Critically deemed one of Twain’s finest and most caustic works, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is both a delightfully entertaining story and a disturbing analysis of the efficacy of government, the benefits of progress, and the dissolution of social mores. It remains as powerful a work of fiction today as it was upon its first publication in 1889.
About the Author
Mark Twain was born Samuel Clemens in Florida, Missouri, in 1835, and died at Redding, Connecticut in 1910. In his person and in his pursuits, he was a man of extraordinary contrasts. Although he left school at twelve when his father died, he was eventually awarded honorary degrees from Yale University, the University of Missouri, and Oxford University. His career encompassed such varied occupations as printer, Mississippi riverboat pilot, journalist, travel writer, and publisher. He made fortunes from his writing but toward the end of his life he had to resort to lecture tours to pay his debts. He was hot-tempered, profane, and sentimental—and also pessimistic, cynical, and tortured by self-doubt. His nostalgia for the past helped produce some of his best books. He lives in American letters as a great artist, the writer whom William Dean Howells called “the Lincoln of our literature.”
Date of Birth:November 30, 1835
Date of Death:April 21, 1910
Place of Birth:Florida, Missouri
Place of Death:Redding, Connecticut
Read an Excerpt
Camelot-Camelot," said I to myself. "I don't seem to remember hearing of it before. Name of the asylum, likely."
It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream, and as lonesome as Sunday. The air was full of the smell of flowers, and the buzzing of insects, and the twittering of birds, and there were no people, no wagons, there was no stir of life, nothing going on. The road was mainly a winding path with hoofprints in it, and now and then a faint trace of wheels on either side in the grass-wheels that apparently had a tire as broad as one's hand.
Presently a fair slip of a girl, about ten years old, with a cataract of golden hair streaming down over her shoulders, came along. Around her head she wore a hoop of flame-red poppies. It was as sweet an outfit as ever I saw, what there was of it. She walked indolently along, with a mind at rest, its peace reflected in her innocent face. The circus man paid no attention to her; didn't even seem to see her. And she-she was no more startled at his fantastic make-up than if she was used to his like every day of her life. She was going by as indifferently as she might have gone by a couple of cows; but when she happened to notice me, then there was a change! Up went her hands, and she was turned to stone; her mouth dropped open, her eyes stared wide and timorously, she was the picture of astonished curiosity touched with fear. And there she stood gazing, in a sort of stupefied fascination, till we turned a corner of the wood and were lost to her view. That she should be startled at me instead of at the other man, was too many for me; I couldn't make head or tail ofit. And that she should seem to consider me a spectacle, and totally overlook her own merits in that respect, was another puzzling thing, and a display of magnanimity, too, that was surprising in one so young. There was food for thought here. I moved along as one in a dream.
As we approached the town, signs of life began to appear. At intervals we passed a wretched cabin, with a thatched roof, and about it small fields and garden patches in an indifferent state of cultivation. There were people, too; brawny men, with long, coarse, uncombed hair that hung down over their faces and made them look like animals. They and the women, as a rule, wore a coarse tow-linen robe that came well below the knee, and a rude sort of sandals, and many wore an iron collar. The small boys and girls were always naked; but nobody seemed to know it. All of these people stared at me, talked about me, ran into the huts and fetched out their families to gape at me; but nobody ever noticed that other fellow, except to make him humble salutation and get no response for their pains.
In the town were some substantial windowless houses of stone scattered among a wilderness of thatched cabins; the streets were mere crooked alleys, and unpaved; troops of dogs and nude children played in the sun and made life and noise; hogs roamed and rooted contentedly about, and one of them lay in a reeking wallow in the middle of the main thoroughfare and suckled her family. Presently there was a distant blare of military music; it came nearer, still nearer, and soon a noble cavalcade wound into view, glorious with plumed helmets and flashing mail and flaunting banners and rich doublets and horse-cloths and gilded spearheads; and through the muck and swine, and naked brats, and joyous dogs, and shabby huts it took its gallant way, and in its wake we followed. Followed through one winding alley and then another,-and climbing, always climbing-till at last we gained the breezy height where the huge castle stood. There was an exchange of bugle blasts; then a parley from the walls, where men-at-arms, in hauberk and morion marched back and forth with halberd at shoulder under flapping banners with the rude figure of a dragon displayed upon them; and then the great gates were flung open, the drawbridge was lowered, and the head of the cavalcade swept forward under the frowning arches; and we, following, soon found ourselves in a great paved court, with towers
and turrets stretching up into the blue air on all the four sides; and all about us the dismount was going on, and much greeting and ceremony, and running to and fro, and a gay display of moving and intermingling colors, and an altogether pleasant stir and noise and confusion.
