not only of the criminals and their friends but also of the court officials themselves: The room is about 24 x 40 feet in size, I suppose, and is blocked in on all sides by massive brick walls; it has three or four doors, but they are never opened--and if they were they only open into airless courts and closets anyhow; it has but one window, and now that is blocked up.... There is not a solitary air-hole as big as your nostril about the whole place. Very well; down two sides of the room, drunken filthy loafers, thieves, prostitutes, China chicken-stealers, witnesses, and slimy guttersnipes who come to see, and belch and issue deadly smells, are banked and packed, four ranks deep--a solid mass of rotting, steaming corruption. In the centre of the room are Dan Murphy, Zabriskie, the Citizen Sam Platt, Prosecuting Attorney Louderback, and other lawyers, either of whom would do for a censer to swing before the high altar of hell. ( CofC 155)     Anger at his father, turned against the self by guilt, may also explain Clemens's otherwise puzzling flirtation with suicide early in 1866, after the success of his Jumping Frog tale when his prospects were improving. At about the time of his threatened self-destruction Mark Twain wrote a "Letter from Sacramento" in which he dramatizes a disagreement between a hotel keeper and himself as a conflict between a father and son. In the sketch, after he has overslept, dreaming of being "a happy, careless schoolboy again," Twain blames his landlord, and the two exchange sarcasm and insult as Twain tries to "out `sass'" the "old man," but the landlord defeats the guest he insists upon calling "my son" by ironically suggesting his indolence, an accusation that resonates gently with Clemens's bohemian life ( Gold Miners & Guttersnipes 197-98). The sketch is light, but it may betray some of the emotional conflicts at work in Clemens. An internal strife with all that his father represented may also account for a curious piece Clemens published in the Call a few months after he arrived in San Francisco. Reporting on the Mechanics' Fair, he fixes upon a "voluminous and very musty old book" on display there; from it he cites just one passage, that describing the trial of Charles I: "The chapter which gives the names of the members of the High Commission before which Charles I, was tried and condemned to death, is racy with comments upon the bad character, the ignominious pursuits, and the former social obscurity of those gentlemen" ( CofC 112). Clemens believed that Gregory Clement (he habitually misnamed him Geoffrey), a member of that High Commission, was his ancestor, and he proudly identified with him throughout his life. Given his own loose living, he must have enjoyed reading of his presumed forebear's "bad character," "ignominious pursuits," and "social obscurity." And, of course, his assumed ancestor's regicide is a classic ritual whose implications were probably not lost on Clemens: it not only dethroned lawful authority and subverted the social order but also enacted a symbolic slaying of the father.     In May 1864 Clemens himself upset the social order of Carson City in what has been called "the most damaging incident" of his "western career" (Pettit 30). He managed to offend simultaneously the ladies of Carson City--along with their husbands--and the staff of the Gold Hill Union , a rival newspaper; in the process he embarrassed himself publicly and provoked at least two challenges to a duel. His motives remain obscure (Clemens himself called part of his behavior a "drunken jest" [ L1 287]), but his emotional condition at the time was shaky at best. Even his authorized biographer Paine, given to protection and adulation, notes that in the Nevada Territory Clemens was "high-strung and neurotic," increasingly restive and contentious ( MTB 1:238).     In brief, what transpired was this. While the editor of the Enterprise , Joseph Goodman, was on holiday in California, Mark Twain assumed the editorship of the paper. In an editorial he proceeded to accuse the ladies of Carson of diverting funds raised at a ball from the U.S. Sanitary Commission to a secret Miscegenation Society, and at the same time he charged the employees of the Union with defaulting on their pledges to the Sanitary Fund. Both parties demanded retractions. Twain tried to placate the ladies privately though Orion's wife, Mollie, and through a friend, Mrs. W. K. Cutler. When these efforts failed, he printed an apology to the women without signing his name. However, when the Union staff defended themselves in strong terms, he played the role of the fiery southern gentleman: he fired off a series of notes demanding satisfaction on the field of honor. He was in a paradoxical position, however. His joke on the ladies was the jest of a vulgarian; his response to the Union was the thrust and parry of an offended man of honor. But not even Mark Twain could so outrageously have it both ways on such public issues: he could not acknowledge insults to very proper ladies at the same time he claimed "the satisfaction due to a gentleman" ( L1 292).     He decamped, catching the stage off the Comstock to San Francisco. Far from being uncertain of the proprieties of the West, he understood them perfectly; he understood that for once playing both rascal and respectable citizen had put him in an untenable position.     