Cover image for The short works of Mark Twain : a critical study
The short works of Mark Twain : a critical study
Messent, Peter, 1946-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
viii, 274 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS1338 .M48 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Between 1867, when The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches was published, and the appearance in 1906 of The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories, seven major collections of short works appeared under the name Mark Twain. It has long been held that in most cases Twain had little to do with assembling these books, viewing them mainly as moneymaking ventures and leaving the work largely to others. In the first full and sustained study of the collections ever to appear, Peter Messent argues to the contrary. Exploring the publication history of the volumes as well as a wealth of primary documents, Messent demonstrates that Twain's part in the making of these books was, in fact, considerable. Reading the collections of short works as well as individual tales alongside his novels, Messent discusses Twain's development as an artist in terms of the changing emphases that mark his use of different forms and themes, and the changing modes of humor that he employed.

Author Notes

Peter Messent is Professor of Modern American Literature at the University of Nottingham.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Messent (Univ. of Nottingham, UK) analyzes the book publications of Twain's short works during his lifetime, suggesting that Twain's part in the selection implies a knowing choice of themes and motifs. He bases his argument on scattered lists and letters covering the six collections from Jumping Frog (1867) through The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories (1906). Offering a variety of analytic approaches, Messent provides paired chapters, one on the book and the other on a representative story or two. Most of the stories, Messent argues, suggest how Twain's comic method develops the indeterminacy of characters and identities through shifting voices from realistic reporter to comedian to fictional author. Even though a lot of material is "recycled," deepening pessimism still appears evident as time passes, but all social hierarchies and hegemonic language are destabilized in Twain's collections, seemingly disparate as the materials might be. Scholars will be most at home with this book, since it deals extensively with publication history and background in the chapters on the volumes and uses many technical concepts heavily in the discussion of individual works. Messent's conclusions are appropriately tentative but engaging intellectually, in addition to being directed at a portion of Twain's output that is frequently treated with a less systematic approach. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. D. E. Sloane University of New Haven