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Stephen Railton – Life and Work of Mark Twain

$63,37

Published on: December 10, 2020
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SKU: E975 Categories: ,

Samuel Clemens, the man known to history as Mark Twain, was more than one of America’s greatest writers. He was our first true celebrity, one of the most photographed faces of the 19th and 20th centuries.

This course explores Twain’s dual identities as one of our classic authors and as an almost mythical presence in our nation’s cultural life. It seeks to appreciate Twain’s literary achievements and to understand his life by highlighting seven of his major works:

Innocents Abroad
Roughing It
Old Times on the Mississippi
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson.

Professor Stephen Railton is extraordinarily qualified to bring to light the subtlest insights into Twain’s texts. An expert on Twain, he has appeared on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer as a distinguished Twain scholar and is the creator of Mark Twain in His Times, an award-winning Internet archive about Twain’s life and career. Professor Railton shows the issues that concerned Twain most throughout his lifetime and that appear repeatedly in the pages of his books.

Travel as a Way to Invent Mark Twain

What does Innocents Abroad tell us about Twain and his ambitions? Professor Railton discusses how travel was a way young Sam Clemens could escape his past as a Confederate soldier, riverboat pilot, and newspaper reporter. Like the American pioneers who headed West, Clemens wanted to reinvent himself.

Before heading to Europe and the Middle East to write the travel letters that would become his first book, Clemens could barely wait to depart. “I am wild with impatience to move, move, move!? he wrote to his mother.

Through Innocents Abroad, you will consider how Twain helped America overcome its insecurities about Europe’s intellectual and cultural superiority. He skewers the notion of high European culture with subtle criticism and broad burlesque.

Dr. Railton leads you through Twain’s accounts of his suffering near-butchery by a “suave? French barber, Venetian gondoliers in shreds and patches of clothes with their underwear exposed, and beggars wandering randomly in front of high-vaulted cathedrals.

Walking Humor’s Fine Line

This course will help you understand Twain’s greatness as a humorist and how he struggled with his talent for making people laugh.

In Roughing It, Twain made his semi-autobiographical character the butt of the joke, who, at one point, gets conned into buying a horse that throws him from the saddle. But he was very conflicted about debasing himself as a buffoon for the sake of a laugh.

Moreover, he correctly sensed that people laugh most intensely when they are made to feel uncomfortable. The humorist’s job is to walk the fine line between creating discomfort and giving true offense.

For most of his career, Twain walked that line successfully, gradually nudging his audience’s sensibilities a little further year by year. He attacked objects of social, cultural, and political reverence with just enough intelligence, subtlety, and playfulness to get away with it.

Even so, on issues such as racism, Twain often faced a dilemma. Dare he speak the truth, at the risk of upsetting the audience whose approval he craved, financially and emotionally? His solution was to hedge his bets.

For example, for all its strong antiracist language, Huckleberry Finn also contains many passages that echo the minstrel show routines so popular with white audiences of the time. Tellingly, these scenes earned him the loudest laughter when he read them on the lecture circuit.

Twain as a Reflection of America

Some say the way you read Mark Twain depends on the way you see America. How did Twain himself see it? In many ways he was its fiercest booster.

Roughing It, a story of fortune hunting in t

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