Horn, Jason Gary. Mark Twain: A Descriptive Guide to Biographical Sources.
Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1999.
Pp. x + 133. Chronology, indexes.
Cloth, 5-3/4" x 8-3/4". $32.50. ISBN 0-8108-3630-0.

The following review appeared 14 December 1999 on the Mark Twain Forum.

Copyright © 1999 Mark Twain Forum.
This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

Reviewed by:

Alan Gribben <>
Auburn University Montgomery

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To begin with a final but crucial feature, Jason Gary Horn's book boasts an index, and it is an ample index. Reference works like this one are largely useful in accordance with how complete their indexes prove to be, and Horn's contains entries for everything from "Major James B. Pond," "Nevada," and "Katy Leary" to "Humor," "Psychology," "Creativity," "Politics," and "Women," aside from the names of numerous scholarly authors, editors, and titles. His aim is to present "an organized guide" to studies devoted to all aspects of the life of Mark Twain. Horn's coverage even includes certain of the biographical sources written during Twain's lifetime. He admits, given the limitations of space, to being more generous with his attention to books than articles. That being the case, one might argue with his inclusion of a year-by-year chronology of Twain's life events and another chronology that merely lists Twain's works by their publication date, thereby giving up eight pages that could have introduced further books and (especially) more articles rather than repeating familiar listings easily found in the appendixes of various other works.

What especially sets Horn's book apart is the reach of its range. Among the categories, there are separate sections set aside for dictionaries and encyclopedias; guides, companions, and related reference books; biographies; critical biographical studies; autobiographical material; letters, notebooks, and speeches; essay collections; and special reference sources. In the latter group, for example, Horn lists and describes J. R. LeMaster and James D. Wilson's The Mark Twain Encyclopedia, R. Kent Rasmussen's Mark Twain A to Z, Thomas A. Tenney's Mark Twain: A Reference Guide, and James D. Wilson's A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Mark Twain, along with others.

I tried out Horn's scope by looking for a disparate set of items: Mark Twain Circular ("published quarterly by the Mark Twain Circle of America"), the Mark Twain Project ("twenty-three volumes have been published"), Guy Cardwell's The Man Who Was Mark Twain ("his biographical housecleaning leaves readers with both a highly talented writer and a man with numerous personality problems"), Everett Emerson's The Authentic Mark Twain ("draws an image- and career-conscious Twain capable of being . . . either authentic or highly pretentious"), Victor A. Doyno's Writing Huck Finn ("moves in two directions toward a single goal: an understanding of Mark Twain's artistic mind"), and Peter Stonely's Mark Twain and the Feminine Aesthetic ("describes Twain's relationship with women in complex and often ironic terms"). In brief, I was unable to stump Horn's listings, however diligently I ransacked my personal library. He had entries for John Lauber, Hamlin Hill, Andrew Hoffman, Robert Gale, Frederick Anderson, Laura Skandera-Trombley, and just about every other scholar I could think of.

Sometimes one might wish for a little more characterization or opinion in the thumbnail description of each item. I mean, is it enough simply to say that Walter Blair's Mark Twain and Huck Finn (1960) "provides a literary and historical account of the forces that influenced the author's composing process" and that it "usefully traces the publication life of the book itself"? Shouldn't Blair's bold, pioneering role in understanding and appreciating the artistry of Twain's novel be stressed as well? Likewise with Henry Nash Smith, whose Mark Twain: The Development of a Writer (1962), arguably one of the five or six most influential books to appear on Twain, receives a relatively perfunctory four-sentence treatment that cannot possibly do justice either to Smith's thesis or his examples. James M. Cox's Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor (1966) fares somewhat better, being recognized as a book that "carries Mark Twain studies to yet another level." Most of the 278 entries, however, eschew critical interpretation entirely and even avoid offering historical perspectives. This neutral tone is presumably what the publisher preferred, but the author undoubtedly would have been better served if he had been given permission to introduce occasional editorial remarks, whatever the guidelines for a Scarecrow Press series.

Otherwise, only a few minor slips are detectable. For example, Robert Keith Miller, author of Mark Twain (1983), is merely cited as "Keith Miller." Also, the index mistakenly lists the entry number for Horn's own Mark Twain and William James as "67" rather than (correctly) "69." But such errors of fact, let it be emphasized, are both rare and trivial.

In sum, then, despite a couple of imaginable improvements Horn has produced an immensely helpful and valuable addition to the burgeoning shelf of reference works about Mark Twain. It will save both the novice and the expert considerable time and effort in remembering to check a variety of relevant sources. Indeed, this guide functions admirably to knit together several generations of research on Twain's life and writings. All scholars owe Jason Gary Horn a vote of thanks for conceiving and executing his well focused and fully annotated bibliography.

About the reviewer: Alan Gribben is in his ninth year as head of the Department of English and Philosophy at Auburn University Montgomery. He writes the Mark Twain chapter for American Literary Scholarship: An Annual.