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By Mark Twain (1835—1910)




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Mark Twain is the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, one of the greatest figures in American literature. He is known as a humorist and satirist of a remarkable force. Mark Twain believed that against the assault of laughter nothing can stand. And we hear his laughter, now playful and boisterous, now bitter and sneering almost in all his writings.

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", "The Innocents Abroad", "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" won their creator a worldwide and enduring popularity. They are peopled with typical figures and presented with great truthfulness.

Mark Twain began writing purely as a humorist; he later became a bitter satirist. Towards the end of his life he grew more and more disillusioned and dissatisfied with the American mode of life. In his later works ("The Connecticut Yankee", "The Man that Corrupted Hadley-burg") his satire becomes trenchant.

He ridiculed corruption, social ignorance, stupidity and the whole "Gilded Age" as he branded contemporary bourgeois society.

His deep scorn of all sorts of sham and corruption, his hatred of hypocrisy can be found in his novels as well as in his short stories

"An Encounter with an Interviewer" (1875) is a parody on the American press. Within the limited space of this story we can see the technical devices so characteristic of Twain's comic works—exaggerations, mock-seriousness at the funniest moments.

***

The nervous, dapper, "peart" young man took the chair I offered him, and said he was connected with the Daily Thunderstorm,1 and added,—

"Hoping it's no harm, I've come to interview you,"

"Come to what?"2 [48]

"Interview you."

"Ah! I see. Yes,—yes. Um! Yes—yes."

I was not feeling bright that morning.3 Indeed, my powers seemed a bit under a cloud. However, I went to the bookcase, and when I had been looking six or seven minutes I found I was obliged to refer to the young man. I said,—



"How do you spell it?"

"Spell what?" "Interview."

"Oh, my goodness! what do you want to spell it for?"

"I don't want to spell it; I want to see what it means."

"Well, this is astonishing, I must say. / can tell you what it means, if you—if you—"4

"Oh, all right! That will answer, and much obliged to you,6 too."

"In, in, ter, ter, rnter—"

"Then you spell it with an I ?"

"Why, certainly!"

"Oh, that is what took me so long."

"Why my dear sir, what did you propose to spell it with?"

"Well, I—I—I hardly know. I had the Unabridged, and I was ciphering around in the back end, hoping I might tree her among the pictures.6 But it's a very old edition."

"Why, my friend, they wouldn't have a picture of it in even the latest e—My dear sir, I beg your pardon, I теап'ло harm in the world, but you do not look as—as intelligent as I had expected you would. No harm,— I mean no harm at all at аll."

"Oh, don't mention it! It has often been said, and by people who would not flatter and who could have" no inducement to flatter, that I am quite remarkable in that way. Yes,—yes; they always speak of it with rapture."

"I can easily imagine it. But about this interview. You know it is the custom, now, to interview any man who has become notorious."

"Indeed! I had not heard of it before. It must be very interesting.' What do you do it with?"

"Ah, well,—well,—well,— this is disheartening. It ought to be done with a club in some cases; but customarily it consists in the inter­viewer asking questions and the interviewed answering them. It is all the rage now. Will you let me ask you certain questions calculated to bring out the salient points of your public and private history?"

"Oh, with pleasure—with pleasure. I have a very bad memory, but I hope you will not mind that. That is to say, it is an irregular memory,—singularly irregular. Sometimes it goes in a gallop, and then, again it will be as much as a fortnight passing a given point. This is a great grief to me."

"Oh, it is no matter, so you will try to do the best you can."

"I will. I will put my whole mind on it."

"Thanks. Are you ready to begin?"

"Ready." [49]

Q. How old are you?

A. Nineteen, in June,

Q. Indeed! I would have taken you to be thirty-five or six. Where were you born?

A. In Missouri.*

Q. When did you begin to write?

A. In 1836.

Q. Why, how could that be, if you are only nineteen now?

A. I don't know. It does seem curious, somehow.8

Q. It does, indeed. Whom do you consider the most remarkable man you ever met?

A. Aaron Burr.**

Q. But you never could have met Aaron Burr, if you are only nine­teen years—

A. Now, if you know more about me than I do, what do you ask me for?

Q. Well, it was only a suggestion; nothing more. How did you happen to meet Burr?

A. Well, I happened to be at his funeral one day, and he asked me to make less noise, and—

Q. But, good heavens! if you were at his funeral, he must have been dead;7 and if he was dead, how could he care whether you made a noise or not?

