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Posts Tagged ‘Book Review’

BOOK REVIEW | Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1: The Complete and Authoritative Edition

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Essays, Fiction, History, Humanities, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Nineteenth-Century America, Novels, Politics, Rhetoric, Western Civilization, Writing on November 1, 2011 at 9:26 am

Allen Mendenhall

The following post originally appeared here at Prometheus Unbound: A Libertarian Review of Fiction and Literature.

Good things come to those who wait, the old adage goes, and the world has waited a century for Mark Twain’s autobiography, which, in Twain’s words, is a “complete and purposed jumble.”

This 760 page jumble is a good thing. And well worth the wait.

Twain, or Samuel L. Clemens, compiled this autobiography over the course of 35 years. The manuscript began in fits and starts. Twain, while establishing his legacy as a beloved humorist and man of letters, dashed off brief episodes here and there, assigning chapter numbers to some and simply shelving others. In 1906, he began making efforts to turn these cobbled-together passages into a coherent narrative. He met daily with a stenographer to dictate various reflections and then to compile them into a single, albeit muddled, document. The result was a 5,000 page, unedited stack of papers that, per Twain’s strict handwritten instructions, could not be published until 100 years after his death.

To say that we’ve waited a century to view this manuscript is only partially accurate because pieces of the manuscript appeared in 1924, 1940, and 1959. But this edition, handsomely bound by the University of California Press, and edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and others of the Mark Twain Project, is the first full, printed compilation of the autobiographical dictations and extracts. The editors, noting that “the goal of the present edition [is] to publish the complete text as nearly as possible in the way Mark Twain intended it to be published before his death,” explain that “no text of the Autobiography so far published is even remotely complete, much less completely authorial.” The contents of this much-awaited beast of a book, then, are virtually priceless; no doubt many of Twain’s previously unread or unconsidered passages will become part of the American literary canon.

Stark photographs of the manuscript drafts and of Twain and his subjects — including family members and residences — accompany this fragmentary work. The lively and at times comical prose is in keeping with the rambling style of this rambling man whom readers have come to know and appreciate for generations.  Read the rest of this entry »


Cantor on Greenblatt and Shakespeare

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Book Reviews, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, News and Current Events, Shakespeare on March 13, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Paul Cantor’s review of Stephen Greenblatt’s Shakespeare’s Freedom appears in this month’s issue of The American Conservative.  Greenblatt’s about-face means that my paper “Shakespeare’s Place in Law & Literature” will be dated upon publication, but that’s okay, because the trend of liberty is more important to me (and to society) than the timeliness of my research.

Review of John Ernest’s Chaotic Justice (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009)

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Dred Scott, Jurisprudence, Law-and-Literature, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Literary Theory & Criticism on July 7, 2010 at 2:30 pm


John Ernest, Eberly Distinguished Professor of American Literature at West Virginia University, has written a new book, Chaotic Justice, that should appeal to lawyers and law professors alike.  Ernest’s project began with basic research on Frances E. W. Harper’s Iola Leroy (1892), but over time Ernest realized that, in his words, “I did not know nearly enough about the literary and cultural history on which, according to my doctorate and professional experience, I was supposed to be an expert.”  Ernest found himself “increasingly convinced that we cannot appreciate American literary and cultural history without a deep understanding of nineteenth-century African American literature,” so he set out to gain that understanding and to convey his findings to a wide audience.  Some of the articles he published along the way—in such journals as PMLA, African American Review, American Literature, and Arizona Quarterly—appear in the book, albeit in slightly different form.   

Examining a vast network of authors who shaped the African American literary corpus, Ernest, a critical race theorist, has strong words for those who teach histories and theories about race as a nod toward idealized multiculturalism.  “Too often,” he says, “social progress relating to race is considered to be an approach toward an imagined horizon by which either the color line gradually disappears or an imagined multiculturalist ideal emerges—an escape, in effect, from a social world largely constructed by and long devoted to racial theories and racist practices.”  More harm than good, in other words, will come of a curriculum that celebrates a quixotic post-racial future while overlooking—or, worse, generalizing—about America’s fraught history of racism.      Read the rest of this entry »

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