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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 170

though compounded of numerous elements, essentially reproduces the youthful figure of his creator. Such a mixture of rich humor and serious observation had never before been devoted to the study of a boy in fiction. Mark Twain smiles constantly at the absurd in Tom’s character, but he portrays him in the dignity of full length; he does not laugh him into insignificance or lecture him into the semblance of a puppet. Boys of Tom’s age can follow his fortunes without discomfort or boredom. At the same time, there are overtones which most juvenile fiction entirely lacks and which continue to delight those adults who Mark Twain said, upon finishing his story, alone would ever read it. At the moment he must have felt that the poetry and satire of Tom Sawyer outranked the narrative, and he was right. They have proved the permanent, at least the preservative, elements of a classic.
  Tom Sawyer cannot be discussed except in connection with its glorious sequel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). “By and by,” Mark Twain had written to Howells when he announced the completion of Tom Sawyer, “I shall take a boy of twelve and run him through life (in the first person)”; and he had begun the new book almost at once; but with characteristic uncertainty of taste he had lost interest in it and turned to struggle over a preposterous detective comedy which he wanted to name Balaam’s Ass. Again in 1880 and finally in 1883 he came back to his masterpiece, published two years later. In spite of this hesitation and procrastination Huckleberry Finn has remarkable unity. To tell a story in the first person was second nature to Mark Twain. His travel books had so been told, no matter what non-autobiographical



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