King Arthur's Court
The moment I got a chance I slipped aside privately and touched an ancient common looking man on the shoulder and said, in an insinuating, confidential way-
"Friend, do me a kindness. Do you belong to the asylum, or are you just here on a visit or something like that?"
He looked me over stupidly, and said-
"Marry, fair sir, me seemeth-"
"That will do," I said; "I reckon you are a patient."
I moved away, cogitating, and at the same time keeping an eye out for any chance passenger in his right mind that might come along and give me some light. I judged I had found one, presently; so I drew him aside and said in his ear-
"If I could see the head keeper a minute-only just a minute-"
"Prithee do not let me."
"Let you what?"
"Hinder me, then, if the word please thee better." Then he went on to say he was an under-cook and could not stop to gossip, though he would like it another time; for it would comfort his very liver to know where I got my clothes. As he started away he pointed and said yonder was one who was idle enough for my purpose, and was seeking me besides, no doubt. This was an airy slim boy in shrimp-colored tights that made him look like a forked carrot; the rest of his gear was blue silk and dainty laces and ruffles; and he had long yellow curls, and wore a plumed pink satin cap tilted complacently over his ear. By his look, he was good-natured; by his gait, he was satisfied with himself. He was pretty enough to frame. He arrived, looked me over with a smiling and impudent curiosity; said he had come for me, and informed me that he was a page.
"Go 'long," I said; "you ain't more than a paragraph."
It was pretty severe, but I was nettled. However, it never phazed him; he didn't appear to know he was hurt. He began to talk and laugh, in happy, thoughtless, boyish fashion, as we walked along, and made himself old friends with me at once; asked me all sorts of questions about myself and about my clothes, but never waited for an answer-always chattered straight ahead, as if he didn't know he had asked a question and wasn't expecting any reply, until at last he happened to mention that he was born in the beginning of the year 513.
It made the cold chills creep over me! I stopped, and said, a little faintly:
"Maybe I didn't hear you just right. Say it again-and say it slow. What year was it?"
"513! You don't look it! Come, my boy, I am a stranger and friendless: be honest and honorable with me. Are you in your right mind?"
He said he was.
"Are these other people in their right minds?"
He said they were.
"And this isn't an asylum? I mean, it isn't a place where they cure crazy people?"
He said it wasn't.
"Well, then," I said, "either I am a lunatic, or something just as awful has happened. Now tell me, honest and true, where am I?"
"In King Arthur's Court."
I waited a minute, to let that idea shudder its way home, and then said:
"And according to your notions, what year is it now?"
"528-nineteenth of June."
I felt a mournful sinking at the heart, and muttered: "I shall never see my friends again-never, never again. They will not be born for more than thirteen hundred years yet."
I seemed to believe the boy, I didn't know why. Something in me seemed to believe him-my consciousness, as you may say; but my reason didn't. My reason straightway began to clamor; that was natural. I didn't know how to go about satisfying it, because I knew that the testimony of men wouldn't serve-my reason would say they were lunatics, and throw out their evidence. But all of a sudden I stumbled on the very thing, just by luck. I knew that the only total eclipse of the sun in the first half of the sixth century occurred on the 21st of June, a.d. 528, o.s., and began at 3
minutes after 12 noon. I also knew that no total eclipse of the sun was due in what to me was the present year-i.e., 1879. So, if I could keep my anxiety and curiosity from eating the heart out of me for forty-eight hours, I should then find out for certain whether this boy was telling me the truth or not.
Wherefore, being a practical Connecticut man, I now shoved this whole problem clear out of my mind till its appointed day and hour should come, in order that I might turn all my attention to the circumstances of the present moment, and be alert and ready to make the most out of them that could be made. One thing at a time, is my motto-and just play that thing for all it is worth, even if it's only two pair and a jack. I made up my mind to two things; if it was still the nineteenth century and I was among lunatics and couldn't get away, I would presently boss that asylum or know the reason why; and if on the other hand it was really the sixth century, all right, I didn't want any softer thing: I would boss the whole country inside of three months; for I judged I would have the start of the best-educated man in the kingdom by a matter of thirteen hundred years and upwards. I'm not a man to waste time after my mind's made up and there's work on hand; so I said to the page-
"Now, Clarence, my boy-if that might happen to be your name-I'll get you to post me up a little if you don't mind. What is the name of that apparition that brought me here?"
