Mark Twain and Europe. By Takeshi Omiya. Osaka Kyoiku Tosho, 2015. Pp. 417. Hardcover. $58.00. ISBN 978-4-271-21040-5.

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The following review appeared 14 June 2017 on the Mark Twain Forum.

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Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Martin Zehr

For Mark Twain scholars, the subject and title, Mark Twain and Europe, will not conjure any reaction resembling surprise. After all, Twain spent a significant portion of his adult life visiting and living in Europe. From the beginning of his rise to celebrity status, European countries would be the inspiration for travelogues and fiction, including The Innocents Abroad (1869), A Tramp Abroad (1880), The Prince and The Pauper (1882), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896). Several studies have been published with a focus on particular venues in Twain's European sojourns including Howard Baetzhold's Mark Twain & John Bull: The British Connection (1970); Carl Dolmetsch's Our Famous Guest: Mark Twain in Vienna (1992); Andreas Austilat's Mark Twain in Berlin: Newly Discovered Stories (2013); and the most recent addition to this genre, Mark Twain and France: The Making of a New American Identity, by Paula Harrington and Ronald Jenn (2017). Twain's travels in other more-or-less circumscribed regions of the globe have also attracted focused energies like Miriam Jones Shillingsburg's At Home Abroad: Mark Twain in Australasia (1988).

In Mark Twain and Europe Takeshi Omiya, an independent Mark Twain scholar from Fukuoka City, Japan, with M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Hiroshima University "aims to examine the influence that Europe, at that time, had on Mark Twain and his works, that is, the significance of Europe to Twain" (p. 2). The book is divided into two major sections with the first devoted to Darwin's influence on Twain. The second section discusses the interactions and influences of Robert Louis Stevenson, Matthew Arnold and Shakespeare on Twain and his writings, particularly A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and The Innocents Abroad. This selection of topics and subjects hardly justifies the book's wide-ranging title, a misnomer that could have been rectified by the more apt or more accurate, Mark Twain and the Four Englishmen. Further compounding this misnomer are discussions, well-researched and interesting, but tangential, such as the exposition of imperialism, China, and Twain's "The Fable of the Yellow Terror" (1904-05) and Ah Sin (1876). Such digressions are not without merit, of course, but serve to underscore the conclusion that this book would have benefited from a more appropriate title to underscore its actual focus. Another criticism is the pronounced didactic approach taken by Omiya, with the phrase "First, I will show . . ." cropping up with a regularity that begs a rejoinder of the writer's creed, "Show, don't tell."

The discussion of Twain's developing determinism and its Darwinian roots has been the subject of numerous studies such as Tom Quirk's classic Mark Twain and Human Nature (2007). Omiya's expressed intention is "to provide a thorough examination of this subject," asserting that prior attempts have not been "comprehensive" (p. 2). His book does include a more than adequate introduction to Darwinism and social Darwinism as a predicate to analyzing the impact of their ideas and conclusions on many of Twain's writings, especially during the latter years of his career. Omiya traces Twain's determinism through his notebook entries and many of his published writings, including The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, "The Turning Point of My Life," What Is Man?, "Corn-Pone Opinions," "The Victims," and "Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes." Omiya asserts that "Twain maintains a duality inconsistent with determinism" (p. 79) because Twain considers "each human being to have an important, unchangeable, stable part within himself or herself that is never influenced by heredity and circumstances . . ." (p. 79). He seems to suggest that Twain's concept of determinism, sufficiently broad to include the Lamarckian idea of inherited characteristics, such as morals, allows Twain to maintain a belief in God and Darwinism simultaneously. However, Omiya's arguments in service of this thesis are not entirely convincing. Nonetheless, this discussion is undoubtedly one of the most extensive tracings of Darwin's influences in Twain's thought and writings and well worth the consideration of scholars who have long ago jettisoned the idea of Twain as a "mere humorist."

Omiya's chapter on Robert Louis Stevenson focuses on ideas relevant to psychology in the latter half of the nineteenth century which he traces to the duality theme of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Omiya attempts to make the case that Twain, who read and enjoyed Stevenson's book, shared Stevenson's fascination with the notion of "double personality" (p. 173) and the influence of dreams on writing. Omiya discusses a short piece by Twain titled "The Art of Authorship" (1890) as an example of Twain's thinking with respect to the role of the unconscious in his writing (p. 175) and cites examples in works such as A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur. He also notes the limitations of the idea that Stevenson influenced Twain, particularly with respect to the role of the conscience, which, according to Omiya's analysis did not constitute "another distinct self" (p. 178). This chapter includes subsections devoted to the work of Jean Martin Charcot, Pierre Janet, Sigmund Freud, and Mark Twain's friend, William James. According to Omiya, Twain "obtained the idea of unconsciousness" from Charcot and Janet (p. 179). Twain's friendship with William James and their mutual interests in psychical research and, later, in the anti-imperialist movement in the United States, is cited by Omiya for James's influence on Twain's writing on dreams, including "No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger." Twain, according to Omiya's argument, "owes much of his notion of 'the Dream Self' to James's notion of the subliminal self" (p. 184). Citing Kent Rasmussen's Mark Twain A to Z (1995), Omiya repeats the unproven, and likely fake news, that Twain met Sigmund Freud in 1898, when no documentation exists from either party to support the claim, but correctly notes evidence of the one-way influence based on the later references to Twain in the writings of Freud.

