Monday, November 4, 2019

Booknotes: Mark Twain's Civil War

New Arrival:
Mark Twain's Civil War: "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" by Mark Twain, edited by Benjamin Griffin (Heyday, 2019).

I last revisited Mark Twain's "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" back in 2010, having a little bit of fun with the writer's account of the 'battle' of Mason's Farm (particularly the cartography part of it). There's now a new edited version of Twain's story out in book form. Mark Twain's Civil War: "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" is the work of Benjamin Griffin, an editor with UC-Berkeley's Mark Twain Project. From the description: "Twenty years after Appomattox, Twain published a highly fictionalized account of his two-week stint in the Confederate Army. Ostensibly this told what he did (or, in his own words, why he “didn’t do anything”) in the war; but the article was criticized as disingenuous, and it did little to address a growing curiosity about the nature of his brief military service."

Though entertaining, the story sparked many questions about Twain's Civil War. "The complex political situation in Missouri during the early months of the war and Twain’s genius for transforming life into fiction have tended to obstruct historical understanding of “The Private History”; interpretations of Samuel Clemens’s enthusiastic enlistment, sedulous avoidance of combat, and abandonment of the rebellion have ranged from condemnation to celebration."

"Aided by Twain’s notes and correspondence―transcribed and published here for the first time―"Griffin, through his own extensive notes and scholarly commentary,"offers a new and cogent analysis, particularly of Clemens’s multiple revisions of his own war experience. In addition to including other illustrations, the book contains the Twain maps referenced in my 2010 post linked above. "A necessity for any Twain bookshelf, Mark Twain’s Civil War sheds light on a great writer’s changeable and challenging position on the deadliest of American conflicts." Sounds very interesting.

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