October 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 6
TWAIN, Mark (pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens; 1835-1910), a great American writer and publicist, was born in Florida, Missouri, of a family of provincial judges. Having worked as a typesetter, soldier, boat-pilot on the Mississippi, reporter, and gold prospector in Nevada, Twain’s literary activity began after the Civil War of 1861-65, under conditions of growing capitalist contradictions in the United States. In his first literary production (a collection of humorous tales [including] “The Celebrated Jumping Frog,” 1867, separately published in Russ. tr. in 1943, and others), Twain showed himself master of the short story. In this genre there is especially evident his inexhaustible humor and his marvelous knowledge of the customs and manners of his country. His kindhearted and gentle humor often passes into sarcasm and assumes the force of a mordant satire. In his satirical sketches, The Innocents Abroad (1869, Russ. tr. 1898) and Roughing It (1872), Twain ridicules the stupidity, vulgarity, and ignorance of the typical Philistine. His novel, The Gilded Age (1873, in collaboration with Ch. D. Warner; Russ. tr. 1874), depicts the venality of the state apparatus and the dirty profiteering methods to which the bourgeois businessman resorts. The very title of the novel ironically characterizes an entire epoch of American history. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876, Russ. tr. 1886), Twain contrasts bourgeois society, which is based on deceit and hypocrisy, with the characteristically free and pure world of the boy, a world that values friendship, bravery, and honesty. Twain’s writings of the eighties and nineties are characterized by ever more acute social criticism. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884, Russ. tr. 1885), the author presents a wide panorama of American reality. The very choice of heroes is noteworthy. The narrative is centered around the small vagabond Huck whom the “respectable” society of Petersburg accepts only after he has made a fortune in a fantastic way. The raft on which Huck and the runaway Negro Jim hide represents a small corner of goodness in a large world of meanness and injustice. In The Prince and the Pauper (1882, Russ. tr. 1884) and in the satiric fantasy on a medieval theme, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889, Russ. tr. 1896) Twain severely censures the wealthy classes’ exploitation of the peole. There is an exact correspondence between the castigation of the British monarchy found in these books and the pages of his notebooks, where he writes with bitterness about the transformation of his contemporary America into a “dollar monarchy.” In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court , Twain shows that the bourgeois civilization which the enterprising Yankee is propagating is not making the people happy. In his fiction Twain endows the masses with kindness and nobility.
Twain belongs with the best representatives of bourgeois democracy, who viewed the advance of imperialism with alarm and indignation. Although he did not understand clearly the social nature of imperialism and the ways to oppose it, Twain nevertheless saw and felt that the rule of the dollar contradicted the people’s image of happiness and the meaning of human existence. At the end of the nineteenth century Twain wrote the revealing “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” (1899, Russ. tr. 1900), “A Letter from the Recording Angel,” an Autobiography (a vols. 1934 ed.), as well as anti-imperialistic pamphlets. In these he branded the foreign and domestic policies of monopolistic capital, likened the magnates to highway robbers, and suggested that the United States adopt a new flag with an emblem of a skull and crossbones. Twain greatly sympathized with the Boers’ struggle for independence from Britain, with the Russian revolution of 1905-07, and with the Chinese nationalist anti-imperialistic rebellion of 1900-01. A profound disillusionment with bourgeois democracy led Twain at the same time into pessimistic moods. The social contradictions appeared irresolvable to him ( The Mysterious Stranger , published 1916; the treatise, What is Man? , 1906). A genuine writer of the people, Twain loved his country and people passionately and loathed everything that oppresses and stunts man—cupidity, cynicism, slavery, and imperialistic force. The founder of critical realism in American literature, he leaned on the oral folklore. Contemporary progressive literature in the United States is developing the realistic and democratic tendencies of Twain’s work.