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The Life and Work of Mark Twain

Review the life and writings of America’s most beloved and important author in this comprehensive and enthralling course by an award-winning professor.
Life and Work of Mark Twain is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 65.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable I enjoyed Mark Twain very, very much, I highly recommend.
Date published: 2022-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative I thoroughly enjoyed the course on Mark Twain. It provided many interesting facts and insights into the life of Mark Twain that I didn't know. Very good presentation by a knowledgeable instructor.
Date published: 2022-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very insightful Professor Railton reveals his vast, intimate knowledge of Mark Twain in an entertaining yet instructive way. I highly recommend the course.
Date published: 2022-05-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Life and Work of Mark Twain I am a great lover of Mark Twain's works and had looked forward to this presentation. I felt it was presented with lackluster enthusiasm and the speaker droned on to the extent that I fell asleep from boredom and lack of interest. I look forward to other presentations but feel that this one was poorly presented, outdated and did great injustice to a fascinating writer.
Date published: 2022-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Consistantly good throughout. I enjoyed the videos greatly. Scholarly and fun ! Introspective. A round of applause !
Date published: 2021-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from GREAT LISTENING & LEARNING Fabulous! Professor Railton reports Twain’s work life, personal life, and work products as a writer showing how his work mirrored (with humor) Twain’s unique early life experiences, his unique travels in America and abroad, and the influence of America’s unique pioneering culture, and further, that Twain complemented his writing career with a successful career on-stage as a lecturer/entertainer (also with humor), and further still, how Twain’s writing style broke away from the literary traditions of his era to create an entirely new and uniquely American prototype for writing novels. And you need to know as you contemplate listening to twenty-four lectures that, yes, Professor Railton has an educator’s voice – organized and paced to instruct and pleasant to the ear. Bill Meck - Fairhope, Alabama
Date published: 2021-09-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Mark Twain deserves better. Boring & very painful to watch. While I believe the instructor had command of the subject matter (that's why the two stars instead of one), his delivery on what should have been a very interesting topic was HORRIBLE! Very dry & mundane, I could only get thru 3 lectures of watching him sway back & forth seemingly nervous and very unsure of himself. Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens deserves better.
Date published: 2021-07-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from boring really boring. i only got thru 6 lectures, & had to give up. Besides disliking the style of presentation, the focus ranged far afield, going off into tangents. Did not enjoy it.
Date published: 2021-03-18
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Overview

Gain a deeper understanding of an American icon’s most beloved works as award-winning scholar Stephen Railton unravels the mystery of the "real" Mark Twain. How can we make sense of Twain’s ambivalence about his own fulfillment of the American dream? Many of the answers are available in the pages of his greatest works, the focus of this course.

About

Stephen Railton

Mark Twain gave Americans a wonderful image of what they were or at any rate of who they wanted to understand themselves as being, a kind of mirror in which they could look to see a best American self.

INSTITUTION

University of Virginia

Dr. Stephen Railton is Professor of English at the University of Virginia. He came to Virginia from Columbia University, where he earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. Professor Railton has published numerous articles on American literature and has written two books, including Fenimore Cooper: A Study of His Imagination. He has also appeared on PBS's Newshour with Jim Lehrer as an expert on Mark Twain. Dr. Railton has also created two award-winning Web-based electronic archives, intended to explore the uses of electronic technology for teaching and studying American literature: Mark Twain in His Times (http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/railton) and Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture (http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/utc), which won Gettysburg College's prestigious Lincoln Prize, awarded for the finest scholarship on Lincoln and the Civil War era.

Needing No Introduction?

01: Needing No Introduction?

Mark Twain was a celebrity of almost mythic status. After explaining the origin of Samuel Clemens's famous pseudonym, we begin the course by asking what Mark Twain meant to his American audience and to the man who created him.

32 min
From Samuel Clemens to Mark Twain

02: From Samuel Clemens to Mark Twain

This biographical lecture sees Twain's life as one of milestones. The financial success brought by his literary triumphs was at times disrupted by disastrous investments such as the Paige typesetting machine. His happy married life was to sustain the shock of several family tragedies.

29 min
The Sense of Mark Twain's Humor

03: The Sense of Mark Twain's Humor

Twain was frank in saying that as a humorist "I have always preached." His sermon consisted of "cracking up" idols of reverence to make room for truth. His well-known speech about the "cannibals" of the Sandwich Islands shows him tickling the audiences' funnybones as it pokes them in the ribs.

30 min
Marketing Twain

04: Marketing Twain

Concerning his writing, Twain once confessed that the motive of profit had an importance "almost beyond my own comprehension." This lecture explores why money meant so much to Twain, and details the marketing schemes he used to maximize his income.

30 min

05: "Innocents Abroad," I—Going East

Henry Ward Beecher organized Twain's trip East as a pilgrimage to pay obeisance to the founding monuments of Western culture, but Twain turned the tables and allowed the American reader to look down on Europe. Was Twain psychologically preparing America for its role as a world power?

30 min

06: "Innocents Abroad," II—Traveling to Unlearn

Twain's goal in "Innocents Abroad" was to teach his readers to see the Old World with their own eyes rather than through certain established texts. But when he trains his deconstructing wit on the holy sites of the Bible, we might ask what of value can remain after everything has been mocked into submission.

