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


Page 176

for kings as the first article in his political creed. Of this important side of his nature the most characteristic utterances are to be found in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), which deserves also to be considered one of the most thoroughly typical books yet produced by the American democracy. It is typical in method and typical in conclusion. With the brash irresponsibility of frontier vaudeville it catches up a hard, dry, obstreperous Yankee, hurries him back through thirteen centuries, and dumps him, with all his wits about him, into Camelot. Speaking in terms of literary history, the Yankee is an anti-romance; it indicates a reaction from the sentimentalism about the Middle Ages which had recently been feeding on Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, William Morris’s Earthly Paradise, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Pater, and now was languishing in the sunflower cult of Oscar Wilde. Gilbert and Sullivan had already satirized this cult in Patience, by exposing the affectations of the æsthetes who professed it. Mark Twain, partly aroused by the strictures on America of Matthew Arnold, went to work in a more burly way. Let us see, he said in effect, how this longing for the past would work out if gratified. What about the plain man under Arthur? What about plumbing and soap and medicines and wages and habeas corpus? What filth and superstition and cruelty did the pomps of feudalism not overlay? Mark Twain behaves as the devil’s advocate in the Yankee, candidly ascribing to the sixth century the abuses of other older ages as well as its own. Perhaps, since he habitually read Malory’s Morte d’Arthur and had a natural tenderness for its chivalric postures, he



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