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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
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Group Reads 2019 > April 2019 Group Read: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

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message 1: by Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (last edited Mar 31, 2019 08:31AM) (new)

Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) Let's discuss the proto-SF adventure yarn A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain. Widely avl. free online.

It was nominated by Jim, so let's start by asking him to lead us off, perhaps by telling us why he nominated it. Jim?


message 2: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
I guess everyone has read this book, watched one of the movies (3?), the musical, or just plain heard about it, so I think we can dispense with spoiler tags when discussing it. What do you think?


message 3: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
When I'm reading something this old & classic, I like to keep in mind who the author was & what the times were like when it was written.

Mark Twain was an interesting guy. Here's his Wikipedia entry:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain

He lived in Hannibal, Missouri in much the same setting as his Tom Sawyer novels (Huck Finn was based on a boy he knew.) & eventually moved east where he became a friend of Nikola Tesla & spent a lot of time in his lab. Twain was self-educated & patented several inventions.

Twain was a smart guy & he kept up with the literature, but it's important to remember while some pieces were there, they weren't in use yet or synthesized fully yet. For instance, both Darwin & Mendel had published their works, but realizing that genes were the vehicle of evolution wasn't put together until early in the 1900s & it wasn't a popular idea for decades after that. He was one of the first to use fingerprints in his novels. It was central to Pudd'nhead Wilson which I just read last week.

This book was published in 1889, the same year the Eiffel Tower was built. I have trouble remembering the state of science & technology so far in the past, so I found this timeline which lists some of the main points for the century.

Twain also had some odd ideas about the afterlife. He was a member of the Society for Psychical Research which started in England in 1881.

Most of all, Twain is well known for his wit & he lampooned just about everyone & everything. Not only that, but he does it so well that I understand & enjoy the humor even today. Every chapter of Pudd'nhead Wilson started with a saying from his calendar & only a couple didn't make me laugh out loud. I'm not much for humor in books nor do I typically like 19th century novels. Twain's work is an exception & exceptional all the way around.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) I had no idea Clemens/ Twain was curious about science and technology, or that he knew Tesla. He's definitely an American icon though, and deserves every bit of fame & acclaim he's gotten, imo.

I did read this book decades ago and look forward to the reread.

I wonder how popular it was, and is, compared to some of his other works. I also wonder if he read the adventures by Jules Verne?


message 5: by Jim (last edited Apr 02, 2019 03:58AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
While I have a paperback copy of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, I'm currently reading one from Gutenberg.org for free. You can find it in multiple formats (.epub, .mobi, .txt, or online as .html) here:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/86

It's also available as an audiobook free from Librivox here:
https://librivox.org/a-connecticut-ya...
The entire book can be downloaded or you can listen to it online.

The copy I'm reading is the illustrated .epub & it seems pretty good. The illustrations are yellowed copies of pages, but interesting.


message 6: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
I found the preface pretty contorted & unreadable nor did I care too much for the brief bit of Malory's book about "HOW SIR LAUNCELOT SLEW TWO GIANTS, AND MADE A CASTLE FREE". Luckily, they're both pretty short. (I like the tales, just not the stilted way Malory writes. I found John Steinbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights far better.)

"A WORD OF EXPLANATION" is easy reading & has a couple of interesting bits to set the stage. How the bullet hole came to be in the armor & the odd comment of 'the stranger' which uses 2 different dialects (Is 'dialects' the right word?) is masterful. And then there is the question:
“You know about transmigration of souls; do you know about transposition of epochs—and bodies?”

Not really SF time travel, IMO. Had anyone else used this trope before? ERB used something like it to send John Carter to Mars & REH used it quite a few times in his stories, but they were both writing well after Twain.

"THE STRANGER’S HISTORY" begins to pour out after 4 hot glasses of scotch & we find that it was a fight with crowbars that knocked him out & apparently let his soul transmigrate back in time. I skimmed this the first time I read it & didn't catch when the narrative jumped back to the present, so it made the end confusing.

