Week 14

1601, Conversation as it was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors

Given the flatulent humor he uses to parody the Tudor’s royal court, its no surprise that in his admission of authorship of “1601, Conversation as it was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors” to Mr. Charles Orr includes, “I hasten to assure you that it is not printed in my published writings.” Balancing the lighthearted profanity with the

Clemens Promises Chatto 'Early Sheets' of Huck Finn

Twain’s letter to his editor concerning Huckleberry Finn, another controversial work opposing popular culture

deadpan narration of the Queen’s cup-bearer might have skirt a tad bit too close to the edge of abject foolishness for him to claim it at the time, but his decision to reprint it says something about his dedication to irreverence. While I’m under no illusion that this work was a serious critical examination of Elizabethan culture, the use of British historical figures seems especially purposeful, as if he wanted to make a joke, but still had a point to make.

 

 

In any case, during our in class reading of 1601, I found myself thinking about how Twain manages to commentate so boldly on popular figures (or the establishment itself). He published countless works over the years that questioned the moral position of the mainstream establishment including Huck Finn, which remains one of his most highly acclaimed works to this day (humorous side note: the Duchess of Bilgewater’s male counterpart makes an appearance in Huckleberry Finn in the Duke and King episodes). The extent to which he presented himself as the “lovable scamp” of American literature worked well in his favor in allowing him to criticize public opinion.

Many of his works takling controversial issues, including Huck Finn, are written from the point of view of a child character, or at least a childlike character. Could it be that because certain issues that reject or critique established culture must be expressed tactfully in order to avoid backlash, childhood innocence allows him a medium for expressing his thoughts? Twain’s use of a child to confront the legitimacy of Christianity in Little Bessie, for example, makes his criticism feel more the result of childlike curiosity than religious cynicism. Huck Finn, as well, opposes the dehumanization of African Americans through the use of Huck’s maturing personal morality. Could it be that his refusal to claim authorship of 1601 is related to his feeling of vulnerability? That without the familiar shield of childhood to defend himself, he did not want it associated with the name Mark Twain?

Or maybe it was just a silly inside joke to a good friend that he didn’t want taken too seriously.

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