[Barbee Library’s Life Long Learners Series “The Life and Work of Mark Twain” began on October 22 and ends on January 28 – this review covers the January 14 session]
While Mark Twain is remembered by many for his humor in works of fiction, humor played a vital role in his serious social commentary. Twain’s anti-imperialist views were forged in the course of his overseas travels in the 1890s where he saw that the romanticized visions of empire building produced horrific outcomes for those under colonial rule.
Eager to convey his observations to American audiences, Mark Twain was able to capitalize on his popularity to find readers and lecture audiences. He did not limit his criticism to European imperialism, even preaching against American expansionism, noting: “I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.”
Twain’s “Following the Equator” shone a disturbing light on British colonial practices, while letting the reader know that America’s treatment of native Americans and enslaved people was hardly any better. While Twain used his always sharp humor to advance his opinion, the grim reality of his pronouncements left audiences uneasy and publishers increasingly risk averse to publish his words.
In an essay entitled “To the Person Sitting in Darkness” published in 1901 in The New American Review, Twain’s righteous indignation fueled a powerful rhetorical appeal, even though that “person” was the unenlightened American reader. His unpublished work “The War Prayer,” a gruesome “praise” of the horrors of war, similarly sought to move the reader far beyond his or her comfort zone.
Soon Mark Twain was forced to balance his need for public adulation (and cash flow) with his moral imperative to tell the unvarnished truth. Twain had declared bankruptcy in 1894, and his overseas tour was primarily aimed at paying off his considerable debts, something he achieved in 1898 to the great praise of many of his contemporaries. This honorable act helped Twain maintain his rightful place on the moral high ground, ensuring that his message would continue to be heard.
This was such an interesting lecture which made me think of many issues of today and our troubled history, which we are still dealing with today.
Glad it was thought provoking, Eileen, and hope it opened up some meaningful conversations.
The roving reporter is a community gem. She consistently offers up reflective, thought-provoking and well-written posts.
This piece particularly resonates in these challenging times. Eerily timeless.
Thank you, Barbara
I couldn’t agree more, Julia! Barbara Lemos is a treasure and FOLSOI is extremely grateful she volunteers on our publicity committee. Thank you, Barbara!
Zoom has allowed us to share in this learning experience during winter in Minnesota. Stan and company have done a great job providing this opportunity!
Delighted you could join us! More proof that a library’s reach transcends it’s walls.
The Friends of the Library Southport and Oak Island are extremely grateful that Stan Shelton and Bill Meiners run this popular Lifelong Learners discussion series! Many thanks!
Glad you joined our class on Jan14th.I look forward to this
Class every week
It’s amazing how much there is to learn from Mark Twain.
Barbara, glad you could join us. Your post captured the themes of our session beautifully. Thank you.