It's a pretty convoluted way to deliver up the old 'lost manuscript' trope, IMO. Shelley did it better in "Frankenstein" 80 odd years earlier. Verne & Doyle had both used the trope by the time this was published too, I think.

It's the story from here on, "THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND", that's so good. I hope the beginning doesn't turn too many off.


message 7: by Leo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leo | 607 comments He was sent back in time by a blow on the head. That sounds pretty simple. First 10% of the story failed to excite me very much.


Rosemarie | 474 comments I read this a couple of years ago and am curious to know what you will think of it.
I will share my opinion of the book later on in the month.


message 9: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
In the first couple of chapters, the Stranger is getting to know Camelot. Why he knows about the eclipse isn't evident, but he mentions it down to the minute when told the date.

He seems to have a lot of freedom for a prisoner, but it does allow his narrative time for some observations & humor. His comment to the page that he isn't more than a paragraph had me chuckling (There's a good illustration of it in my copy, the epub with illustrations from Gutenberg.), but I especially liked the comparison of the knights to a bunch of young boys.

After Merlin's story put everyone else to sleep & Sir Dinadin wakes everyone up, the Stranger shows he isn't going to just idly watch. The page might not know what a geologic age was, but...
However, I made a note of the remark, and calculated to educate the commonwealth up to it if I pulled through.  It is no use to throw a good thing away merely because the market isn’t ripe yet.

Chapter 6 is the eclipse. The way the dates were played with certainly strung out the suspense & the Stranger played it up nicely. He mentions how it saved Columbus & uses it to good effect to elevate his status. I'm surprised Twain didn't adjust for the difference in dates, though. The Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian one in 1725 & there's a difference of 11 days that should have had to have been accounted for somehow, isn't there?

He is griping about the order of society generally, but the mention of the geologic age & the eclipse are the only big indications of where this is going - the war against superstition as embodied by Merlin. No sign of the church yet.


message 10: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
I'm glad you put a note about the boring language at the beginning. I happily skipped over "HOW SIR LAUNCELOT SLEW TWO GIANTS". Gee, that was dull.

Jim wrote: "The Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian one in 1725 & there's a difference of 11 days that should have had to have been accounted for somehow, isn't there?"

It was a fictional eclipse to begin with! But even if a real one, and he knew the real date, there would still be the matter of location. He doesn't really know where he is exactly enough to know whether he is in the path of totality.

It is a strictly silly plot point. One of the few things I knew before starting this book is that that plot point will come up and I've always thought it silly and resisted reading this book in part because of it.

I wonder whether he got the idea from King Solomon's Mines which came out a few years earlier.

Anyway, I've started it, and it seems OK. I guess we could think of this as an early example of "The Competent Man" fiction. Like McGyver, he can manage to do anything.


message 11: by Ed (last edited Apr 03, 2019 01:45PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Cheryl wrote: "I had no idea Clemens/ Twain was curious about science and technology, or that he knew Tesla...."

Oh, yeah. I see him as a bit of an early James Randi, but funnier.

Pudd'nhead Wilson reads partly like an early version of those Crime Scene Investigation shows on TV. He uses the newfangled process of "fingerprinting" to solve a case.

Also, from here:
In spite of his folksy image, he was, as they say now, an early adopter. He was the first in his neighborhood to get a telephone. He may or may not have been the first major author to use a typewriter to write a novel. He lost his shirt investing in a Victorian-era start up hawking an exceedingly complex printing press called the Paige Compositor. And he allowed himself to be filmed by Thomas Edison in 1909, a year before his death.


And he wrote quite a few stories making fun of religious dogma. He didn't allow those to be published during his lifetime, though. Some are fun, like The Mysterious Stranger, and others are a bit boring like The Diaries of Adam and Eve.


message 12: by Leo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leo | 607 comments I think I just read that he is going to introduce the telephone in the year 600. That will be fun. Makes me think about an earlier group read about time travel - which I liked better. Lest Darkness Fall. Anyway I did not know much about Mark Twain and his work, so catching up fast now.


message 13: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Ed wrote: "... I guess we could think of this as an early example of "The Competent Man" fiction. Like McGyver, he can manage to do anything."

