The following review appeared 11 June 1993 on the Mark Twain Forum.
Copyright © Mark Twain Forum, 1993. This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.
University of British Columbia
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The appearance of the Mark Twain Encyclopedia
has been anxiously anticipated, and most readers should be pleased with
book is a handy guide to the basic and obscure facts of Twain's life and
it is quite comprehensive, having about 740 alphabetically arranged (and
entries. The essays are generally thorough and reliable. However, because
there were dozens
of contributors, the quality of individual entries is uneven in the book as
Many articles are excellent, but some are dated and incomplete. It is
that some of the latter were not smoothed out in the editing process, but
the book's large size and scope, and the time constraints apparently faced
editors, LeMaster and Wilson have done a remarkable job. Surely the main
in deciding whether to buy the MT Encyclopedia
will not be its quality or usefulness, but its price.
As a reference book, most entries in the MT Encyclopedia are short (less than a page). A meticulous, 33-page index facilitates access to material within individual entries. The entries deal with topics large and small, and as diverse as "Crystal Palace Exhibition," "Interviews," "Scatology," "Cosmopolitan, " "Miscegenation," and "Halley's Comet." An article on Twain's racial attitudes is deservedly long, given the attention that this topic continues to receive. Following each entry is a bibliography directing the reader to more detailed information on the topic. Although this arrangement has resulted in considerable duplication of bibliographic entries throughout the book, it is surely preferable to the alternative of having a consolidated bibliography at the end, which would require constant flipping of pages back and forth.
Also included in the MT Encyclopedia is a four-page chronology of Twain's life, although it is not as inclusive as the one that appeared recently in Budd's edition of Twain's stories. By contrast, an appendix presents branches of the Clemens genealogy in more detail than, e.g., a similar section in MT's Letters. The 180 authors who prepared entries for the MT Encyclopedia are listed with their contributions at the front of the book. The advisory board comprised such well-known Twain scholars as Howard G. Baetzhold, Louis J. Budd, Everett Emerson, John C. Gerber, Alan Gribben, Susan K. Harris, Hamlin Hill, E. Hudson Long, and David E. E. Sloane. The book appears to have been carefully proofread, as there were no obvious typographical errors.
Many entries examine characters in Twain's fiction, e.g., Colonel Sherburn from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jack Halliday from "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," and of course reappearing characters like Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, Captain Stormfield, and Colonel Sellers. In addition to entries on Twain's novels, there are many articles on his short writings. In this respect, the MT Encyclopedia overlaps with Wilson's Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of MT. While the entries for individual stories in the Reader's Guide are slightly longer than the corresponding ones in the MT Encyclopedia, the Reader's Guide has the drawback that it discusses only about 65 stories, virtually all of which are from Neider's edition. The MT Encyclopedia improves this coverage dramatically, since it includes entries on posthumously published stories and fragments from, e.g., What is Man? and other Philosophical Writings, MT's Which Was the Dream? and Other Symbolic Writings of the Later Years, and MT's Fables of Man. Indeed, the fact that these writings have been regarded as important by the editors is suggested by the presence of a two-page chronology of posthumous publications at the beginning of the book, starting with MT's Speeches (1910) and ending with MT's Letters, vol. 2, and MT's Own Autobiography (1990). It is not clear, however, why this chronology was not brought completely up to date to include, e.g., MT's Aquarium: The Samuel Clemens- Angelfish Correspondence, 1905-1910 and MT's Letters, vol. 3, especially since these books are cited elsewhere in the Encyclopedia.
There is a five-page entry on a subject that receives a lot of attention on the Mark Twain Forum, "Media Interpretations of MT's Life and Works." Starting as early as 1909 with Thomas Edison's audio-visual recordings of Twain, it lists adaptations of specific Twain works under the subheadings "Movies and TV," "Biography," "Radio," "Filmstrip," "Musical Treatments," and "Audio Recordings (Spoken Word)." (There is also a related entry devoted solely to Twain's appearance in comics.) Missing from this entry, however, is a survey of modern fiction in which Twain or his creations appear as characters--although David Carkeet's novel I Been There Before is mentioned briefly in another entry. The "Media Interpretations" article is discriminating in identifying adaptations that have attempted to capture the spirit of Twain's original writings (e.g., the Great Amwell Company's PBS movies in the 1980s), but it could have been made yet more informative if it also cited some specific misinterpretations of Twain's life and work. Nevertheless, this entry consolidates information that is not otherwise conveniently available.
