.. e forty-five “princesses” held captive in “a castle” by “three ogres.” Safely back in Camelot, Hank decides that the time has now come to impose upon Britain the technology he had been nurturing over the years. He determines “to destroy knight-errantry or be its victim”- which hardly seems generous of him, since he now owes his life to the fidelity of te same knights he has vowed to destroy. He enters a tournament and shoots his knightly foe dead with a revolver. He thereupon dares “the chivalry of England to come against him- not by individual, but in mass!” Hundreds of knights promptly accept this challenge, but they break ranks and flee after Hank quickly shoots nine more men dead.
Since this is many centuries before firearms were known in Europe, it looks as if Hank has triumphed through black magic. Believing that he has “broke the back of knight-errantry,” Hank exposes his hidden schools and factories to public view, establish railroads and telephones, sets steamboats running on the Thames, and converts the Round Table into a stock board. For three full years, medieval England seems to flourish, thanks to the benefits of modern technology. By this time in the novel, Hank and Sandy have married and produced a daughter. When the child falls ill, doctors urge that she be taken to the French coast to recover. And while Hanks is abroad, his new civilization crumbles. A civil war erupts, and the Church imposes a banishment order.
Upon his return to England, Hank finds that all of England is marching against him- all but fifty-two boys, who were the product of his special schools, and his chief lieutenant Clarence. Hank leads this small band to a fortified cave. Protected by an electrified fence and armed with torpedoes and machine guns, Hank prepares to fight. When the enemy approaches, he throws a switch and electrifies some eleven thousand men. His machine guns “vomit death” into the ranks of those who make it past the fence, and within minutes, “armed resistance was totally annihilated, the campaign was ended..
Twenty-five thousand men lay dead around us.” After the battle is over, Hank leaves his fortress in order to aid his wounded. As he bends over a crippled knight, he is stabbed by the man he sought to help. His comrades bring him back to the cave, where they soon realize that they are trapped. They can defend themselves only from their cave, and it is surrounded by the putrefying flesh of twenty-five thousand corpses. Gradually, they all fall ill. Then Merlin makes his way into the cave, where he casts a spell over Hank Morgan so that he will sleep for thirteen centuries, enabling Hank to meek Mark Twain in late nineteenth- century England.
Critiques Robert Keith Miller Our reading of this tale is to a large extent dependent upon how we feel about Hank Morgan. Is he “a good and trustworthy narrator.. who usually carries the burden of authorial attitudes,” or is he the imaginary forerunner of a modern fascist dictator, leading his people to genocide from the confines of a sixth-century fuehrer-bunker? One of the best descriptions of Hank Morgan is that which he himself provides: I am an American. I was born and reared in Hartford, in the State of Connecticut-anyway, just over the river, in the country. So I am a Yankee of the Yankees- and practical; yes, and nearly barren of sentiment, I suppose- or poetry, in other words, My father was a blacksmith, my uncle was a horse doctor, and I was both, along at first.
Then I went over to the great arms factory and earned my real trade; learned to make everthing; guns, revolvers, cannons, boilers, engines, all sorts of labor-saving machinery. Why I could make anything a body wanted- anything in the world.. Set within an idyllic countryside, Hank sees no value in anything about him. The land about him is undeveloped; it would appeal to him only if filled with the signs of industry and commerce. Here is a man who can gaze upon the fruited plain and envision an asphalt parking lot.
(Robert Keith Miller, Mark Twain, 115) Hank’s inability to appreciate beauty is revealed even more clearly when, after establishing himself as the second most powerful man in Britain, he finds himself installed in “the choicest suite of apartments in the castle, after the king’s.” Like a tourist who goes dismayed that Camelot is so little like East Hartford. He compares a tapestry to a bed quilt and complains that the walls are decorated only with silken hangings, whereas back home “you couldn’t go into a room but you would find an insurance chromo, or at least a three-color God-Bless-Our Home over the door; and in the parlor we had nine.” When he first approaches Camelot, Morgan observes that the men “look like animals,” and he later decides that they are “white Indians.” He scorns the occasional condescends to see the people as “a childlike and innocent lot,” he cannot take them seriously. Because their culture is completely unlike his own, because it is so “un-American,” it therefore follows that the country is not civilized. Hank tells us: I saw that I was just another Robinson Crusoe cast away on an uninhabited island, with no society but some more or less tame animals, and if I wanted to make life bearable I must do as he did- invent, contrive, create, reorganize things; set brain and hand to work, and keep them busy. (Miller, 120) In short, Hank is incapable of understanding vales that are alien to his own; a supreme egotist, he set out to remake the world in his own image. As a nineteenth-century entrepreneur, Morgan is the representative within the novel of a seemingly more advanced society. But it soon becomes clear that Hank values nothing so much as making money, and his schemes for doing so reveals a distinctly unattractive side of his character. Hank’s language consistently reveals his true values.