Absolutely! The Stranger (I haven't gotten to his name yet in this reading.) tells us about that early on, but the eclipse took it to a new level. As for the idea, I've read that he got it from the historical example of Columbus.
https://www.space.com/27412-christoph...

I didn't bother looking to see if the eclipse was real or not, but I'm not surprised it wasn't. Too convenient, but kind of fun anyway. It's hard to know when to take Twain seriously.


message 14: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Coyle was writing Sherlock Holmes about this time, I think. Was the competent man a new trope at this time? I'm not partial to nor well read in this time & earlier, but I can't think of any examples prior to this. Some of Verne's characters were pretty competent, but not to this degree, IIRC.


message 15: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Starting at chapter 7 today up through 10. A lot happens, mostly setup over 4 years. Pretty well done since Twain doesn't bog down in the details.

The Stranger was a prisoner, but he's now second in the kingdom only to Arthur. He has the best that Camelot can offer, but he's far from satisfied. Plain picky! He complains that the rushes on the floor are misfits because they're not of the same variety. LOL! I could understand his other complaints far easier like the lack of soap.

I had been used to chromos for years, and I saw now that without my suspecting it a passion for art had got worked into the fabric of my being, and was become a part of me.
I didn't know what a 'chromo' was, although the context made it fairly clear it was a picture. I googled it & found that it's probably a picture made with chromolithography.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromol...
Twain is making a joke of the Stranger's taste in art, right?

Clarence, the page who wasn't more than a paragraph becomes the Stranger's right hand man. He helps deal with Merlin's tower & that was far better done than the solar eclipse. It had to be quite a show & it certainly solidified his power. Pretty ingenious. Better than a fuse.

Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting to observe and examine.  I had mine, the king and his people had theirs.
Here the line is drawn, although there's a lot of verbiage afterward. He also mentions that for all the power of himself & the king, the Church had more.

There you see the hand of that awful power, the Roman Catholic Church.  In two or three little centuries it had converted a nation of men to a nation of worms.
I know Twain didn't think much of religion in general, but he's pretty specific here & goes on at some length. Catholics weren't thought much of in the US in those days, were they? IIRC, JFK was the first Catholic president, wasn't he?

I liked his diatribe about the inheritance of worth & how he disliked it. Twain's insults are really rich. ...the sheep-witted earl who could claim long descent from a king’s leman, acquired at second-hand from the slums of London, was a better man than I was... It was 'unearned supremacy' in his eyes.

The Stranger wants to earn his title & he does from the village blacksmith, a finer source than any other in his opinion. He's now "The Boss". I wonder if Twain was joking about the patent office being more important than the schools & newspaper. Seems like it, but it's a pretty solid case.

His empathy for the wounded is incredibly lacking, although I can sympathize with his complaints about the borrowed tools. I wonder if the bit about the axe was a dig at Thoreau who certainly treated his borrowed axe badly at Walden Pond. (A malignancy second only to his observation that a family is a ball & chain for a man, the spoiled brat.)

Unlimited power is the ideal thing when it is in safe hands.
His previous comments on religious freedom & 'The American Way' (modern Protestant work ethic?) are contrasted with what he actually did. He makes a point of separating religion from secular teachings, but admits that for 4 years he is a despot & it works well. Still, he says, "...an earthly despotism is not merely a bad form of government, it is the worst form that is possible."

It looks as if he must take a vacation go questing due to that unfortunate remark.


message 16: by Leo (last edited Apr 05, 2019 04:55AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leo | 607 comments The knights are regularly lost for years, because they go out 'grailing' - looking for the holy grail. Even though nobody knows exactly what it is, the holy grail.
It's all Monty Python to me, this book.


Rosemarie | 474 comments You are right, Jim. JFK was the first Roman Catholic president of the U.S.


message 18: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Leo wrote: "I think I just read that he is going to introduce the telephone in the year 600. That will be fun."