Another entry that is very good concerns the editions of Twain's works, identifying his publishers at different periods of his life. It also lists the editions that are currently the most authoritative--the ones prepared by the Mark Twain Project and published by the University of California Press--and identifies the correspondences between the editions in the inexpensive Mark Twain Library series and the more heavily annotated volumes from which they are derived. The article is careful to draw attention to the fact that the first posthumous publication of "The Mysterious Stranger" (1916) used a bowdlerized text, and guides the reader instead to the definitive edition in the Mark Twain Papers series. In the case of The Innocents Aborad, which has not yet appeared in the Works of Mark Twain series, the reader is directed to the Library of America edition. The entry concludes with a list of facsimile reproductions of first editions and holograph manuscripts, as well as editions of Twain's poetry. Although this article is only two-and-a-half pages long, it is fairly thorough and should be invaluable to the general reader who is trying to evaluate and make sense of the various editions available--a situation that can only become more baffling in the next few years as electronic editions of Twain's writings become available.
Other valuable articles survey the institutions of modern Twain scholarship, e.g., journals, conferences, the Mark Twain Circle of America, the Mark Twain Papers, the Mark Twain Project, and the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies at Quarry Farm. Of course, the details in these entries will probably become dated quickly. There is an entry on the Mark Twain Research Foundation, for example, that suggests that this organization (and its newsletter, The Twainian) is still going strong, when in fact it does not seem to have been effective since the death of its executive secretary, Chester L. Davis, Sr., in 1987.
The real value of the MT Encyclopedia for individual readers can surely only be established by frequent use over a long period. It will be discovered that some entries are more helpful than others. We can give the MT Encyclopedia a couple of quick tests by checking if it answers some of the queries that have been posted to the Mark Twain Forum. One recent message asked if anyone could cite examples of Twain's alleged racist attitudes toward the Irish. The MT Encyclopedia's entry on "Ireland, Irish, Irishmen" does indeed identify the locations (by chapter) of some of Twain's unfavourable depictions of the Irish.
Another Forum subscriber has asked if anyone could explain why Neider's text of "A Double-Barreled Detective Story" is interrupted in chapter 4 by some letters to Twain concerning his absurd reference to a "solitary esophagus [that] slept upon motionless wing," as well as a letter by Twain to the Springfield Republican. What is particularly puzzling is that this material does not appear in the original serial publication of the story in Harper's Magazine (early 1902). The entry for this story in the MT Encyclopedia, although it is a page and a half long, does not even mention the discrepant texts. One must look instead to Wilson's Reader's Guide for an explanation, where the variant versions of the story are described at the outset, and the correspondence is identified as having been first inserted by Twain in the version of the story that was published in book form by Harper and Brothers later that year. Twain's purpose, according to Macnaughton, was to call "attention to the burlesque intention of both the specific passage in question and the piece as a whole" (172-173). The MT Encyclopedia was therefore of no help in answering this question, except insofar as Wilson's Reader's Guide was listed in the bibliography.
More generally, one criticism that can be levelled at the MT Encyclopedia is that some entries do not integrate the latest and most accurate information available, despite the claim in the preface that the book serves as "a review of the current status of Mark Twain scholarship" (x). For example, the entry on George Washington Cable states that in Rochester in December 1884, "it was Cable who first introduced Twain to the Morte D'Arthur ; in so doing he became (in Twain's words) 'the godfather' of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court . . . ." The entry on Sir Thomas Malory likewise implies that Cable originally introduced Twain to the book; the mistake is especially puzzling here, since the bibliography for this entry lists Gribben's "The Master Hand of Old Malory," which shows that Twain was familiar with the Morte D'Arthur before 1884, i.e., before his reading tour with Cable. Another connection between Twain's life and fiction remains unestablished in the entry on "Letter from the Recording Angel." The essay mentions Andrew Langdon as though he were merely a fictional target of Twain's satire against hypocrisy, when in fact Langdon was also the first cousin of Twain's wife, Olivia Clemens. This oversight is somewhat distressing in light of the book's preface, which states that "because so much of Mark Twain's writing . . . reflects Samuel Clemens's personal experience, particular attention has been given to the delicate interstices between art and life, that is, between imaginative reconstructions and their factual sources of inspiration" (ix).