After he left the West, he retold the tale of his departure from Nevada three times: as a part of his "Roughing It" lecture given in 1871-72 (an abbreviated version of which appeared in the book Roughing It ); as a story, "How I Escaped Being Killed in a Duel," published in 1873; and as an incident of note in his autobiography recorded in 1906. In not one of these retellings did he so much as suggest his violation of social decorum; he repressed his racial and sexual joke on the ladies. (Of course, by the time he wrote all three versions, he had resolved his conflict between bohemianism and respectability in favor of the latter.) In all three accounts he increases the fictional drama by moving himself onto the field of combat--in reality, he never set foot on the field of honor--and in all three, bloodshed is averted when he dupes his rival into thinking that he is a crack shot when in fact, or at least in his fictive version of it, he literally cannot hit the side of a barn door. Twain uses fancy and humor to conceal and dispel the confusion, aggression, and embarrassment of his actual conduct, inventing new events and exaggerating the real ones until they are ludicrous. In his final revisioning of the aborted duel, however, he gives it a more serious--and more revealing--cast.     In the autobiographical dictations he creates a context that seems to disclose long-hidden feelings about his fiasco. In this last retelling he approaches the tale circuitously. As a kind of prefiguration of how he is expected to act, he relates the history of an earlier duel between the rival editors, Goodman of the Enterprise and Thomas Fitch of the Union . By a series of associations he moves from Goodman to his second, a major called Graves, then to the zealot of manifest destiny, William Walker, under whom the major served, and finally to Angus Gillis, another soldier under Walker and the father of Sam Clemens's own second, Steve. All are seriously heralded as men of great courage--"brave to the very utmost limit of that word" ( AMT 113). Twain venerates not only Walker, who led filibusters first into Sonora and then into Nicaragua where he reestablished slavery, but also every man who campaigned with him. He even attributes to the major a "mysterious quality" in the "eye" that signifies commanding courage and empowers its possessor to quell opposition ( AMT 114). Although a steely-eyed brave man is a cliché, Twain is wholly serious, citing his friend Bob Howland, the onetime marshal of Aurora, as another man who possessed the "mysterious" eye ( AMT 114). In all this, Twain betrays a genuine admiration of conventional masculine bravery that is notably absent from the other two accounts of the duel. The elevation of such conventional bravery places his own conduct in an ironic light, for, of course, he evades his duel through a ruse and decamps rather than carry out his own campaign.     The emotional and psychological bearing of Twain's digression is further revealed by his treatment of the elder Gillis. (After escaping from his own duel, Clemens lodged for a time in the Gillis home in San Francisco.) Had he reminisced of Steve, his own second, his remarks would have been natural enough. But he focuses instead on the father, creating this emotion-charged tableau: "The father made the campaign under Walker, and with him one son. They were in the memorable Plaza fight and stood it out to the last against overwhelming odds, as did also all of the Walker men. The son was killed at the father's side. The father received a bullet through the eye" ( AMT 113). Courage thus becomes in Twain's final account a matter of a son emulating his father. Looming behind the array of valorous men--except for Goodman, all proud southerners--and specifically embodied in the elder Gillis (who served, as Clemens's landlord, in loco parentis ) is no doubt the real father, John Marshall Clemens.     Twain created two extended fictional portraits of his father, first as Judge Griswold in the unpublished novel "Simon Wheeler, Detective" (whose earliest material may have been written in the Nevada Territory--see S&B 205-6), and then later as Judge Driscoll in Pudd'nhead Wilson . Both of these southern gentlemen, pillars of their communities, uphold the duel and enjoin it upon surrogate sons. Indeed, Judge Driscoll not only denounces the nephew he has raised as his son (or rather, the person he thinks is his nephew) for refusing to challenge someone who has insulted him but actually issues the challenge himself and exchanges shots on the field of honor. In drawing these versions of his father, Twain seems to have felt that Clemens had betrayed some part of his heritage when he evaded his duel.     