Yeah, and the telegraph. It is pretty ridiculous to think he could actually do it. I have a reasonable understanding of electricity, but would have a very hard time figuring out how to manufacture wire and resistors, let alone the complicated mechanism needed to convert voice to electricity and back.

And for inventing newspapers: good luck with that, when paper hadn't reached England, most people couldn't read, and dialects varied greatly from place to place. (I can only assume that our hero learned how to speak like the locals in the same miraculous way he was transported back in time: by a bump on the head.)

Maybe I could re-introduce math using base 10, and basic calculus, but maybe not. In the real world, when Europeans tried to start using zero and base 10 they were often seen as practitioners of black magic.

"It's all Monty Python to me, this book."

Agreed. It is fun to look at the old days humorously through a modern eye. But it just couldn't really happen like that.


message 19: by Ed (last edited Apr 04, 2019 11:08AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "Coyle was writing Sherlock Holmes about this time, I think. Was the competent man a new trope at this time? I'm not partial to nor well read in this time & earlier, but I can't think of any example..."

Wiki-p mentions possible examples as Caesar and Cleopatra by George Bernard Shaw; The Army Of A Dream by Rudyard Kipling.

TV Tropes considers The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne; and also Robinson Crusoe.

The wiki page on "Connecticut Yankee" considers The Fortunate Island by Max Adeler (a.k.a. Charles Heber Clark). It appears that Clark actually claimed that Twain plagiarized this work. I think I might read it and decide for myself.


message 20: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Interesting. Thanks, Ed. It's always difficult to pin down when something started in literature. There's rarely (never?) any hard line, just growth & change.

I don't think any of the Yankee's tech works are too possible. Even the gunpowder would have required a lot of work gathering potassium nitrate & sulfur. I doubt there were big stocks of either around & yet he pulled that off secretly in a few days. It's just something to roll with. He's the Competent Man, after all. He laughs at such minor inconveniences.


message 21: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "It's always difficult to pin down when something started in literature. There's rarely (never?) any hard line, just growth & change...."

I agree. I did go ahead and read The Fortunate Island. It is fun and not very long. I recommend it.

Fun quotes: "It is not the custom in our country to press a suit upon a lady by poking people off a horse."

"We shall most likely have quite a collection of rescued damsels on our hands by the time we get back home. It is interesting, but embarrassing."

There are many similarities with "Connecticut Yankee", but Twain modified and expanded on the idea.

I always want to say "Confederate Yankee". Somehow I misheard it like that as a kid and it stuck with me even though it makes no sense.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) Ack! I can't start reading yet, but gosh you've got me looking forward to it!


message 23: by Buck (new) - rated it 4 stars

Buck (spectru) | 899 comments I read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court a couple of years ago and I don't remember it strongly. It seems to me, IIRC, that he was using military tactics that came into use later in the real world.

Mark Twain was a famous humorist, though most of his things I've read before this weren't particularly humorous. I've read modern books that were supposed to be funny, that weren't very. This was. I heard an audio book read by Stuart Langton. He sounds like Carl Reiner. I enjoyed it immensely. Very droll.


message 24: by Leo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leo | 607 comments Robert Heinlein wrote about the competent (wo)man:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”


message 25: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
I'm starting with Chapter 11 today through 13. How quests are born is pretty funny. Although I've never found Monty Python particularly funny on the screen, I think Leo got the humor right. It just reads better to me, although it went on too long. Armor certainly has its disadvantages. Still, whole chapters were excessive.

By a sarcasm of law and phrase they were freemen.
The following description of what was free about them was pretty awful. It almost makes the French Revolution's excesses seem reasonable. Well, he gives it a good shot, anyway. He takes another swipe at religion by saying that a free country would last until it had an 'Established Church'.

So to speak, I was become a stockholder in a corporation where nine hundred and ninety-four of the members furnished all the money and did all the work, and the other six elected themselves a permanent board of direction and took all the dividends. It seemed to me that what the nine hundred and ninety-four dupes needed was a new deal.

The seeds of insurrection are sown. Everything about how the country is run & the plight of most of the people really bugs him. And then he writes a note to better the man's plight in his own blood. Well done!


message 26: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Chapter 14 starts out with economics & a pipe that works wonders, especially when Sandy gets done talking it up.