Chapter 8 chronicles Mark Twain's interactions with English writer Matthew Arnold, particularly following Arnold's criticism of ex-President Grant's Memoirs (1885) issued by Twain's publishing company. Arnold's description of American civilization as based on "the Philistine middle class" (p. 204) provoked Twain to note that the disrespectful and irreverent tone of American journalism was an essential factor in guaranteeing the liberties of the citizen. Omiya believes that Arnold's criticisms were partly responsible for Twain's later attacks on the shams of English society contained in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) and The American Claimant (1892).

The final Englishman chosen by Omiya for his European perspective is Shakespeare. This is hardly a surprise, given Twain's study of Elizabethan English, relied on for The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and 1601: Conversation as It Was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors, and Twain's late discourse on the Shakespeare authorship controversy, Is Shakespeare Dead? (1909). Omiya provides a historical perspective for Twain's interest in Shakespeare, beginning with his apparent childhood reading of Richard the Third and traces, through Twain's notebooks, his reading and attendance of performances of the plays in the repertoire. Omiya's discussion of Twain's interest in Shakespeare includes an exploration of the Baconian thesis that Francis Bacon was the actual author of Shakespeare's works, a long-standing controversy at the time Twain wrote Is Shakespeare Dead?. Omiya argues that "circumstances led him [Twain] to adopt the Bacon-as-Shakespeare theory" (p. 241), but, more importantly, asserts that Is Shakespeare Dead? is meant, in part, as a restatement of the determinism Twain seemed to embrace in the last decade of his life. Omiya argues that the determinism Twain espouses, based on examination of "our circumstances and associations" (p. 239) is the mirror image of the deterministic philosophy espoused in "Corn-Pone Opinions" (1901) and What is Man? (1905). Tracing Twain's interest in the Baconian theory of authorship as far back as the 1850s, based partly on Twain's readings on the subject of cryptography, Omiya concludes that Twain was "playing intellectual games by demonstrating himself to be a living specimen of determinism" (p. 241). Twain nonetheless, as Omiya is careful to point out, holds a reverential attitude toward Shakespeare's works, regardless of the solution to the authorship controversy.

The final two chapters are devoted to separate discussions of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and The Innocents Abroad in which Omiya theorizes that Twain's "great respect" for Christopher Columbus (p. 249) is apparent. For example, a lunar eclipse relied on by Columbus in 1504 to instill fear and respect on the part of Native Americans is transformed into the fortuitous solar eclipse used by Hank Morgan to save himself from the mob intent on burning him at the stake. Columbus thus becomes the first European tasked with the obligation of civilizing the people inhabiting the Caribbean islands he "discovers," just as Hank Morgan assumes responsibility for modernizing and reforming the inhabitants of Arthurian England. In The Innocents Abroad, Omiya sees Twain as a pioneer, not in the sense of Columbus's "discovery" of America (p. 272), but as a traveler relying on his own senses rather than the secondhand accounts of prior writers to provide a more realistic, less romantic and less reverential perspective for viewing the Old World.

The Notes and Bibliography sections of this book, comprising one hundred pages, indicate a serious and wide range of Twain-related scholarship and contain nuggets of information only acquired through years of dedicated study. Omiya notes, for example, that Twain's "Is He Dead?" joke, a frequent comic trope in The Innocents Abroad, is borrowed from an Artemus Ward sketch, and properly credits the work of David E.E. Sloane in this regard (p. 286). He also recounts the story of Isaiah Sellers using "Mark Twain" as a pseudonym and the "two drinks" hypotheses to discuss the origins of Clemens's pen-name (p. 297), but fails to mention the work of Kevin Mac Donnell establishing the most probable source, a piece titled "The North Star," published in Artemus Ward's Vanity Fair in 1861. Also included is an Errata sheet with forty-three entries, consisting primarily of simple word or grammar corrections.

Mark Twain scholars are well aware of the interest in Twain studies by Japanese scholars, through such insightful, perspective-changing works as Tsuyoshi Ishihara's Mark Twain in Japan: The Cultural Reception of an American Icon (2005); Mark Twain Studies, the journal of The Japan Mark Twain Society; and the numerous scholars from Japan who present their work at the quadrennial International Conference on Mark Twain Studies in Elmira, New York. Omiya's book presents detailed, well-researched arguments regarding the evolution of philosophy underlying Twain's writing, in a work unmistakably written for the seasoned Twain scholar.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Martin Zehr is a psychologist in the Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. His novel, The Desplazados, has just been published and was described by Kirkus Reviews as "A journey of reawakening and self-acceptance, well worth the trip."