But that is only half of his feeling. If to some degree he is guilty over failing to fulfill the manly role assigned by fathers--southern fathers--to sons, to risk death with equanimity, he is also angry and resentful about the role itself. He is, in fact, rebellious. In both fictions he mocks the judges who believe in the code duello as arrogant, pretentious fools who are deceived by an antiquated code into violating their own humanity. In the later autobiography when he describes the stand of the Gillis father and son, he mentions that the father "received a bullet through the eye," and adds, the "old man--for he was an old man at the time--wore spectacles, and the bullet and one of the glasses went into his skull" ( AMT 113). Twain's tone here is respectful. The mutilation, tantamount to castration, since the eye has been singled out as the sign of manliness, is presented as a part of the general picture of the father's bravery. In all published versions of the autobiography, the account of the wounding ends at this point. But in the original dictation Twain continued, and his tone changed radically: "but often, in after years, when I boarded in the old man's home in San Francisco, whenever he became emotional I used to see him shed tears and glass , in a way that was infinitely moving" (AD, 19 Jan. 1906, MTP). Twain himself canceled this passage and two additional sentences extending the joke. He suppressed his mockery of the father whose brave conduct was a tacit rebuke to Clemens's own actions.     Skipping town, leaving Nevada to relocate in San Francisco, Clemens evaded those actions, extricating himself from his immediate difficulties, but he did not escape his emotional disturbances, nor did he resolve his conflict between loose and proper living. On the West Coast, he continued to pose as a bohemian and he continued to play the gentleman. If anything, both postures were intensified. He spent time in the saloons and theaters frequented by the free-spirited, enjoying their patrons and pleasures (upon at least one occasion drinking to such boisterous excess he was jailed). And he visited luxury hotels, fashionable resorts, and the offices and homes of the well-to-do, enjoying the comforts and pastimes of those privileged by wealth and rank. He slummed and he climbed.     The extant documents from this period make it clear, however, that there was a common link between these divergent lives, for Clemens's affected bohemianism, like his posturing as a reputable member of society, was a part of a steady drive upward within the class hierarchy. The coterie of flamboyant personalities that made up San Francisco's bohemia centered on such writers as Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, Prentice Mulford, and Joaquin Miller. Associating with them, Clemens advanced Mark Twain's career, finding in their journal, The Golden Era , an outlet for more extended, more various, indeed more literary writing. Such publication was a step up the ladder of literary respectability. And the climbing Clemens soon went even higher, at least in his own estimation, abandoning some bohemian friends in the process. To his mother and sister he explained: I have engaged to write for the new literary paper--the "Californian"--same pay I used to receive on the "Golden Era"--one article a week, fifty dollars a month. I quit the "Era," long ago. It wasn't high-toned enough. I thought that whether I was a literary "jackleg" or not, I wouldn't class myself with that style of people, anyhow. The "Californian" circulates among the highest class of the community, & is the best weekly literary paper in the United States--& I suppose I ought to know. ( L1 312)     Clemens did seek out the "highest class." In language calculated to alarm his mother by provocatively asserting his lack of respect, he informed his family of his social maneuvering: I called on Rev. Dr. Wadsworth last night with the City College man, but the old rip wasn't at home. I was sorry, because I wanted to make his acquaintance. I am thick & [ sic ] thieves with the Rev. Stebbings, & I am laying for the Rev. Scudder & the Rev. Dr. Stone. I am running on preachers, now, altogether. I find them gay. Stebbings is a regular brick. I am taking letters of introduction to Henry Ward Beecher, Rev. Dr. Tyng, & other eminent parsons in the east. ( L1 368)     Here his slangy language not only teases his mother but also masks his pride; there is truth as well as humor in his account. Clemens did cultivate acquaintance not only with clergymen but also with merchants, writers, lawyers, governors, judges, and senators; he courted the influential and the prominent. Unable to sail on the new steamer Ajax when it inaugurated regular service between San Francisco and Honolulu, he reported home that the ship had "52 invited guests aboard--the cream of the town--gentleman & ladies both, and a splendid brass band" ( L1 329). He seems for a moment as enthusiastic about the band as the passengers, but after explaining that he had to turn down his own invitation to make the trip, he expresses his regret in terms that underscore his social admiration: "Where could a man catch such another crowd together?" ( L1 330).     