A phone operator is a 'hello-girl'? Interesting, more so since there was a comment in another group about Sherlock Holmes never using a telephone. I wonder why? His first story was published in 1887 & they took place 1880-1914. This was published in 1889.

Sandy's rambling story didn't do much for me, although I did agree with the Stranger about the poor horses. It also sent me to the dictionary.
exegesis = critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture.
defalcation = embezzlement
usufruct = the right to enjoy the use and advantages of another's property short of the destruction or waste of its substance.

The comparison of a jackass to a nobleman was funny- the former being useful for being himself while the latter isn't useful even though he is one. But otherwise this is just rambling until we finally find out the Stranger's first name, Hank. They also spy a castle at the end of chapter 15 & the next is titled "MORGAN LE FAY", so I'm looking forward to it.

I'm beginning to wonder why I remembered this book so fondly. It has to pick up shortly. Today's reading was pretty boring, just more about the poor lives & ignorance of the day. Even Hank couldn't properly pay attention.


message 27: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "Even Hank couldn't properly pay attention...."

Twain is using the trope of "the woman who won't shut up", and combining it with the idea that old stories of King Arthur are horribly repetitive and boring. You can safely skim what she says. I hope there are some more interesting women to balance out Sandy.

Funny that he hated listening to Sandy, but yet he reveals that in the modern world he ran-up a big bill calling the "Hello girls" apparently just to talk.

I think I'm enjoying it more than you. The discussion about the uncomfortableness and impracticalness of armor was funny to me. It was also one of the ideas "borrowed" from The Fortunate Island. In both cases they were upset that they couldn't reach their handkerchiefs.

I also had to look up a few words and a few historical names, which turned out to be early anti-monarchist revolutionaries. I must not be the first, because after I'd typed in the first word to look up, for the next few I only needed to type in one letter before Google knew what I wanted. Spooky!

Just looked up "The Rack" as torture device. That wasn't actually used in England until many centuries later. Guess Twain didn't have recourse to Wikipedia.


message 28: by Leo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leo | 607 comments I can't say that it's all that exciting, but I just passed the point where Hank set the people in the dungeons free after they were forgotten for years and years. I'm still wondering what this book is about.


message 29: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
I'm starting with chapter 16, Morgan Le Fay, today & immediately got a chuckle. Advertising is pervasive, isn't it? Of all the things to catch on... But we see that it has a better purpose, another swipe against the established church. Morgan is certainly a piece of work, although Hank certainly doesn't have much empathy, either. The next chapter is especially gruesome.

I will say this much for the nobility: that, tyrannical, murderous, rapacious, and morally rotten as they were, they were deeply and enthusiastically religious.
Damned with faint praise, especially given how he rails against religion several times over the next couple of chapters.

There's kind of an interesting take on the 'nature versus nurture' theme.
...We speak of nature; it is folly; there is no such thing as nature; what we call by that misleading name is merely heredity and training. We have no thoughts of our own, no opinions of our own; they are transmitted to us, trained into us...

Hank's observations on the laws regarding murder were bad enough, but then he visits the jail & it really gets bad. A poor girl has spent 1/3 of her life there because she objected to le droit du seigneur - being raped by the feudal lord on her wedding night. Another had the effrontery to think that all men were alike save for clothes. I wasn't surprised that Hank sent him along to the Factory.

So the entire stay with Morgan Le Fay is an instruction on the injustices of the present world & how it is propped up by the Church & tradition. Yuck. That's all I can take today. I'll start on chapter 19 tomorrow.


message 30: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Chapter 19 has more from Morte d’Arthur, but with a spin. There's some interesting speculation about ages. They don't seem to work very well, almost a dream-like quality to them.

In chapter 20, we meet another knight carrying an advertisement for dental care with funny names. He's looking for the 'stove polish' knight, although Hank admits there aren't any stoves yet, but he's working on that. That introduces us to the homecoming of one of the prisoners & it's really sobering.
Their entire being was reduced to a monotonous dead level of patience, resignation, dumb uncomplaining acceptance of whatever might befall them in this life.  Their very imagination was dead.