"My master and thine? That is the good knight and great lord Sir Kay the Seneschal, foster brother to our liege the king."
"Very good; go on, tell me everything."
He made a long story of it; but the part that had immediate interest for me was this. He said I was Sir Kay's prisoner, and that in the due course of custom I would be flung into a dungeon and left there on scant commons until my friends ransomed me-unless I chanced to rot, first. I saw that the last chance had the best show, but I didn't waste any bother about that; time was too precious. The page said, further, that dinner was about ended in the great hall by this time, and that as soon as the sociability and the heavy drinking should begin, Sir Kay would have me in and exhibit me before King Arthur and his illustrious knights seated at the Table Round, and would brag about his exploit in capturing me, and would probably exaggerate the facts a little, but it wouldn't be good form for me to correct him, and not over safe, either; and when I was done being exhibited, then ho for the dungeon; but he, Clarence, would find a way to come and see me every now and then, and cheer me up, and help me get word to my friends.
Get word to my friends! I thanked him; I couldn't do less; and about this time a lackey came to say I was wanted; so Clarence led me in and took me off to one side and sat down by me.
Well, it was a curious kind of spectacle, and interesting. It was an immense place, and rather naked-yes, and full of loud contrasts. It was very, very lofty; so lofty that the banners depending from the arched beams and girders away up there floated in a sort of twilight; there was a stone-railed gallery at each end, high up, with musicians in the one, and women, clothed in stunning colors, in the other. The floor was of big stone flags laid in black and white squares, rather battered by age and use, and needing repair. As to ornament, there wasn't any, strictly speaking; though on the walls hung some huge tapestries which were probably taxed as works of art; battle-pieces, they were, with horses shaped like those which children cut out of paper or create in gingerbread; with men on them in scale armor whose scales are represented by round holes-so that the man's coat looks as if it had been done with a biscuit-punch. There was a fireplace big enough to camp in; and its projecting sides and hood, of carved and pillared stone-work, had the look of a cathedral door. Along the walls stood men-at-arms, in breastplate and morion, with halberds for their only weapon-rigid as statues; and that is what they looked like.
In the middle of this groined and vaulted public square was an oaken table which they called the Table Round. It was as large as a circus ring; and around it sat a great company of men dressed in such various and splendid colors that it hurt one's eyes to look at them. They wore their plumed hats, right along, except that whenever one addressed himself directly to the king, he lifted his hat a trifle just as he was beginning his remark.
Mainly they were drinking-from entire ox horns; but a few were still munching bread or gnawing beef bones. There was about an average of two dogs to one man; and these sat in expectant attitudes till a spent bone was flung to them, and then they went for it by brigades and divisions, with a rush, and there ensued a fight which filled the prospect with a tumultuous chaos of plunging heads and bodies and flashing tails, and the storm of howlings and barkings deafened all speech for the time; but that was no matter, for the dog-fight was always a bigger interest anyway; the men rose, sometimes, to observe it the better and bet on it, and the ladies and the musicians stretched themselves out over their balusters with the same object; and all broke into delighted ejaculations from time to time. In the end, the winning dog stretched himself out comfortably with his bone between his paws, and proceeded to growl over it, and gnaw it, and grease the floor with it, just as fifty others were already doing; and the rest of the court resumed their previous industries and entertainments.
As a rule the speech and behavior of these people were gracious and courtly; and I noticed that they were good and serious listeners when anybody was telling anything-I mean in a dog-fightless interval. And plainly, too, they were a childlike and innocent lot; telling lies of the stateliest pattern with a most gentle and winning naivety, and ready and willing to listen to anybody else's lie, and believe it, too. It was hard to associate them with anything cruel or dreadful; and yet they dealt in tales of blood and suffering with a guileless relish that made me almost forget to shudder.