A. I don't know. He was always a particular kind of a man that way.

Q. Still, I don't understand it all. You say he spoke to you, and that he was dead.

A. I didn't say he was dead.

Q. But wasn't he dead?

A. Well, some said he was, some said he wasn't.

Q. What did you think?

A. Oh, it was none of my business! It wasn't any of my funeral.

Q. Did you—However, we can never get this matter straight. Let me ask about something else. What was the date of your birth?

A. Monday, October, 31, 1693.

Q. What! Impossible! That would make you a hundred and eighty years old. How do you account for that?

A. I don't account for it at all.

Q. But you said at first you were only nineteen, and now you make yourself out to be one hundred and eighty. It is an awful discrepancy.

A. Why, have you noticed that? (Shaking hands.)Many a time it has seemed to me like a discrepancy, but somehow I couldn't make up my mind. How quick you notice a thing!

Q. Thank you for the compliment, as far as it goes. Had you, or have you, any brothers or sisters? [50]

A. Eh! I—I—I think so,—yes,—but I. don't remember.

Q. Well, that is the most extraordinary statement I ever heard!

A. Why, what makes you think that?

Q. How could I think otherwise? Why, look here! Who is this a picture of on the wall? Isn't that a brother of yours?

Л. Oh! yes, yes, yes! Now you remind me of it; that was a brother of mine. That's William,—Bill we called him. Poor old Bill!

Q. Why? Is he dead, then?

A. Ah, well, I suppose so. We never could tell. There was a great mystery about it.

Q. That is sad, very sad. He disappeared, then?

A. Well, yes, in a sort of general way. We buried him.

Q. Buried him! Buried him without knowing whether he was dead or not?

A. Oh, no! Not that. He was dead enough.

Q. Well, I confess that I can't understand this. If you buried him and you knew he was dead—

A. No! no! We only thought he was.

Q. Oh, I see! He came to life again?

A. I bet he didn't.

Q. Well, I never heard anything like this. Somebody was dead. Somebody was buried. Now, where was the mystery?

A. Ah, that's just it! That's it exactly. You see, we were twins,— defunct and I,—and we got mixed in the bath-tub when we were only two weeks old, and one of us was drowned. But we didn't know which. Some think it was Bill. Some think it was me.

Q. Well, that is remarkable. What do you think?

A. Goodness knows! I would give whole worlds to know.9 This solemn, this awful mystery has cast a gloom over my whole life. But I will tell you a secret now, which I never have revealed to any crea­ture before. One of us had a peculiar mark,— a large mole on the back of his left hand,—that was me. That child was the one that was drowned!

Q. Very well, then, I don't see that there is any mystery about it, after all.

A. You don't? Well, I do. Anyway I don't see how they could ever have been such a blundering lot as to go and bury the wrong"child. But 'sh!—don't mention it where the family can hear of it. Heaven knows they have heart-breaking troubles enough without adding this.

Q. Well, I believe I have got material enough for the present, and I am very much obliged to you, for the pains you have taken. But I was a good deal interested in that account of Aaron Burr's funeral. Would you mind telling me what particular "circumstance it was that made you think Burr was such a remarkable man?

A. Oh, it was a mere trifle! Not one man in fifty would have no­ticed it at all. When the sermon was over, and the procession all ready to start for the cemetery, and the body all arranged nice in the hearse, he said he wanted to take a last look at the scenery, and so he got up and rode with the driver. [51]

Then the young man reverently withdrew. He was very pleasant company, and I was sorry to see him go.

COMMENTARY

1. ... He was connected with the Daily Thunderstorm...

The Daily Thunderstorm is a jocular name given by Twain to the I newspaper the young man represented. The name of the paper is already its characterization. It contains a hint at the kind of easy sensational stuff that filled its pages.

2. "Hoping it's no harm, I've come to interview you." "Come to what?" "How do you spell it?" "Spell what?"

To express extreme surprise or disbelief part of the speaker's re­mark is re-addressed to him with the unbelievable section turned into the appropriate interrogative. This interrogative takes a heavy stress and a quickly rising intonation. This kind of response is known as a repeated question.

