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This review is taken from PN Review 81, Volume 18 Number 1, September - October 1991.

IMPOSSIBLE EXEGESIS Guy Cardwell, The Man Who Was Mark Twain: Images and Ideologies (Yale University Press) £18.95

Mr Mark Twain told some stretchers, Huck Finn informs us, but mainly he told the truth. As a stroke Twain establishes his presence in the text and removes himself from it. The ambiguities and paradoxes involved in this operation draw us towards biographical exegesis while simultaneously establishing its impossibility. Guy Cardwell uses

some considerable ingenuity to skirt the conundrum. His title, it is true, is boldly declarative; but its gloss deflects our attention both from the man and his work. 'Images' certainly keeps us at a distance; and while 'ideologies' might invite our approach ('ideology has been called a kind of Unconscious of the text', Cardwell reminds us in his introduction), it turns out that the ideology he is mainly concerned with is retrospective, evaluative, and decidedly conscious. It has been generated by critics and commentators in their alleged bid to see Twain 'as superlatively a man of the people, monumental and monolithic . without individual warts and wrinkles'. 'Heroes,' he tells us 'are heroically unblemished.' Since when? Aristotle certainly didn't think so nor, for that matter, did Twain.

Within a few pages it becomes apparent that Cardwell's intention is to deconstruct this eidolon, and to discomfit the critics who erected it in the first place; The Man Who actually Was Mark Twain, whoever that may have been, plays a subordinate part therefore, as is evidenced by the fact that we are almost immediately launched on a long discussion of hostilities between Van Wyck Brooks, ...


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