Hank writes, "This was not the sort of experience for a statesman to encounter who was planning out a peaceful revolution in his mind.

It turns out the ogre's castle isn't really. Most ridiculous.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) I've started; at the point where he and Sandy are getting tired on this first hot day of their quest.

I've seen some ppl claim that this is not SF, but if Lest Darkness Fall is, why is this not? What's the difference? And if it's not Time Travel, then what part of traveling backwards in time doesn't qualify?


message 32: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Cheryl wrote: "I've seen some ppl claim that this is not SF, but if Lest Darkness Fall is, why is this not? What's the difference? ..."

The difference, I believe, is that one gives a scientific explanation for the time travel and the other doesn't. Thus one is more SF and the other is more Fantasy.

"Yankee" is close enough to SF for me. It closely resembles utopian fiction, like Erewhon, and stories of that sort, where a modern person visits some land with a society different from our own and then compares it with our society. This sort of thing is a staple of SF even today, though we now usually put the foreign societies on other planets rather than mysterious islands or hidden valleys on, or inside, Earth.

Also, the hero uses his knowledge of science and technology to get things done.


message 33: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Leo wrote: "I can't say that it's all that exciting, but I just passed the point where Hank set the people in the dungeons free after they were forgotten for years and years. I'm still wondering what this book is about."

Several of us are reading at about the same speed. That's never happened to me before!

What it is about, I think, is first simply an attempt to tell an entertaining story. Second, I think Twain is poking a bit of fun at the popular stories of King Arthur that ignore the fact that people in that time thought very differently than modern people. Also he uses it to compare and contrast different societies, much as is done in stories of "Utopias". The point of those Utopian stories is to try to figure out what form of society is best, or at least to notice different possibilities. In the section in the dungeon that you mention, I think he has Hank say that Connecticut is much nicer because the laws can be changed by the people.

In Yankee, Twain complains many times about the extreme concentration of wealth in King Arthur's time. That made me think about the phrase "The Gilded Age" which we now use to talk about the concentration of wealth in early 1900's. The phrase comes from the title of an earlier book by Twain, but he didn't use it to mean quite the same thing as we do now. In that novel, he doesn't talk about wealth inequality, but rather about striving for wealth. (At least that is what I've determined from descriptions of that book.)


message 34: by Leo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leo | 607 comments Ed wrote: "...Twain is poking a bit of fun at the popular stories of King Arthur that ignore the fact that people in that time thought very differently than modern people. Also he uses it to compare and contrast different societies,.."
I was looking for a 'greater' theme, but this must be it then. He criticises and makes fun a lot of different things and people, and every now and then he drops a very wise conclusion to think about at home.


message 35: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
I'm starting on chapter 21, The Pilgrims, today. Right off the bat he's back to wondering about how our social environment shapes us.
...to demonstrate how easy it is to seem a lunatic to a person who has not been taught as you have been taught.
A very timely thought, but I suppose that's for every age. Still, it seems exceptionally clear today when people can hop from one culture & land to another in hours.

After leaving the 'nobility', Hank & Sandy come across the pilgrims with a nod to Chaucer. Even though they're not going the same way, Hank decides to tag along...
...for it was hourly being borne in upon me now, that if I would govern this country wisely, I must be posted in the details of its life, and not at second hand, but by personal observation and scrutiny.
I think this is the first time Hank has come straight out & said he planned to rule the country, isn't it? He's mentioned taking a hand before, but not as top dog, & then he makes no move to interfere with the slaves using that as an excuse.

Hank & Merlin have a competition for fixing the miraculous spring. I got a chuckle out of ...I could astonish these people most nobly by having a person of no especial value drop a dynamite bomb into it.  It was my idea to appoint Merlin.  However, it was plain that there was no occasion for the bomb.  One cannot have everything the way he would like it.

