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


Page 186

  The art of Mark Twain springs hardly less truly than his ideas from the American people as a whole. “I like history, biography, travel, curious facts and strange happenings, and science,” he said. “And I detest novels, poetry, and theology.” He would have been the last to reflect in what category his own writing fell, and he scarcely considered himself a novelist at all. For the more sophisticated in that department he had no use. He could not stand Henry James or George Eliot or Hawthorne; he found Scott an unendurable snob and Cooper a literary bungler; he developed his loathing for Jane Austen until he came to take a positive delight in uttering it in the most violent language; and his admiration for the work of Howells must be assigned to his affection for the man. Mark Twain’s taste lay wholly in the direction of large actions, large passions, large scenery. That he moved so casually over the face of the earth and through the historical periods that he knew is proof enough that he possessed none of the professed realist’s timidity when on unaccustomed ground. No Franklin and no later diplomatist in shirt sleeves ever felt more at home in temerarious surroundings than did Mark Twain. This same confidence, which deprived him of the austere seriousness of some men of letters, stood by him also in his methods. He did not mind a sudden change of key, but could fall from passionate eloquence to burlesque, and climb from farce to tragedy without even thinking whether this comported with the dignity of literature. Though at times he seems to have respected academic judgment too much—especially as represented by Howells and the Atlantic’s audience—and though he latterly resented the



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