There is an especially unimpressive article on Canada. Its main flaw is that it follows in structure and content (almost completely) Stephen Leacock's "MT and Canada," an essay that is now almost sixty years old, and which contains errors and omissions. The entry in the Encyclopedia neglects to mention Twain's trips to Canada in 1884-85 and 1887, for example, nor does it mention Twain's correspondence with Canadian novelist Bruce Weston Munro (see Karanovich et al.). This entry is not redeemed either by its bibliography. Most surprisingly, it does not include Gordon Roper's important article, "MT and His Canadian Publishers." This reference is also conspicuously absent from the bibliography of the "Copyright" entry. Here, then, one would have to turn to, e.g., Tenney's Reference Guide in order to find Roper's article. Similarly, the "Canada" bibliography lists James B. Pond's Eccentricity [sic] of Genius (which relates Pond's experiences as manager for Twain's reading tours), but not Overland With MT, which contains dozens of new photographs of the North American portion of Twain's 1895-96 world tour, as well as a more authoritative text of Pond's journal.
The value of some entries (or parts of entries) is negligible. The article on Thomas Edison unfortunately does not go very far in showing how Edison is connected with Twain's life and fiction. It does not even mention Edison's audio and visual recordings of Twain, although this information can be found in another entry (mentioned above) via the index. The entry on "Correspondence (MT as Letter Writer)" is very thorough and informative, but the second-last paragraph, which is nearly half a page long, states the obvious: "That Mark Twain's letters continue to merit publication and study is beyond question. Samuel L. Clemens arguably was and remains the most important writer yet produced by the United States, an author whose significance was vast during his lifetime and is still growing more than eighty years after his death." It then goes on to list Twain's diverse occupations during his life. This information perhaps would have been better kept in the entry specifically on Clemens, or in the introduction, so that more space in the body of the book could have been freed.
And of course there are the small errors that inevitably creep into a book as ambitious as the MT Encyclopedia. For example, although Kurt Vonnegut is mentioned in the "Legacy" article, he does not appear in the index. "Language" cites an item by Fatout that is not listed in the bibliography. The entry for publisher Francis (Frank) Bliss states "dates unknown," yet Bliss's birth and death dates are readily available in, e.g., MT's Letters, vol. 3, and MT's Correspondence with Henry Huttleston Rogers ; the latter is now over twenty years old. The article on "The Golden Arm" is careful to point out that "A Ghost Story" is an alternate title for this tale (which Twain frequently told on the platform), but the corresponding entry for "A Ghost Story" (a different sketch that first appeared in the 1870 Buffalo Express bearing the same title), does not cross-refer to the "Golden Arm"; this matter, though small, could be confusing to a reader who knows Twain's oral folktale only by its title, "A Ghost Story."
Many of the issues raised above are minor, but are meant to alert the reader to the possibility that similar mistakes are present elsewhere in the book. Still, the good points of the MT Encyclopedia far outweigh its bad points, and I would highly recommend this book to fellow Twainians, as it contains a huge amount of information in a compact, attractive, and sturdy format. However, I would also recommend that anyone researching Twain's life and writings not stop at the MT Encyclopedia, but continue to check resources like Tenney's MT: A Reference Guide and its supplements, Gribben's MT's Library: A Reconstruction, Wilson's Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of MT, and the MT Papers series, among others. This is because, unfortunately, even if one assumes that the contributors to the MT Encyclopedia have fully explored these resources themselves, one cannot also assume that they have all integrated their findings into their articles. Nevertheless, the MT Encyclopedia cannot be compared to any other single book about MT, and it will be an invaluable resource for years to come.
Thanks to the following persons for their comments on a draft of this review: Kevin J. Bochynski, Beverly R. David, Michael J. Kiskis, Miriam J. Shillingsburg, and Richard Tuerk. None of them can be held responsible for its contents.
Works CitedBudd, Louis J. "Who's Been Demeaning Whom?" MT Circular 1.9 (September 1987): 1-2.