There were quite a few more chuckles, too. His descriptions of Sandy's speech & the hermits were great not to mention the idea of running a sewing machine off of one. While it was hardly a contest to beat Merlin, he does so with extreme showmanship. His ego is definitely growing with leaps & bounds.
...the populace uncovered and fell back reverently to make a wide way for me, as if I had been some kind of a superior being—and I was.


message 36: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "I'm starting on chapter 21 ..."

I read 21 and 22 this morning.

The talk about slaves was interesting and uses that "distancing" effect that SF so often does. Twain notes that the people of that time didn't see anything unusual or wrong about treating slaves badly, but assumes that modern readers would be disturbed by it. Yet many people of his day didn't see much wrong with treating slaves from Africa badly because they didn't see them as fully human. Just that little change of context (and skin color) might allow some people to think about the issue differently.

I'm also amused by language changes, like using "skill" as a verb. I had to look it up. "It skills not" simply means "It doesn't matter".

The expression "It's a daisy" caught my eye. Today we would say "It's a doozy".

Twain also takes another opportunity to make fun of how long German sentences are. "Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth."

Hank is becoming more tolerant of Sandy running her "mill" (her mouth) all the time.


message 37: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
The Civil War was over for more than 3 decades when this was written, so I would hope it disturbed his readers. It disturbed plenty long before that. Not everyone, unfortunately. Twain made the point about how little skin color mattered in Pudd'nhead Wilson 6 years earlier (1883) when he also dealt with nurture versus nature. He'd done it 2 years before that in The Prince and the Pauper, too.

I had to read that 'skill' sentence a couple of times, too. I gathered the German stuff was supposed to be funny, but I don't know anything about it, so couldn't appreciate it. You read German, don't you?


message 38: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "The Civil War was over for more than 3 decades when this was written..."

Oops. Silly mistake.

No, I don't read German. I studied it for about 4 years, but didn't really practice it outside of class. So I can understand bits and pieces, but wouldn't be able to make my way through a novel, as I can do in French.

Twain had many funny things to say about his attempts to learn German: http://www.twainquotes.com/German.html

The actual language(s) spoken in England in the 500's would have really been totally incomprehensible to Hank.


message 39: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
those are funny!


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) Ed wrote: "...The actual language(s) spoken in England in the 500's would have really been totally incomprehensible to Hank. ..."

Certainly. But it also wasn't Hank's or Twain's native language, either. Where did Twain get it? I'm assuming Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'arthur but maybe that's only loose and Twain was actually being playful instead of historically 'accurate.'


message 41: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Starting with chapter 24, "A Rival Magician" today. I can only wonder how anyone could survive without bathing. I don't know anything about the history of this lack. It was a big deal not to bathe in 18th century England, wasn't it? Why did it start & how did it end?

I'd guess that the germ theory finally put an end to it. I think Clavell's first 2 Asian novels, Shōgun & Tai-Pan, have always illustrated the uncomfortable filth the best to me as the characters come to realize just how nice it is to be clean.

In any case, Hank decides to have a go at getting the monks to bathe then catches a cold. I didn't understand this passage at all.
I caught a heavy cold, and it started up an old lurking rheumatism of mine.  Of course the rheumatism hunted up my weakest place and located itself there.  This was the place where the abbot put his arms about me and mashed me, what time he was moved to testify his gratitude to me with an embrace.
What was his 'weakest place'. Is he talking about his lungs?

It seems phone service is spreading which Hank uses to good effect in putting the other magician in his place.

...a privileged class, an aristocracy, is but a band of slaveholders under another name.
It seems that they & the Church are exactly that as the story of the young lady shows.

I was surprised to find that Twain is actually telling the truth in how the funds for the Manor House (London Mayor's residence) were raised. See the 'funding' section here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mansion...
I find it amusing that Hank says they must have been 'Yankees in disguise'. He's not ashamed of such sharp dealing or injustices, yet is sorry for the young couple.

The military examination was ludicrous on both sides. Word problems in math are known to be tricky, but Hank's was truly a masterpiece of confusion. Which party pays for the dog, indeed! Still, custom & law won the day for all their idiocy. A pedigree of 4 generations is all that matters. Hank managed an end run admirably & take out the Royal Grant as well.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) Isn't rheumatism about joints & bones? So, his spine or shoulder blades?