I was not the only prisoner present. There were twenty or more. Poor devils, many of them were maimed, hacked, carved, in a frightful way; and their hair, their faces, their clothing, were caked with black and stiffened drenchings of blood. They were suffering sharp physical pain, of course; and weariness, and hunger and thirst, no doubt; and at least none had given them the comfort of a wash, or even the poor charity of a lotion for their wounds; yet you never heard them utter a moan or a groan, or saw them show any sign of restlessness, or any disposition to complain. The thought was forced upon me: "The rascals-they have served other people so in their day; it being their own turn, now, they were not expecting any better treatment than this; so their philosophical bearing is not an outcome of mental training, intellectual fortitude, reasoning; it is mere animal training; they are white Indians."
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments vii
The Text of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court 1
[The Natural History of Morals] W. E. H. Leeky 386
[The Saints of the Desert] 388
Composition and Publication 391
Related Documents 392
The "Tournament" in a.d. 1870 392
[The Herald's Report of Twain's Speech at Governor's Island] 394
The New Dynasty 397
Enchantments and Enchanters 403
Notebook and Journal Entries 405
A Connecticut Yankee in Letters 409
To Mary Mason Fairbanks, November 16, 1886 409
To Charles L. Webster, August 3, 1887 410
To Theodore Crane, October 5, 1888 410
From Edmund Clarence Stedman, July 7, 1889 411
To William Dean Howells, August 5, 1889 413
To William Dean Howells, August 24, 1889 413
To William Dean Howells, September 22, 1889 414
To William Dean Howells, November 22, 1889 415
To William Dean Howells, December 23, 1889 415
To Sylvester Baxter, November 20, 1889 415
Dan Beard's Illustrations 417
[Making the Illustrations for A Connecticut Yankee] Daniel Carter Beard 417
[The Character of the Yankee] Daniel Carter Beard 419
To Dan Beard, August 28, 1989 Mark Twain 419
To a Reader, December 20, 1889 Mark Twain 420
Reading the Illustrations in A Connecticut Yankee Beverly David Ray Sapirstein 420
Early Criticism 429
[Nothing More Delicious] Sylvester Baxter 429
[His Wonder-Story] William Dean Howells 432
[King Arthur or Jay Gould?] The London Daily Telegraph 436
Mark Twain's New Book: A Satirical Attack on English Institutions William T. Stead 440
[This Melancholy Product of the American Mind] The Boston Literary World 443
Recent Criticism 445
"Well, My Book Is Written-Let It Go. …": The Making of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Howard G. Baetzhold 445
The Use of History in Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee Howard G. Baetzhold 477
The Ideas in a Dream Henry Nash Smith 492
The Meaning of A Connecticut Yankee Everett Carter 501
The Quarrel with Romance Bruce Michelson 520
Hank Morgan's and Mark Twain's Queer Anxieties Tison Pugh 536
A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of Wu Chih Tien Hsuan Hsu 547
Compositional Chronology 561
Selected Bibliography 563
What People are Saying About This
"Dufris's enthusiastic narration is perfect; the deep drawl he produces might very well be the voice of Twain himself, and his pacing and comedic timing will delight listeners." -Publishers Weekly Starred Audio Review
Reading Group Guide
1. How does Hank Morgan change throughout the novel? Is this change for the better, or for worse? How does his speech reflect his change in attitude?
2. The theme of the “mysterious stranger” (an outsider who enters a community or circle and enacts some kind of disruption) often appears in Twain’s works. How does Hank use his status as an “outsider” to his advantage? What does he bring from the outside that benefits sixth-century England? Into which world does Hank ultimately fit?
3. What is Hank Morgan’s view of the Catholic church?
4. Many critics consider A Connecticut Yankee to be Twain’s most flawed work because he simply wanted to do “too much.” Do you agree? If so, why?
5. Consider the end of the novel. What statement does Twain make with this ending? Do you feel it is a fulfilling way to end the book?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is a superb book and I highly recommend you check it out, so you may be wondering why I am reviewing this as one star only. This version of the nook book is busted, in the middle of chapter 39 (XXXIX) it cuts to an entirely different book! If this is what Barnes and Nobles is going to let happen to the nook this device will fail horribly.
Too many pages are missing or unreadable to even follow the story.
This is a great book... when it's more than three pages of the book! Seriously, this is seven pages of unreadable BS. Thanks for taking up storage space, ripoff! I'd give it zero if I could.
Entire book consisted of 7 pages, beginning on page 304 of the original book, followed by 305, 384, and then the End.