3. I was not feeling bright that morning.

Note the continuous form of the verb "to feel". When verbs of feeling and perception ("feel" is one of them) are used in the continuous form, which is not common, they indicate a passing state.

4. "I can tell you what it means, if you — if you — "Why, my friend, they wouldn't have a picture of it in even the latest e—"

Unfinished sentences form a peculiarity of spoken language. They reflect the flow of thought in conversation. Twain amply uses them for he aims at a very accurate reproduction of dialogic speech.

5. The story presents a sample of spoken English with its main peculiarities.

(a) Elliptical sentences:

...and much obliged to you... How old are you? Nineteen.

(b) Direct word order in interrogative sentences: He disappeared, then? He came to life again?

(c) Contractions:

I don't want to spell it... "But it's very old edition.

(d) Composite verbs: -

Will you let me ask you... Questions ... to bring out the sa­lient points of your ... history? ...he got up and rode with the driver. [52]

(e) Ready-made formulas of agreement, disagreement, surprise, pleasure, apology, etc.: Hoping it's no harm. Why, certainly! Indeed! What! Impossible! Thank you for the compliment, as far as it goes.

(f) An abundant use of colloquialisms:

...my powers seemed a bit under a cloud. It is all the rage now. He was dead enough. He came to life again? I bet he didn't.

6. "I had the Unabridged, and I was ciphering, around in the back end, hoping I might tree her among the pictures."

The verb "tree" here means "to find", "to get hold of". The pronoun "her" stands for "interview" which is evidently treated here as a living being. The talk about "interview" is typical of Twain's comic art. We see here one of his devices which consists in Mentionally presenting his characters as imbeciles. '

7. "It must be very interesting." "...he must have been dead..."

In these sentences "must + infinitive" expresses supposition with which almost no doubt is mixed. When "must" is used with the perfect infinitive (see the "second example) the possibility is represented as past.

8. "It does seem curious, somehow."

Note the use of the verb "to do" in the affirmative sentence. It serves to express emphasis.

9. "I would give whole worlds to(know,"

It is a hyperbole typical of colloquial English,

Cf. "It's ages since we met", "That's heaps of time".

Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement. It-springs from highly emotional attitude of the speaker towards the subject discussed and presents a deliberate

Discussion of the text

1. In what key is the story written? Does it present a serious or a mocking account of the interview given by the author, to the newspaper man? Give, a general definition of the story.

2. Comment on the personality of the newspaper reporter. In what terms does the author describe him?

3. What newspaper did he represent? How does its name the "Daily Thunderstorm" contribute to the general tenor of the story? Is it a common name for a newspaper? Does it help us to a better, understanding of the author's irony? [53]

am me newspaper man give for interviewing the author? What are the connotations of the word "notorious"? How does it differ from the word "famous"? Is it suggestive of the author's atti­tude "towards the American Press? What tastes did it cater for—low or refined?

5. How does Mark Twain achieve a parody on the American Press, its ways, its shallowness, its vulgarity?

6. One of the devices characterizing Mark Twain's comic art is a pretence of imbecility. Find passages illustrative of this.

7. What other devices of creating a humorous effect could be found in the story—exaggerations, the contrast between the subject and style (a mock-serious manner of treating the most absurd notions, etc.)? Quote the text for illustrations.

8. What was the author's reaction to the remark of the interviewer "...you do not look as—as intelligent as I had expected you would"? Did he take offence or did he take it as a compliment? How does this absurd reaction contribute to the comic effect?

9. Where does the story reach its climax? Where is its absurdity at the apogee?

-10. Comment on the use of the word "defunct", which is a legal term. What effect does it create in this context?

11. Note the reiteration of the words "remarkable" and "extraor­dinary" in the story. Is their use justified? Do they really qualify clever thoughts and ideas or do they refer to the most absurd notions ever expressed? What sides of the interview do they help to bring out?

12. Comment on the concluding lines. What could be said about the connotations of the Words "reverently" and "withdraw"? Are they in keeping with the nature of the scene described? Is their use in line with the other devices aimed at creating a comic effect?

13. Speak of the choice of vocabulary in the story. Comment on the use of vulgar colloquialisms side by side with sentimental turns of speech and high-flown words.

14. Speak of the syntax, paying attention to the peculiarities of spoken English.

15. Give a summary of your comments on the text.




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