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


Page 177

even exhibits a special animus arising from civil war within himself. At any rate, he let himself run almost without check among sixth-century scenes as he imagined them, ridiculing follies with a burlesque as riotous as that in The Innocents Abroad, and adding to it the more serious anger which had grown upon him. To appreciate the fun of the Yankee one must have been accustomed to the rowdy modes of American humor; to feel all its censure one must have at least a strain of the revolutionary. And yet persons equipped with neither may perceive the magnificent vigor of the narrative. It ranges from ludicrous to sublime; from the tears of hysterical laughter to the tears of broken pity. With such consequences a barbarian of genius might burst into the court of some narrow principality; he would shatter a thousand delicately poised decorums—many of them harmless enough—and expose a thousand obnoxious shams.
  The irritation caused in England and among cultivated Americans by this slashing satire might have been allayed had Mark Twain turned his weapon toward grievances at home. Instead, his next and last large experiment in fiction was the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, published anonymously after long incubation in 1896. His decisive preference for this among all his books may perhaps be ascribed to the unusual labor to which he was put by an unprecedented task; it may also be ascribed to a lifelong interest in Joan which, beginning as a boy’s sympathy for a girl’s tragic fate, finally amounted to a genuine reverence for the Maid which saw in her the symbol of innocence undone by malice and corruption.



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