- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Stephen Railton’s Introduction to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court may be the world’s first novel about time travel. It certainly has the most fantastic plot of all Twain’s fictions. But the inspiration to send a modern American through time as well as space sprang directly out of Twain’s long-standing literary goals. The story of the story begins on a Saturday in December 1884, with Twain traveling around the country on a reading tour to promote Huck Finn. In a bookstore in Rochester, New York, George Washington Cable, his fellow novelist and partner on the tour, suggested that Le Morte d’Arthur (The Death of Arthur), Sir Thomas Malory’s classic romance about the knights of the Round Table, would make good reading matter for the trip. Twain bought the book, began reading it the next day, and shortly afterward made a note in his journal about an idea for a sketch:
Dream of being a knight errant in armor in the middle ages. Have the notions & habits of thought of the present day mixed with the necessities of that. No pockets in the armor. No way to manage certain requirements of nature. Can’t scratch. Cold in the head—can’t blow—can’t get a handkerchief, can’t use iron sleeve.
The emphasis here is on the idea’s comic possibilities. The literary goal Twain’s audience always expected him to put first was making them laugh. As a professional humorist, one of the first tricks he learned is that people are much more likely to laugh when they’re nervous or uncomfortable. Sex, for example, that staple of modern stand-up, is not inherently funny, but it is a subject to which almost everyone attaches some degree of discomfort. The mores of Twain’s late-Victorian America ruled out sex as a subject; people laugh when they’re anxious, not when they’re offended or shocked. But the principle of making an audience uneasy enough to laugh applies to any subject in which they are emotionally over-invested, and his culture’s proprieties and evasions gave Twain many other opportunities to make his audience uneasy. One of his favorite strategies was treating something they considered sacred in a mocking or irreverent spirit. A knight in shining armor was a subject that you were supposed to approach on bended knees. If, while looking up at that knight, you notice his nose is running, the disequilibrium caused by this clash between the sacred and profane, between what a culture enshrines and what it represses, will probably seek to discharge itself through laughter. The movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail proves that Camelot is still a target-rich environment for comedy to attack; and in Mark Twain’s time, when the standard for depicting the days of knights was set by elegiac works like Tennyson’s Idylls of the King (finished in 1885), the territory Twain works in the novel was even more vulnerable to burlesque and parody.
Twain never forgot that the job his readers paid him for was making them laugh, but that was only one of his literary goals. In an autobiographical dictation made near the end of his life, he explains how his achievement differs from that of "mere humorists” by asserting that "I have always preached.” As a text for a sermon, that dream of being a knight whose body itches in places he can’t reach points toward Twain’s project as an American realist. To Twain as a humorist, texts like Malory’s book were good things to make fun of, the "straight” resources he could exploit. But Twain also belonged to the generation of nineteenth-century novelists who defined their work as a revolt against the romance tradition. Giving that archetype of romance heroism, the knight in armor, the common "requirements of nature” exposes the ideal world of books to the real world of such things as bodily "necessities.” Hank’s favorite expletive throughout Connecticut Yankee is "Great Scott!” This is Twain’s way of keeping his narrative in dialogue with the medieval novels of Walter Scott, the British writer who, for him, epitomized the factitiousness of literary romance. Twain talks about Scott directly in Life on the Mississippi, where he makes it clear that his quarrel is not simply aesthetic. Scott, according to Twain, did "more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any individual that ever wrote”; a book like Scott’s Ivanhoe was even "in great measure responsible” for the Civil War, because its unrealistic representations warped the minds of the white South away from "the genuine and wholesome civilization of the nineteenth century” and toward "the jejune romanticism of an absurd past that is dead.” (There is an echo of this charge in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, where we’re told that the horse on which Sutpen rides off to the war got its name from a Scott novel.) What Twain says in Life about history anticipates the argument he puts into Hank’s mouth: that the true Reign of Terror was not the violence of the French Revolution, but the ancien régime, the centuries of aristocratic privilege and abuse—Hank calls it "a thousand years of such villainy.” Because of enchanters like Malory, Scott, and Tennyson it is the past that "none of us has been taught to see . . . as it deserves.”