This version is part of Google's initiative to digitize books. It clearly has been scanned and had OCR (optical character recognition) run to convert to digital text, with NO PROOFING of the scan, leaving numerous incorrect characters - typically several words per page with errors. Very distracting to read.
Would love to read this sometime, but not this way.
There are just too many spelling mistakes in this version. I quit after only 2 pages. Hopefully you can find a better copy than this one.
There are 2 actual pages of almost unreadable words. Whole story is not here.
Plodded through this ebook. Wanted to read it because it was a classic but in finishing it, I've decided I'm not a big fan of social commentaries. Definitely had several humorous moments though and witty one-liners.
I'm going to disagree with the other reviewers here and say that I found A Connecticut Yankee largely disappointing. It's been said that it marks the transition from Twain as an idealist to Twain as disillusioned. I found him already on the latter side of that hill, and the text often came across as bitter and annoyed and not very funny, which isn't good since it's supposed to be a satire. Twain apparently blamed Sir Walter Scott for the Civil War because the South fell in love with chivalry as represented in his works, and so he was, at least in part, criticizing that. But that in itself tells me how mistaken he was, because I can't see Sir Walter Scott, over in Scotland, having much to do with the Civil War in the United States.Now, as to Huck Finn...I found it a hell of a lot better work.
Like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Connecticut Yankee uses the literary and historical past to satirize the idealization of the medieval period and the fictions of Sir Walter Scott, which Twain held responsible for the willingness of the South to enter the failed cause of the Civil War. Hank Morgan works in an arms factory in modern day Hartford, Connecticut, but a blow to the head sends him back into the world of Camelot and King Arthur. Rather than idyllic, the world into which Hank enters reeks of superstition, cruelty, poverty, misery, and moral chaos, including slavery. The drama unfolds as the skill of Hank in manipulating physical reality transforms him into a demi-god, which in turns sparks his desire to eliminate, through all means necessary, the superstitious world that confronts him. This takes the form of a total war that before its time anticipates the carnage of WWI and the outcome of the clash between psychological ignorance and belief and modern scientific and technological "wizardry." Although the tone is occasionally clumsy, and although the book cannot hold a candle to masterpieces by Twain such as Huckleberry Finn or The Mysterious Stranger, Connecticut Yankee contains one passage, about the nastiness of attempting to live inside armor that is so hilarious it brings tears to the eyes.
With just a vague memory of the film adaptation starring Bing Crosby, some notion of the influences it has had on Doctor Who, and the cover illustration as a guide, I approached A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court expecting a typically structured but entertaining story of a man out of time and although Twain/Clemens¿s tale begins in that mode, it quickly tips over into a far darker meandering satire on Western imperialism and industrialisation. The protagonist Hank Martin is a loathsome figure and even though the story¿s told from his POV, I slowly became more and more protective of the Arthurian characters who barely seem to deserve the treatment the Yankee gives them. But that¿s Twain/Clemens¿s point I think; how the modern versions of us, apparently so sophisticated, are desperate to sap the magic from the world, be it in nature or man itself. A difficult read but a transportative one. This is psychogeographical literature.
If you've only seen the Danny Kay adaptation, then don't judge this book by its movie. The novel is darker and deeper, with an outcome as inevitable as it is unlikely. Twain's witty take on the now classic, even cliched, time traveller tale is American Science Fiction at its best.
None of the other reviews have mentioned it, but I thought you needed a pretty strong stomach and a lack of empathy to get through all the tortures, deaths, and casual confinement of prisoners for decades. I read this book when I was about 14, and recently wanted to reread to see if my son would like it, but I think I must have read an abridged version. Way too sad for me.
How about a refund?
If you are too full of yourself, or consider yourself of nobility, this book will give you an idea of Mark Twain's feeling about people like that. You have to not be too thin-skinned as he only thinly disguises his feelings. But the story is classic and a fun read as long as you recognize what Mark Twain is doing. A lot stretches the imagination, but in some cases that exercise is a good thing. It was not meant to be taken literally, since the premise is not actually possible, but is one man's opinion of what seemed to be wrong with the world. It's dressed in medieval garb, and a fun read. Don't miss this because of what others said - try it for yourself, and persevere through the entire book.
Hopefully this review is tied to the right file - the one with a portrait of Mark Twain.
Too many typos and "strange" symbols.
Not worth the storage space.