30 min

07: "Roughing It"—Going West

"Roughing It" mined Twain's own past as a prospector and turned it into comic frontier fiction. It also marked Twain's first prominent use of American vernacular language, and his intimation that it deserved a place in American literature.

30 min
The Lecture Tours

08: The Lecture Tours

Despite the rigors of touring and the limitations imposed by his audiences' tastes, Twain came to love the thrill of live lecturing. He skillfully blended the serious academic content that audiences demanded with his own trademark sardonic wit.

31 min
The Whittier After-Dinner Speech

09: The Whittier After-Dinner Speech

When Twain used the occasion of celebrated writer John Greenleaf Whittier's birthday to lampoon the pretentious and stilted prose style of Longfellow, Emerson, and Holmes, many felt he had disgraced himself. Twain could never firmly decide whether he'd gone too far.

30 min

10: "Old Times on the Mississippi"

Twain's tale of learning life's lessons along the banks of the Mississippi is a touching remembrance of innocence giving way to experience. But Twain's omissions, such as any acknowledgement of slavery's integral role in Mississippi riverboating, undermine its strengths.

30 min

11: "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer"

"Tom Sawyer" was described by its author as "a hymn to childhood," and Tom's idyllic and carefree story still appeals today. The novel is also a hymn to the mythic childhood of the nation itself, a simpler time whose vision is compelling, whether or not it truly existed.

30 min
The Performances of Tom Sawyer

12: The Performances of Tom Sawyer

Tom's need to be attended to as a "glittering hero" acts in symbiosis with the bored townspeople's need for a flamboyant and vicarious distraction. By the end, Tom's character has grown, but the novel's attention has shifted almost entirely to the anti-hero, Huck Finn.

30 min

13: "Huck Finn," I—Defining an American Voice

The qualities that made Huck objectionable to the Concord Library Committee in 1885 are the same that equip him for heroism. He is a cultural illiterate, unburdened by the literary conventions that shaped belief in the antebellum South. He sees through his own eyes, not through books.

31 min

14: "Huck Finn," II—The Quest for Freedom

Though Huck is not well read, he has still, to use Twain's term, been "trained" or conditioned by the people around him to accept slavery and other injustices. This lecture considers whether, after they have taken the trip together down the river, Jim can free Huck.

31 min

15: "Huck Finn," III—The Great American Novel?

"Huck Finn" displays the best and worst of America, as Twain saw it. By elevating Huck and Jim in stature above their social superiors, it celebrates democracy. By showing the commonplace cruelties of the "common" townsfolk, it is skeptical about it. Do Huck and Jim symbolize the best of this country, or are they exceptions to the rule?

30 min

16: "Huck Finn," IV—Classrooms and Controversy

Racism has played a tragic part in this nation's history. Are novels like "Huckleberry Finn" part of the problem or part of the solution? Distinguished critics have called "Huckleberry Finn" both antiracist and "the most grotesque example of racist trash ever written."

31 min

17: "Connecticut Yankee," I—Unwriting the Middle Ages

One of the first-ever tales of time travel, "Connecticut Yankee" allows its hero Hank Morgan to view medieval Europe through modern eyes, and "unwrite" what Twain saw as the chivalric nonsense perpetuated by Thomas Malory's "Le Morte D'Arthur" and the novels of Sir Walter Scott.

30 min

18: "Connecticut Yankee," II—Revisiting the Nineteenth Century

While Hank Morgan is quick to point to the corruption and superstition underlying medieval culture, his unexamined faith in technology and progress wreak unintended havoc in Arthur's court. There are indications that even Twain failed to see the ironies in the story he was telling.

30 min

19: "Connecticut Yankee," III—The Quest for Status

Throughout "Connecticut Yankee," Hank employs technological tricks that masquerade as magic to impress the gullible citizens of the 6th century. While professing to deplore superstition, he winds up indulging it at every turn to win the people's acclaim. A careful reader can sense the thinly disguised anxieties of Twain the performer.

30 min

20: "Pudd'nhead Wilson"—Fictions of Law and Custom

When the enslaved mother Roxy switches her apparently white son with the son of her master without arousing suspicion, racial classifications seem reduced to "a fiction of law and custom." The ultimate fate of the two boys has bedeviled those who would clearly understand Twain's view of race.

31 min
Anti-Imperialist Works

21: Anti-Imperialist Works

Twain wrote in 1900, "I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land." As America's international power grew, he was determined to set the force of his growing international stature against its misuse.

30 min
Late Twain in Public

22: Late Twain in Public

Mark Twain's last 15 years were publicly triumphant. His "Around the World" tour drew crowds in every city, and his use of the proceeds to repay his debts made him a paragon of virtue at home. It was in these years that he first wore his famous white suit, the uniform of the glittering hero he'd become.

31 min
Late Twain in Private

23: Late Twain in Private

A happy family wrecked by disaster; an ocean journey gone horribly wrong; the narrative of a microbe in the bloodstream of a drunk. If these stories don't seem terribly familiar, it's because Twain never published them, but they offer a glimpse at the dyspeptic and tormented soul he had become in his final years.

30 min
Sam Clemens is Dead/Long Live Mark Twain

24: Sam Clemens is Dead/Long Live Mark Twain

When Sam Clemens died, newspapers from every region but the South rushed to claim him as their own. The debate still rages over who gets to define him and what lessons are to be drawn from his life. That he means so much to so many is perhaps his greatest legacy.

32 min

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