That is Hank’s job: to cure readers of what (in Life on the Mississippi) Twain calls "the Sir Walter disease” by teaching them to see the feudal realities left out of Scott’s account. At the start Hank tells us that he is "barren of sentiment” and "poetry.” Thus he can serve as an accurate reporter on the medieval world that Scott represents by chivalrous heroes like Ivanhoe and beautiful heroines like Rowena. Alongside the "noble cavalcade” of plumed knights in chapter 1, for instance, Hank also sees "the muck, and swine, and naked brats . . . and shabby huts,” the reality of life for the common people of Arthur’s realm, the poverty, ignorance, injustice, and slavery that never get described in the ideal world romance creates. Having brought Hank across 1,300 years Twain takes him on two more trips, both through Arthur’s realm: first with Sandy (chapters 1120), then with the King (chapters 2738). The sights Hank sees on these travels—the tortured prisoners in Morgan le Fay’s dungeon, the impoverished peasant family dying of smallpox—work to disenchant readers of any nostalgia they might have felt for the mythic past.
Posted May 18, 2011
Mark Twain's book is about a nineteenth century Yankee named Hank who finds himself in Camelot after getting hit on the head. He must immediately fight for his life and find his place in his new world. His resources include his knowledge of the future, an understanding of technology and machinery, and a quick wit.
The plot focuses on Hank's attempts to refine the culture and ideas of this early medieval time. I liked the way that events in the story unfolded because it was refreshingly unpredictable and unique. At one point in time, he is posting billboards on knights for advertisement purposes, and later he is lassoing knights from their saddles in a jousting tournament. Although these things may seem silly and off-the-wall, Twain uses interesting, eye-catching language (for instance, when he is describing the castle on page thirty-three, he says, "There was no gas, there were no candles' a bronzed dish half full of boardinghouse butter with a blazing rag floating in it was the thing that produced what was regarded as light"). His description of simple things is still extremely interesting. He provides a deeper message about politics and the oppression of the people.
Although I sincerely enjoyed the plot and Twain's language, I did not like Hank as a character. As he came into power due to his knowledge and understanding, he became conceited. He liked to think of the world around him as a stage; he would do things in a way that would be the most picturesque, instead of in ways that would most easily help himself and the people around him. As an example, Hank, at one point in the novel, chants in a magical language as he is freeing water from a well with an explosion. Twain seems to be teaching a lesson by pointing out the flaws in Hank, but at times his character was annoying to me because of his showy attitude.
Altogether, the book was very enjoyable. My own dislikes as I read the story were few and minor. The story is very well done and deserves to be read if you are looking for a good classic.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 2, 2013
One of my favorite books. It's so smart and deep. Some moments are emotional but it is written with humor and some moments you can't help but laugh with amazement and admiration. Mark Twain is brilliant.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 24, 2013
Posted December 28, 2012
Posted December 16, 2012
The reviews for every version of this book have been jumbled up! If you are going to get this then get the one for barnes and noble classics! So what if its three bucks more, it's readable!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 1, 2012
Posted September 29, 2011
I read this book in 6th grade and I loved it. Though it's pretty detailed and "boring" in parts it had a great story line and plot. I loved it!!! -Shea, a freshman :)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 12, 2011
I really enjoy reading Mark Twain, but I had never read "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" before; so I decided to download it as my first book to read on my Nook. By and by I was dissapointed at mostly every turn. A good bit of my dissapointment was led by the abismal way in which this book is transcribed for the Nook. There are literary mistakes on almost every page, some minor like "mi = me," other major where paragraphs get mismatched ( normally by information the transcribtionist throws inbetween dialog). As for Mark Twain is writing performance is on a higher platform, than that transcribed. The story was just hard to follow at times, because it is a commentary, in my opinion, on his (M.T) time period; which becomes hard to follow if you don't know it. Between his essays and time period commentary, however, is a wonderful story of fantasy and science, history and modern-age merging like oil and water. It was a fun read, for the most part, but a very challenging one as well.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 5, 2011
This book was actually pretty entertaining. I did not find it very political, like some of the criticism included charges. The old English speaking in the story was somewhat unintelligible to me at times. The plot is just consistently funny though.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 4, 2011
Your high school or university will have you read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but A Connecticut Yankee is where it's at. Though Huckleberry Finn took on a major evil of society at its time, slavery, A Connecticut Yankee shows us how society should be structured, through socialism. It's entertaining and provides lots of food for thought. It's structure is more cohesive than Huck Finn, too.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 14, 2010
As you can expect with Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court contains both an exciting adventure and satirical insight into society. The adventure in this book is obviously a trip back in time to King Arthur's Court bringing Merlin into the story. It was a great read. Unlike some of Twain's later works that are often too pessimistic for me, this one is a fun read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 28, 2008
I did not enjoy reading this novel. It was not a positive experience at all. I thought that if i could make any changes i would change the time period that the Connecticut workman came from, instead of the 18079, i would make him come from the 2008, so instead of him thinking that he was intellectually superior to everyone else, he would actually be superior to everyone else. The author was not able to keep my interest because i am not interested in these types of books. The type of book is fantasy and i think that fantasy is boring because i like reading about things that could actually happen. I thought that the characters were pretty believable because i know people who think they are superior to others like the Connecticut workman. On a scale from one to ten, i would give this book a 3.5 for it to be understood by people with not that good of a vocabulary.
