The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain. Camfield, Gregg. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Pp. xxi + 767. Hardcover, 7 x 10. $75.00. ISBN 0-19-510710-1.

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The following review appeared 31 January 2003 on the Mark Twain Forum.

Copyright © 2003 Mark Twain Forum
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Reviewed by
Barbara Schmidt

The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain is one of the most recent entries in the category of reference books devoted to one author. The book, weighing in at 767 pages, contains eight pages of photographs, numerous illustrations from Twain's first editions, 301 topical entries that are arranged in A to Z format, a time line chronology, and a bibliography of Mark Twain's published works. The publisher's description from the dust jacket states "The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain is destined to become the definitive reference work for a generation of Twain lovers." The statement invites comparison to the two present heavyweights in the field of Twain reference books -- Mark Twain A to Z, written by R. Kent Rasmussen (Facts on File, 1995) with 1,250 topical entries and The Mark Twain Encyclopedia edited by J. R. LeMaster and James D. Wilson (Garland Publishing, 1993) with 740 entries. In spite of its bulk, the limited number of entries makes The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain fall short in breadth when compared to the other two reference works.

There is considerable overlap among the three reference books, with the greatest overlap being with The Mark Twain Encyclopedia. However, differences are manifest in writing style, documentation, ease of use, and presentation of material. A comparison of identical entries best illustrates the style differences between The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain and Mark Twain A to Z. From Mark Twain A to Z: "satire - Literary term for a work that uses ridicule to attack ideas, institutions, people, or other objects taken from real life" (p. 418). From The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain: "Satire. If *amiable humor is moralizing through an indulgent and sympathetic laughter to embrace incongruity, then satire is moralizing through scorn to attack incongruity" (p. 532).

The Mark Twain Encyclopedia uses a bibliography for each essay. The other two books do not. Mark Twain A to Z contains a general bibliography in a separate section. The other two do not. The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain contains a separate essay on "Researching Mark Twain" that is intended to serve as a bibliography. The lack of any formal bibliography in The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain proves problematical when the book as a whole is examined -- especially in light of the number of direct quotations that are used. A variety of methods are used to document sources including abbreviations such as "N&J 3:29" (p. 62) which may have little meaning to the reader who has no bibliography to consult. Two methods of cross-referencing are used -- a system of asterisks (*) is used inside the body of an essay in front of words that have separate topical entries. A "SEE ALSO" note is added to the end of some entries. Both methods are used sporadically throughout. Mark Twain A to Z uses an unobtrusive method of small capital letters for words that are cross-referenced. The Mark Twain Encyclopedia features "See Also" cross-referencing.

Ninety of the 301 entries in The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain are unique topics that are not covered by separate entries in either of the other two major reference works. Varying in length from a few paragraphs to extensive and comprehensive essays, the majority of the entries are those in which Camfield assumes an intentional "interpretative presence." The essays are intended to explore "difficult, often open-minded questions posed by reading Twain" (ix). In addition to the essays and entries written by Camfield are eight supplemental essays. Four essays are excerpts previously used as introductions in the 1996 Oxford editions of the works of Twain edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin. Four new essays by other writers include "Critical Reception" by David L. Smith; "The Dream of Domesticity" by Susan K. Harris; "Mark Twain's Reputation" by Louis J. Budd; and "Technology" by Bruce Michelson. The supplemental essays are nested within the middle of Camfield's essays and are interruptions to the flow of Camfield's entries that could have been eliminated had the essays been grouped together in a separate appendix.

Topics of the ninety essays unique to The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain range in scope. Some relate to specific subjects such as Clemens's belief in an afterlife, his collaborations with other writers, his public image, his usage of tobacco, and his work habits. Other essays address less tangible ideas and concepts such as "Amiable Humor," "Democracy," "Meritocracies," and "Progress." Literary concepts discussed are "Essays," "Irony," "Nostalgia," "Parody," and "Sketches." The writing style of the total body of essays ranges from scholarly -- "Europeans considered American humor a natural excrescence, a primitive ebullition, rather than an art" (p. 273); to conversational; to gossipy -- "For instance, Charles Dudley Warner was rumored to have had a longtime mistress (at whose house he died of a heart attack -- ostensibly suffered during coitus.)" (p. 549).

