Mark Twain and the Conquest of England.

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Author: Marty Roth
Date: Spring 2021
From: Mark Twain Journal(Vol. 59, Issue 1)
Publisher: Mark Twain Journal
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 4,322 words

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Pierpont Morgan calls in wan iv his office boys, th' prisidint iv a naytional bank, an says he, "James, "he says, "take some change out iv th' damper an' r-run out an buy Europe f'r me." --FINLEY PETER DUNNE Before I came to America it was in his capacity of spender that I chiefly knew the American, as a person who had demoralized Regent Street and the Rue de Rivoli, who had taught the London cab-man to demand "arf a dollar"for a shilling fare, who bought old books and old castles, and had driven the prices of old furniture to incredible altitudes, and was slowly transferring our incubus of artistic achievement to American soil. --H. G. WELLS

Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court tells the story of the conquest and technological transformation of a primitive culture. Written between 1886 and 1889, the novel aligns itself with other works of English fiction, like H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885), Rudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King" (1899), and Joseph Conrad's Nostromo (1904), that also follow the drift of empire. (1) Twain's book, however, is also a science fiction novel involving time travel, so that the colonized civilization is the official ancestor of the conquering civilization: each is the "imperial" civilization of the other. "In a brilliantly double-edged move," Antonis Balasopoulos indicates, "Twain indulges the reader in an utterly regressive fantasy and disrupts the notions of a racial and historical continuity of Anglo-Saxon 'ties' and 'sacred missions of liberty and progress which American neo-colonialism tradition was beginning to advocate.'" (2)

Connecticut Yankee lays out an invasion of England that is irresistible. The English have no reservoir of cultural power that allows them to withstand it: it may even be what they had been yearning for. (3) This is how the story goes for the "American cousin" in Tom Taylor's play of that name, in Nathaniel Hawthorne's late, unfinished "American claimant" romances, and in Edith Wharton's The Buccaneers--works that act out an invasion and conquest of England by celebrating the triumphant return to the original homeland of a long-lost American heir. What is to be inherited--a name, an object, a place--is always something central to the traditional aristocracy. Wharton's novel approaches the issue from a different angle, detailing the seduction of the British aristocracy by beautiful American debutantes. Anne de Courcy, in The Husband Hunters, notes that in the period between 1870 and 1914, four hundred fifty-four American girls married titled Europeans: "There was even a magazine to help them do this: Titled Americans was a New York quarterly with a list of eligible single noblemen at the back." (4) The first of Wharton's girls to marry, Conchita Closson, says to the others, "If we stick to the rules of the game, and don't play any low-down tricks on each other...we'll have all London in our pockets next year."(5) Usually, however, the American claimant figure rejects the estate or treasure in the name of republican virtue. Asa Trenchard,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A662078116