1st Edition

The Mercurial Mark Twain(s) Reception History, Audience Engagement, and Iconic Authorship

By James L. Machor Copyright 2023

    Who was Mark Twain? Was he the genial author of two beloved boys books, the white-haired and white-suited avuncular humorist, the realistic novelist, the exposer of shams, the author repressed by bourgeois values, or the social satirist whose later writings embody an increasingly dark view? In light of those and other conceptions, the question we need to ask is not who he was but how did we get so many Mark Twains? The Mercurial Mark Twains(s): Reception History and Iconic Authorship provides answers to that question by examining the way Twain, his texts, and his image have been constructed by his audiences. Drawing on archival records of responses from common readers, reviewer reactions, analyses by Twain scholars and critics, and film and television adaptations, this study provides the first wide-ranging, fine-grained historical analysis of Twain’s reception in both the public and private spheres, from the 1860s until the end of the twentieth century.


    Part 1

    Chapter 1: Twain’s Early Reception: The Humorist and More

    Chapter 2: Notorious Celebrity: From Tom Sawyer to Huckleberry Finn

    Chapter 3: Vintage Variations and New Mark Twains, 1889-1899

    Chapter 4: The Final Decade: From Celebrity Polemicist to Mercurial Icon

    Part 2

    Chapter 5: Twain’s Early Afterlives, 1910-1939

    Chapter 6: Old Twains, New Twains, and Fresh Controversies: Race, Myth, Adaptations, and the

    Cold War, 1940-1959

    Chapter 7: Texts, Politics, and Hypercanonization: Corpus, Canon, and Significances in the

    1960s and 1970s

    Chapter 8: Ever-Changing Marks: Shaping Twain by Century’s End




    James L. Machor is an Emeritus Professor of English at Kansas State University. He is the author of Reading Fiction in Antebellum America: Informed Response and Reception Histories, 1820-1865 (2011) and Pastoral Cities: Urban Ideals and the Symbolic Landscape of America (1987). He has edited Readers in History: Nineteenth-Century American Literature and the Contexts of Response (1993) and co-edited Reception Study: From Literary Theory to Cultural Studies (2001) and New Directions in American Reception Study (2008). He is also the senior co-editor of Reception: Texts, Readers, Audiences, History, the peer-reviewed journal of the Reception Study Society.

    Numerous scholars have chronicled how book reviewers and other cultural commentators responded to Twain and his works both before and after his death in 1910. Recently, there has been increasing interest in how less-elite readers responded to Twain’s writings and in how Twain’s popular and critical reputations were forged in the 20th century. Prominent examples of such scholarship are Dear Mark Twain: Letters from His Readers, ed. by R. Kent Rasmussen (2013); Robert McParland’s Mark Twain’s Audience: A Critical Analysis of Reader Responses to the Writings of Mark Twain (2014); and Joe Fulton’s Mark Twain Under Fire: Reception and Reputation, Criticism and Controversy, 1851–2015 (2016). Machor wisely does not attempt a comprehensive study of Twain’s reception, instead presenting an extremely readable, broad overview of how Twain and his books (excluding serialized versions, translations, and pirated editions) have been received by particular audiences, chiefly American and British. Incorporating many more of the fan letters written to Twain during his lifetime than previous scholars have, convincingly refuting a number of previous scholarly assertions, and offering persuasive analyses, this study should prove very useful for years to come. Summing Up: Highly Recommended.

    --C. Johanningsmeier, University of Nebraska at Omaha