The majority of index entries in The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain are accurate. However, a number of entries are off by one and sometimes two pages, possibly the result of the publisher's changing the book's layout after generating the index. Spot checking for key words or phrases like "Tennessee land," "Presbyterian," "Sandwich Islands," "Philippines," and state of "Missouri" show no entries even though these words appear in the book. Some index entries are incomplete and do not record all appearances of a key word. There is also a lack of consistency regarding the usage of italics for foreign words and phrases and for book titles as they occur in major topic headings, the body of the text and index.

Some essays are in need of correction or clarification. The essay on Joseph Goodman, for example, identifies him as the author of The Big Bonanza, printed by Webster and Company (p. 244). A subsequent entry on William Wright (Dan De Quille) accurately credits him with authorship of The Big Bonanza in 1876 (by American Publishing Company). The Moffett family name is alternately spelled Moffet and Moffett throughout the book. Nevada journalist Clement T. Rice is confused with Clemens's colleague Dr. Clarence C. Rice (p. 518). "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" is identified as one that "blossomed into popularity during the Vietnam War years" (p. 448). It appears this work has been confused with Clemens's "The War Prayer," which has long enjoyed a wide reputation as war protest literature and was republished with illustrations in 1968. Additional clarification regarding the Vietnam War popularity of "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" in addition to "The War Prayer" would have been beneficial.

"A Bibliography of Works by Samuel L. Clemens" appears in a separate section at the end of the book. Camfield states it is not meant to be authoritative, but only a starting point. The core of the bibliography has been provided by the Mark Twain Papers and owes much to the decades of work by various Twain scholars, most notably Edgar M. Branch who was instrumental in identifying much of Mark Twain's early newspaper writing. Camfield has collated and combined the newspaper identifications with tables of contents from the various editions of Mark Twain's writings in an attempt to move closer to a comprehensive bibliography. The bibliography, as printed in the book, is in chronological order and runs a total of forty-seven pages. It contains notations and abbreviations that are not fully explained and will be understood by only the most experienced Twain researchers. The accompanying key list of abbreviations to the periodicals and newspapers in which Twain's works appeared do not contain information regarding city of publication. It would be easy for a novice researcher to mistake WU (Western Union) for the telegraph company and not the Hannibal (Missouri) Western Union newspaper. No information is provided regarding works that have been collected in corrected text publications. In some cases readers will be pointed to the bowdlerized edition of Europe and Elsewhere edited by Albert Bigelow Paine.

A more correct version of the bibliography, in both chronological and alphabetical order, is currently available online, having been updated and corrected since the book was published. The online version does contain notes and information related to corrected text editions. However, it does not feature a key to abbreviations and notations used. Some omissions are readily apparent in both versions -- among them Terry Oggel's recent corrected text publication of "The United States of Lyncherdom" in Prospects and several first-time printings of anti-imperialist works from Jim Zwick's Mark Twain's Weapons of Satire. Serious researchers are best served by consulting the online editions of the bibliography. The alphabetical version is online at:

and the chronological version is at:

Noticeably absent from the bibliography are works of Twain that have not yet been published in full. This is particularly frustrating when quotations from essays such as "A Family Sketch" (p. 546) are used but the reader is unable to locate information regarding the essay in Clemens's bibliography.

Camfield is to be commended for his efforts to compile and make widely available this initial step towards a comprehensive bibliography of Twain's works. The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain is not for the casual reader, the novice researcher, nor the student seeking a quick and concise source of facts. It should find its strongest usage with scholars and academics seeking lively, well-written sources that focus heavily on literary interpretation across a wide spectrum of Clemens's life and times.