Tuesday, February 07, 2012

He Thought Well of Huckleberry Finn, Though

What do these three have in common: the novels of Jane Austen, the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, and the Book of Mormon?

Answer: Mark Twain disparaged them all.   On Jane: "her books madden me ... .. Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."  (With more here).

 Cooper gets a famous (and savage) essay in which Train concludes (writing of The Deerslayer):

A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are -- oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.

His judgment on the Book of Mormon is more muted in tone; it extends over several pages of Twain's own great memoir,  Roughing ItTwin writes:

It is such a pretentious affair and yet so slow, so sleepy, such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print.

If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle. Keeping awake while he did it, was at any rate.  ... Whenever he found his speech growing too modern, which was about every sentence or two, he ladeled in a few such scriptural phrases as, "exceeding sore," "and it came to pass," etc. and made things satisfactory again. "And it came to pass," was his pet. If he had left that out, his bible would have been only a pamphlet.  
Given the severity of his judgments, it is probably just as well that Twain restricted himself to writers who were safely dead.

1 comment:

New York Crank said...

Wasn't it also Twain who commented somewhere to the effect that, if the Book of Mormon was the word of God, then God must have an execrable grasp of English grammar?

Grammatically yours,
The New York Crank