RE: RARA-AVIS: Twain & hb

Date: 14 Feb 2000

Vicky writes,

> I can't possibly be the first to think of this, but surely Twain is a stop
> in the journey to modern hardboiled, isn't he? It seems that his writing
> incorporates so many of the things that (in my mind, at least) are
> intrinsic to hardboiled: the hero following a personal code which runs
> counter to society (HUCK FINN); looking with a jaded eye at what social
> leaders and/or wealthy people are doing (GILDED AGE, HUCK FINN); and,
> finally, total disillusionment with what's going on around him, even as he
> tries to do what's right(CONNECTICUT YANKEE, PUDDN'HEAD WILSON).

Right you are. The King and the Duke, in particular, introduce some pretty negative views of townlife--my favorite being where the audience is "took" by their Shakespeare burlesque, but agrees that they won't tell anyone else because they don't want to be the only fools in town. The line "the fools in town are on our side, and that's a majority in any town" is a line from one of them also. The darkest views from Twain are in the short stories, "The Mysterious Stranger" and "The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg."

I think the connection is through the tall tale tradition of the frontier, which featured con men and gullible or vicious townies. Twain's building on that (as did Melville in The Confidence Man). Sharp dealing and conning folks is simply the dark side of the much revered "individual initiative" and the success ethic that goes with it. (Believe I'm echoing Cawelti here.)

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