Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/37

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"Joan of Arc"

ing farce." When he began to write, the contemplated short story swiftly expanded, and there developed unexpectedly under his hand serious characters and a tragic situation unrelated to the initiating impulse. After long study he extracted the "farce" by "Csesarean operation," and appended it with amusing explanations to the "tragedy" which it had set in motion. Pudd'nhead Wilson, disfigured by vestiges of the farce in the incredible Italian twins, is, like The Gilded Age, a discordant medley with powerful character-drawing in Roxana and her half-breed son, and with a somewhat feebly indicated novelty in the philosophical detective Pudd'nhead.

The last certified claimant for a position in the front rank of the novels is Joan of Arc (1896), a romance containing as its core the ascertained facts concerning one of the most problematic figures in secular history, and as its important imaginative expansion Mark Twain's conception of her familiar charm and his pictures of the battles and scenes of state and trials through which she passed. As in the somewhat similar case of the supernatural powers of Jesus, of which he was certainly sceptical, he says nothing to raise a doubt of the Maid's divine assistance; he neither explained nor attempted to explain away Joan's mystery. Her character, her Voices, and her mission he presents throughout with an air of absolute reverence and indeed at times with almost breathless adoration. For the reader in whom illusion is not destroyed by constant involuntary attention to the line where fact meets fiction the total impression is doubtless both beautiful and deeply moving. In the last section, at least, which deals with the trial and martyrdom, the most impatient reader of historical romance can hardly escape the pang of actuality; he is too near the facts. Recognizing that the book was quite out of his customary vein, Mark Twain published it first anonymously; yet in 1908 he wrote: " I like the Joan of Arc best of all my books and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; 12 years of preparation & 2 years of writing. The others needed no preparation, & got none." This much we must admit: we are glad to have Joan of Arc on the shelf beside A Connecticut Yankee to complete our conception of that versatile and representative American whom we call Mark Twain.