I suspect the no bathing bit is another 'myth' of history or at least particular or exaggerated. Otoh, there's the famous water test for witches, and supposedly sailors don't know how to swim.... I no longer read much historical fiction because so much is wrong or unsupported. Twain's preface to this did include advice that the reader not look for historical accuracy here.


message 43: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Cheryl wrote: "...Where did Twain get it [the language style]? I'm assuming Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'arthur..."

I think you are right. Extensive research (i.e. a peek at the wiki) reveals that Morte D'Arthur was written in almost modern English. More modern than Chaucer, less modern than Shakespeare. Later publications cleaned it up to look even more modern.

I think Twain saw it as dull and is making fun of that. As evidence for how dull it is, check out this description of the recent parody Something About a Sword and a Stone?.

No one should have to slog through that pile of continuity errors and insipid descriptions of jousts. I’ve spent years of my life poring over all twenty-one Books of this foundational work of fantasy literature, dreadful as it is. Here, for your amusement and edification, I recount, dissect, and ruthlessly mock each ridiculous plot contrivance, each self-contradictory anecdote, and each unnamed damsel who runs in from offscreen and dies. ... I read Le Morte d’Arthur so you don’t have to!



message 44: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Leo wrote: "I was looking for a 'greater' theme..."

My extensive research (20 minutes worth) indicates that stories of chivalrous knights were super popular in 1800's, so he was just satirizing what was already popular. And snarking about how long and boring Le Morte D'Arthur is in some parts. Much like Game of Thrones today! Where is Twain when we need him most?


message 45: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Cheryl wrote: "I suspect the no bathing bit is another 'myth' of history or at least particular or exaggerated...."

I'm sure some people bathed sometimes, but still it is pretty believable to me. I was recently reading realistic fiction about Spinoza and Leibniz (What fun I have!) and it mentions how the upper classes would do laundry once per year, and the lower classes, never.

The non-fiction The Discovery of France talks of country people in the 1900s still keeping their precious pigs and piles of manure inside their houses.


message 46: by Ed (last edited Apr 10, 2019 05:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "I'd guess that the germ theory finally put an end to it. ..."

Well, it's only a theory. ;)

There are plenty of otherwise smart people these days who have decided to go without bathing. [Edit: actually, they wash but don't use soap.] They claim that after a little while your natural flora and fauna start taking better care of your skin and hair than soap does. I'm staying away from those people!


Rosemarie | 474 comments Good idea, Ed!


message 48: by Rafael (new) - added it

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 142 comments The Christians always took a dim view of bathing. It was how they discover who was a true christian and who was a hidden jewish.


message 49: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Rafael wrote: "The Christians always took a dim view of bathing. It was how they discover who was a true christian and who was a hidden jewish."

I thought 'cleanliness is next to godliness' was a Christian saying. No?


message 50: by Ed (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ed Erwin | 1985 comments Mod
Rafael wrote: "The Christians always took a dim view of bathing."

That may have been true in one or another place and time. But I'm not sure.

The wiki article on "Ablution in Christianity" claims: Christianity has always placed a strong emphasis on hygiene, Despite the denunciation of the mixed bathing style of Roman pools by early Christian clergy, as well as the pagan custom of women naked bathing in front of men, this did not stop the Church from urging its followers to go to public baths for bathing, which contributed to hygiene and good health according to the Church Father, Clement of Alexandria.

For old English hygiene, see http://www.lordsandladies.org/middle-...

Erasmus wrote around 1500 The doors are, in general, laid with white clay, and are covered with rushes, occasionally renewed, but so imperfectly that the bottom layer is left undisturbed, sometimes for twenty years, harbouring expectoration, vomiting, the leakage of dogs and men, ale droppings, scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit to be mentioned.

That is really talking about a much later year, but apparently covering a dirty floor with rushes was common practice for a long time. (A "rush" is a plant, by the way, for non-English natives.)


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