0 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 27, 2008
This was a very interesting book. Interesting but i did not enjoy reading it. I did not enjoy reading it because it was a little confusing in the beginning then it got easier. The characters in this book were believable The characters were also VERY interesting. My favorite character is the narrator. Why is because he is very clever and cunning. How he is clever and cunning is by making everyone believe he can actually cast magic. In my opinion i think the author did a very good job of describing the characters. If i was to make changes in this book I would have made the chapters a little shorter and use less sophisticated words. What i gained from reading this would be a higher vocabulary . Why i gained that is because in the book the author uses words that i did not know yet.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 27, 2008
This novel was alright to read. Mark Twain did make this book interesting and funny by putting in small laughing parts and some good views as to how a future person would see or try living in the medievile times. The book also contained a little bit of history with how knights wore their armor and how elaborate stories of dragons and great battles came into play with that time period. I found this quite interesting. Mark twain also did a good job at creating the characters and giving them a believable role. By reading the book i could get a good sense of how the medievil acted and talked. Also how the main character was very different from the rest, seeing that he was from the 1800's. towards the end of the book when the main character meets Morgan le Fay the story begins to beome a little confusing. This is mainly because the main characters sort-of friend Sandy starts telling all these stories about knights and it gets way into Old English language. Although, once or twice the story line gets funny when the main character says a word that Sandy finds funny and she says it over and over again. IN reading this book i didn't gain too much but, by reading the book it's given me a funny picture of how if someone from the future gets put in the same situation it would be hard to become accustom to past times.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 10, 2008
I thought this book was very good. It has wonderfull satire. The main characters attitude is funny and has a classic self-relient New Englander way which is not everyones cup of tea. Its certaintly worth reading!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 29, 2005
take a bow and fall off the stage. this book was cleary not twains opus. i heard much praise over this bok porior to reading it, but as i trecked my way through the journey i realized it wasn't what it was cracked up to be. don't watse your time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 26, 2005
Though Twain is acerbic in his criticism of technology that is inhumanely developed and applied, he also celebrates the American virtue of self-reliant ingenuity in countering the pretensions of medieval monarchy. Not surprisingly, his previously receptive English readership was not warm toward this book, and American readers who preferred his lighter touch in Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were dismayed as well.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 27, 2005
Twain was amazing when he wrote this book. ***** He deserves 5 stars. Mark Twain is not my favorite writer, but this book was awesome. I do recommend to anyone who like Twain, or even somebody just wants to take a try, you won't regreet it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 2, 2004
This book is about a New Englander who is knocked back into this 6th century world. Using is 19th century knowledge. He over comes the problems thrown at him. Such as the great Merlin. He manages to turn camelot into a up running functioning town. With phone lines,and school systems. Using the gullibleness of these 6th century people he gets them to think that he can do it all. Things that include him being a magical magcian. Having such powers that allow him to crete fire. So if your looking for a satire comedy about King Authur and camelot. Go to your local book store and prepare to be taken back to 6th century with your mechanical magian hank.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 26, 2004
Twain outdid himself! In my opinion, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were rather tedious to read in relation to the grammer that he incorporated to add effect. In this tale however, Twain depicts the age of King Arthur remarkably well, adding little quirks here or there. Keep in mind that this book is not meant to be all that serious, in other words it is a comedy. I know that sounds strange coming from an author such as Mark Twain, yes, he always has some humor, but this is a full blown comedy. It is wicked funny though.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.