The Author-Cat: Clemens's Life in Fiction

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9780823227877: The Author-Cat: Clemens's Life in Fiction

At the end of his long life, Samuel Clemens felt driven to write a truthful account of what he regarded as the flaws in his character and the errors of his ways. His attempt to tell the unvarnished truth about himself is preserved in nearly 250 autobiographical dictations. In order to encourage complete veracity, he decided from the outset that these would be published only posthumously.

Nevertheless, Clemens’s autobiography is singularly unrevealing. Forrest G. Robinson argues that, by contrast, it is in his fiction that Clemens most fully―if often inadvertently―reveals himself. He was, he confessed, like a cat who labors in vain to bury the waste that he has left behind. Robinson argues that he wrote out of an enduring need to come to terms with his remembered experiences―not to memorialize the past, but to transform it.

By all accounts―including his own―Clemens’s special curse was guilt. He was unable to forgive himself for the deaths of those closest to him―from his siblings’ death in childhood to the deaths of his own children. Nor could he reconcile himself to his role in the Civil War, his part in the duel that prompted his departure from Virginia City in 1864, and―worst of all―his sense of moral complicity in the crimes of slavery.

Tracing the theme of bad faith in all of Clemens’s major writing, but with special attention to the late work, Robinson sheds new light on a tormented moral life. His book challenges conventional assumptions about the humorist’s personality and creativity, directing attention to what William Dean Howells describes as “the depths of a nature whose tragical seriousness broke in the laughter which the unwise took for the whole of him.”

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About the Author:

FORREST G. ROBINSON is Professor of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His many publications include In Bad Faith: The Dynamics of Deception in Mark Twain’s America and The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain, which he edited. He is co-editor, with Susan Gillman, of Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson: Race, Conflict, and Culture.

Review:

...Robinson has created a valuable inroad for a deeper understanding of Clemens and his work.. (―American Literary Realism)

Robinson helps to prove one of his fundamental assumptions, that we are seldom able to separate authors' lives, their intentions, and their works. (―M/C Reviews)

Robinson obviously wants to be careful with his psychoanalyzing, trying not to overstep what he feels can be claimed from the texts. In addition, his textual evidence is comprehensive, found not just in fictions but in letters and manuscripts, composing a persuasive image of Samuel Clemens and his bad faith performances. (―Studies in American Humor)

An interesting topic, this book would be worth reading along with Twain's 'Autobiography,' Twain's final attempt to reveal his dark side. (―Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Forrest Robinson's The Author-Cat is fine cognac distilled from the life and works of Twain. He eloquently explores the author's psyche and art. Robinson does more in two-hundred pages than many do in a thousand -- and in delicious prose." (―Terrell Dempsey author of Searching for Jim: Slavery in Sam Clemens's World)

Robinson succeeds in presenting a portrait of Samuel Clemens as a tortured soul who never escaped guilt and who was an ineffectual 'author-cat' at burying his shame. (―Mark Twain Forum)

Illuminating and provocative . . . well worth the attention of anyone who cares about this complex and intriguing author. (―Shelley Fisher Fishkin Stanford University)

Remind[s] us of the source of Twin's ddark ramblings―his own horror- and grief-filled experience―and to consider in compelling, and sometimes ingenious, ways how they are revealed in the author's fiction. (―The New England Quarterly)

To read this book is to participate in a study of Samuel Clemens' creative imagination and the guilty conscience that drove him toward auto-biographical confession. Yet, it was fiction and its forms―stories, novels, dreams―that gave his imagination access to the rich material of his experience.

Writing with patience, clarity, and perception, Robinson literally feels his way into the lives and psychic enery of Mark Twain's characters.

This book is both a gift and a challenge: a comprehensive reading of Mark Twain's major work that will help every reader; and a critical vision of Samuel Clemens' writiing that will confront every future writer on the subject.

(―James M. Cox Professor Emeritus, Dartmouth College)

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