Friday, August 8, 2014

The 1880s again

Hamlin Garland, William Dean Howells, young Henry James, and, last but not least, Mark Twain
1880s armchair, japalac on oak
Back in March and April, 2111 (posts between March 17 and April 4), in my usual kind of Chain of Browsing, I came upon an author that none of my teachers had succeeded in making me read, Hamlin Garland, and learning that he was befriended by William Dean Howells I began to read his correspondence with Henry James and became interested in the decade, the 1880s, when my grandfather was born: but these were the writers born before the Civil War.
Yet, so thoroughly had I been driven from the most famous of them, by the anthologizing of the Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and the choice of Tom Sawyer (I did know the movie of the 1940s) as something for Norman Rockwell to illustrate, that no amount of pressure had succeeded in getting me even past page one of Huckleberry Finn.  I seem to have felt that it was disrespectful of my friends of African (and Asian) ancestry to make them Types, and unsubtle, at best, to treat southern persons, much as I disagreed with them, as if they were all cruel slave drivers.  Besides, my quote-loving friends had tried a few dozen times too many to make me admire Mark Twain's 'calculation' of the length of the Mississippi as the pinnacle of wit (and, of course, its context was never given).
Anyhow, as you see, I was obdurate.  But just as too much secondary school had saved Hamlin Garland for me (and led me to acquire a whole library on my little Kindle), now the rebroadcast on PBS of Dayton Duncan and Geoffrey West's 2002 Florentine Films' Mark Twain has brought me to, first, Huckleberry Finn, which belongs to that annus mirabilis, 1885-6, and which, after all, all the best minds liked best (if both Arthur Miller and Bernard Shaw did, how could I not?).  And, behold, it is much, much more than about Race!  In fact, it is in the context of the whole work that the question of Race is a serious question.  Twain was much too wise to argue anything like that.
Now I shall decide which Complete Works is better (neither is expensive) and as with Howells and William James (Henry is the one that I'd read the most of) and Arthur Conan Doyle, with the help of zoomable fonts, I shall set about reading Mark Twain.  How (after writing my last post!) can I not have to read the great writer who came to accept the unknowable as such?  How can I not accept his  getting from day to day in his old age by playing the role that the World took pleasure in?
And now that I understand the American Renaissance Revival (see the headpiece here) I can happily appreciate the Hartford house.