Twain Knows Why I Can’t Stand Herman Melville

I’ve long held that Herman Melville is a bad writer, a guy who started out with some interesting stories (Typee, White Jacket) then got so mired down in SAYING things, it became impossible for him to tell a story. Get your knickers in a twist all you like, but with the background plot of Moby Dick, no one should have a problem getting through it. Instead, Melville larded it up with so much blubber it’s difficult for even some more academically minded readers to get through.

It might be different if Melville had a consistent poetry or fluidity to his writing–like Faulkner or Joyce–but no. (And there’s no clearer proof of this than his awful, awful attempts at poetry.)
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Is the Twain Autobiography the First Blog?

As I’ve been making my way through Mark Twain’s autobiography, I’ve been continually put in mind of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Something about the style. What you should know about the autobiography is that Twain didn’t write it–he dictated it, in rambling fashion. Some people, like grouchy-pants and obviously envious Garrison Keillor, hate this. (Keillor might not be Twain’s equal in novel-writing, but the two have this in common: They love the sounds of their own voices and when they get going on politics it can sometimes verge into the sort of rant that would do Bill O’Reilly proud).
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Mark Twain Let’s Loose on a U.S. ‘Victory’

So how did Mark Twain react to a “glorious” American victory during fighting in the Philippines in 1906? Angrily. And with good reason. The set-up is this: American troops found 600 enemy Moros — women and children — hiding in a volcanic crater. Over 500 U.S. troops, with native allies, dragged artillery up to the rim and a “battle” followed — one in which all of the Moros were killed. Fifteen U.S. troops dies and, if the most publicized injury is a fair indicator, they likely died by friendly fire.

This prompted Twain, who was in the middle of dictating his autobiography — dwelling on the one-room school house in which he was educated — to a multi-day tirade. At one point he takes particular issue with a note from President Theodore Roosevelt congratulating the American general who commanded this “brilliant feat of arms” that “upheld the honor of the American flag.”

Sayeth Twain:

He knew perfectly well that to pen six hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half, from a safe position on the heights above, was no brilliant feat of arms – and would not have been a brilliant feat of arms even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers, had shot them down with Bibles and the Golden Rule instead of bullets. He knew perfectly well that our uniformed assassins had not upheld the honor of the American flag, but had done as they have been doing continuously for eight years in the Philippines – that is to say, they had dishonored it.

Kapow! You can also get just a taste there of Twain’s disdain for the hypocrisy of organized religion. (Someone’s taken the trouble to excerpt a little more from this section if you’re interested.)