His is the diction of the marketplace. He tells us, for example, that “It is no use to throw away a good thing merely because the market isn’t ripe yet.” After he has destroyed Merlin’s Tower, he declares that “the account was square, the books balanced.” When another of his schemes fails to work out, he tells us that he “sold it short.” He mocks the knights because they all “took a flier at the Holy Grail now and then,” observing: There were worlds of reputation in it, but no money, Why, they actually wanted me to put in! Well, I should smile.(Miller, 122) After all, Hank is much too “practical” to waste time on anything that is not financially remunerative. It should not come then in any surprise that Hank wishes he could remake man without a conscience because conscience “cannot be said to pay.” Ironically, when Hank is enslaved, he criticizes his master for having a heart “solely for business.” Hank is completely unaware that the slave master is only a cruder version of himself; both see men in terms of their commercial value, and neither is apt to allow sentiment to interfere with business. That Twain himself saw a parallel between slave masters and financiers is establishes by an illustration in the first edition of A Connecticut Yankee, an illustration that Twain singled out for praise: The slave master was given the features of Jay Gould, the great robber baron. And it is worth nothing, at this point, that Hank is tied by his name to a capitalist of dubious reputation, the great American banker, J.P.
Morgan. (Miller, 122) In short, Hank Morgan never learns. He arrives in Camelot with all the prejudices of a nineteenth-century provincial. He encounters a civilization that is radically different from his own- a civilization that is, without question, far from perfect. But his understanding f that civilization never grows in either depth or complexity.
He is, in Twain’s own words, “a perfect ignoramus,” and his opinions cannot be accepted at face value. It would be a mistake, however, to read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court as a satire at Hank’s sole expense. Twain satirizes modern industrial society through Hank, whose faith in advertising and cost effectiveness is naive to say at least. But Twain is no simple romantic. Throughout the nineteenth century, many writers glorified the Middle Ages, finding withing the distant past a soothing contrast to the dark Satanic mills they saw before them. From Sir Walter Scott- who , as we know, Twain absolutely loathed- on a Carlyle, Ruskin, and the Pre-Raphaelites, the Gothic Revival in architecture, and a resurgence in Arthurian scholarship that continues to this day, post-industrial man has been fascinated by the Age of Chivalry and Faith.
But A Connecticut Yankee is not a part of this tradition (Miller, 133). Hank’s condemnation of Camelot is excessive, and through it we discover many of his limitations. On the other hand, it must also be acknowledged that Twain was not trying to idealize the past. Therefore, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court should not be read as an attack upon the Middle Ages per se, any more than as a satire of modern American values. It is, as Twain himself reminded us, a contrast. The contrast between the medieval and the modern is comic in so far as it is grotesque- neither the past nor the present is any more ideal than human nature itself.
If humor seems eventually to disappear toward the end of the novel, it is because the apocalyptic conclusion denies us the possibility of hope. Presented with a vision of history in which corruption seems to triumph, a vision in which the present is but a logical extension of the past, we are ultimately left scorched by Twain’s anger at the perpetual stupidity of men. As Hank Morgan observes, almost certainly speaking for Twain: “I reckon we are all fools. Born so, no doubt.” (Miller, 135.) Bibliography 1. Baldanza, Frank. Mark Twain: Introduction and Interpretation. (c) 1961 Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc.
2. Bellamy, Gladys. Mark Twain as a Literary Artist. (c) 1950 Univ. Of Oklahoma Press.
3. Bloom, Harold. Mark Twain: Modern Critical Views. (c) 1986 Chelsea House Publishing. 4.
McNeer, May / Ward, Lynd. America’s Mark Twain. (c) 1962 by May McNeer and Lynd Ward. 5. Miller, Robert Keith. Mark Twain. (c) 1983 Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.
6. Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. (c) 1889 by Charles L. Webster. 7.
Information Finder. Mark Twain. (c) 1994 World Book, Inc. 8. Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia. Mark Twain.
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