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


Page 185

the United States. So also the geographical or historical culture taken for granted in Mark Twain’s books was that of the average American, who knows more about Palestine than about Greece, more about Rome than about all the rest of the Mediterranean, more about England than about all the rest of Europe, more about the American Revolution and Civil War than about all the rest of history put together; who catches readily any references to Cæsar or Shakespeare or George Washington or Napoleon but not so readily those to Cato or Leonardo da Vinci or Goethe or Pasteur. And finally, the typical heroes of Mark Twain’s imagined universe are of the sort considered typical in America. They walk the world, like the Yankee in medieval England, the Innocents in the Holy Land, Captain Stormfield in Heaven itself, erect and confident, neither cultivated nor colonial enough to be embarrassed, testing and measuring all things by the simplest standards. They are as clannish as provincials and as cocksure as pioneers. Occasionally obsessed by the Puritan conscience, they lack the eccentric ideals of holiness, mysticism, poetry. Although brave enough in the flesh, they rarely have the courage to be original. In the spirit they rise as high as to a certain chivalry toward women, and toward children, and to an occasional fine, heroic altruism; but they rarely rise higher. Their moral concerns are about industry, common honesty, domestic loyalty, good comradeship, sensible habits of mind and body. Profane and irreverent enough, they are generally chaste and considerate. They hold cruelty to be the principal vice and democratic friendliness the principal virtue.



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