In keeping with Clemens's inconsistent but recurrent movement toward respectable middle-classdom, Mark Twain's writings began to change. Although he continued to turn out news reports (straight and burlesque), personal narratives, outlandish parodies, reviews of cultural events as well as fashions, advice columns, character sketches, short fictions, and personal attacks on rival journalists (his playful send-ups of Dan De Quille and the Unreliable gave way to his truly vitriolic assaults on Fitz Smythe), he often struck a new note. That note was the sound of serious social criticism. Increasingly he turned his humor toward what was wrong in civic life, attacking corruption in private as well as public institutions and in the men (they were all men) who ran them. He became, in the words of Edgar M. Branch, the finest critic of Twain's western writing, an "amateur muckraker," the "public's watchdog," a "trustee of the general good" ( Literary Apprenticeship 142). Self-conscious about his new role, Twain trumpeted himself as "the Moral Phenomenon" and "the Moralist of the Main" ( MTB 1:274).     Both sobriquets were partly jokes. Clemens's living, as well as Mark Twain's writing, was so notoriously wayward as to make any insistence that he was a staunch guardian of morality outrageously comic. Twain played with the idea. Offering to fill an editorial vacancy on the Californian , he facetiously insisted that what the journal needed was "a good Moral tone" and that he was the one to provide it: What you want is Morality. You have run too much poetry; you have slathered ... too many frivolous sentimental tales into your paper; too much harmful elevating literature. What the people are suffering for, is Morality. Turn them over to me. Give me room according to my strength. I can fetch them! Let me hear from you. You could not do better than hire me. I can bring your paper right up. You ought to know, yourself, that when I play my hand in the high moral line, I take a trick every time. ( Gold Miners & Guttersnipes 168-69) The language of the ring-tailed roarer, "Give me room according to my strength," and of the gambling shark, "I take a trick every time," playfully undermines the very posture of moral authority Twain is claiming. And yet in his West Coast journalism he did exercise such authority; or perhaps more accurately we should say he did "play" the "high moral line."     His muckraking journalism is curious stuff, for his diatribes against corruption mix the personal with the principled, silliness with outrage, and even connivance with ethics. Often his moral point seems to keep shady company. His "Daniel in the Lion's Den--and Out Again All Right," often taken as an attack on the San Francisco stock market, reads more like a ribbing of chums who will enjoy the joke than a serious critique of illegal trading. (Clemens himself tried hard to cage the right wildcat stock.) His attacks on the police for their mistreatment of the Chinese, heralded as a sign of his emerging humanity, are full of racist epithets that dehumanize the very people he is defending. Even his celebrated attacks on law officers and judicial procedures, famed examples of his "moral" satire, often seem to be personal vendettas against individuals rather than high-minded exposés, just further instances of his familiar verbal dueling, turned now from newspaper rivals to public officials. Of course, much of the oddity of Twain's reform writing simply reflects the nature of western journalism. As various scholars have pointed out, it was pretty rough-and-tumble writing even when it took up ethical issues, and western journalists worked in a precarious world of bribery, intimidation, political pressure, social retaliation, commercial blackmail, and even the threat of physical violence. It was a world, as one scholar has put it, permeated by "the ethic of might makes right" (Berkove 6). Locating Mark Twain's real motives and principles in any given piece of his reform writing is, then, as chancy as prospecting itself. His work was variously determined (at times, overdetermined) as he responded to and out of local politics, personal relations, professional conflicts, petty resentments, genuine principle, momentary pique, and even passing whim. As he became the Moralist of the Main, what he seems to have done is to discover that there was power in morality. By assuming postures of righteousness, purity, and principle, he tapped a source of authority that strengthened an instinctive urge for dominance. In one early sketch he pointedly announced that he had a "talent for posturing" ( ET&S1 185). As Mark Twain, Clemens had frequently postured as one of the roughs; now as the Moralist of the Main he posed as ethical reformer.     Twain uses multiple voices in his early humorous pieces--the voices of polite refinement and vulgarity, for instance, or of sagacity and idiocy--but his moral satires are largely univocal. The voice in them is one of irritated conventionality; it varies in tone with the seriousness of the topic from annoyance to indignation to outrage. The less serious the issue, the more colloquial Twain's language is likely to be and the more idiosyncratic the posture of rebuke; the more serious the issue, the more formal the language and, significantly, the more conventional the moralistic stance. In a piece like "Socrates Murphy," one of his "Answers to Correspondents," which is sometimes taken as a serious attack on pretension, Twain deploys an aggressive vernacular--he calls it "this rough-shod eloquence of mine"--backed by completely individual authority to denounce the straw man Murphy for humming aloud at the opera: "I can tell you Arizona opera-sharps, any time; you prowl around beer-cellars and listen to some howling-dervish of a Dutchman exterminating an Italian air, and then you come into the Academy and prop yourself up against the wall with the stuffy aspect and imbecile leer of a clothingstore dummy, and go to droning along about half an octave below the tenor, and disgusting everybody in your neighborhood with your beery strains" ( ET&S2 203).     In his reply to the "Moral Statistician," a somewhat more serious piece sometimes seen as a critique of self-righteous purists who bolster their prohibitions with facts and figures, he rails against the Statistician's objection to such "vices" as smoking, drinking, wearing expansive hoopskirts, and playing billiards in terms that are highly personal but only guardedly vernacular: "I don't want any of your statistics. I took your whole batch and lit my pipe with it. I hate your kind of people.... In a word, why don't you go off somewhere and die, and not be always trying to seduce people into becoming as `ornery' and unlovable as you are yourselves, by your ceaseless and villainous `moral statistics'?" ( ET&S2 189-90). While placing "moral statistics" in quotation marks enforces the challenge to the Moral Statistician's real ethics, putting "ornery" in quotation marks betrays an unwillingness to depart too far from standard English and so lose the authority embedded in it. And in an entirely serious attack on the mistreatment of prisoners and the misuse of public monies, "What Have the Police Been Doing?" Twain uses very few colloquialisms--beyond the then semistandard ain't --and no distinctly personal self at all. His tone veers from facetious to sarcastic, and when he makes his central criticism of the way the police have handled a man accused of stealing some flour sacks, he does so by means of an archly phrased rhetorical question couched in a language and syntax of studied formality: "Ah, and if he stole flour sacks, did he not deliberately put himself outside the pale of humanity and Christian sympathy by that hellish act?" ( MTC1 197). Twain intensifies his condemnation of the police here by appealing not only to a general humanity but also to Christian charity. Both are, of course, thoroughly traditional norms. His other attacks depend on equally conventional values, as he evokes virtue, care, efficiency, safety from insult, due process, and even work as the standards by which to judge the police. His irony thus unfolds through a morality so familiar and stylized as to be clichéd: "I know the Police Department is a kind, humane and generous institution" ( MTC1 197).     As Moralist of the Main, Twain upholds mainstream morality. Appropriating uncontestable social norms, he asserts himself with vigor. He assumes a stance (and tacitly invites his audience to be impressed by it) either as one against the many--the many Socrates Murphies and Moral Statisticians of the world--or as one against the more powerful, the police and courts. The moral standards he applies, however, are absolutely conventional. Whatever the impulse underlying such work, it clearly aligns Mark Twain with the respectable. (Who among the proper could object to the moral norms he deploys?)The conventionality of his moralism appears not only in admirable postures but also in problematical ones. There has been a tendency to find in the early western Twain signs of the much later Twain, to convert the Moralist of the Main into the champion of democracy, equality, and humanity that appears so forcefully in the last decade of Clemens's life and Mark Twain's writing. But whatever his fervor for morality in people and public offices, the western Twain remained a sexist, racist, and elitist. Of course, this too makes his moralism a part of the main.     He views women through the bifurcated lens of his age as either whores or angels. His reporting took him to the jails on the one hand and to society events on the other; in the first he discovered actual women drunks, thieves, street-brawlers, and prostitutes; in the second he imagined he saw frail vessels of culture. His adulation of the goodness of the latter seems proportional to his disgust with the impurity of the former. Whenever he writes of respectable women, Twain casts them in stereotypical terms as delicate, vain, flighty, and weak. He elevates them along the lines--the narrow, confining lines--of traditional Victorian ideas of gender: women are admirably pure, ethereal, and noble, citadels of virtue and spirituality; and he denigrates them in equally traditional ways as irrational, emotional, and vulnerable, weak creatures to be guarded, cared for, and protected by men. He laughs gently at them. Sexist by modern standards, conventional for his time, his early depictions of women are part of the stock-in-trade of male humor. Copyright (c) 1999 University of Georgia Press. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
List of Abbreviationsp. xiii
Introductionp. 1
1. Moralist of the Mainp. 17
2. Victorian Travelerp. 51
3. Man of Lettersp. 78
4. Writer on the Riverp. 103
5. Adventurous Homebodyp. 136
6. Southwestern Sentimentalistp. 166
7. Sagep. 189
8. Personagep. 219
Coda: Iconp. 251
Notesp. 259
Bibliographyp. 275
Indexp. 297