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Life on the Mississippi
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AMERICAN HISTORY > 7. HF - LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI - CHAPTERS 37 - 43 (173 - 230) (12/05/11 - 12/11/12) No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 39935 comments Mod
Hello Everyone,

This is a memoir of the steamboat era on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War by Mark Twain, published in 1883.

The book begins with a brief history of the river from its discovery by Hernando de Soto in 1541. Chapters 4-22 describe Twain's career as a Mississippi steamboat pilot, the fulfillment of a childhood dream.

The second half of Life on the Mississippi tells of Twain's return, many years after, to travel the river from St. Louis to New Orleans. By then the competition from railroads had made steamboats passe, in spite of improvements in navigation and boat construction. Twain sees new, large cities on the river, and records his observations on greed, gullibility, tragedy, and bad architecture."

About the Author:

Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, led one of the most exciting of literary lives. Raised in the river town of Hannibal, Missouri, Twain had to leave school at age 12 and was successively a journeyman printer, a steamboat pilot, a halfhearted Confederate soldier, and a prospector, miner, and reporter in the western territories.

His experiences furnished him with a wide knowledge of humanity, as well as with the perfect grasp of local customs and speech which manifests itself in his writing.

With the publication in 1865 of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, Twain gained national attention as a frontier humorist, and the bestselling Innocents Abroad solidified his fame. But it wasn't until Life on the Mississippi (1883), and finally, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), that he was recognized by the literary establishment as one of the greatest writers America would ever produce.

Week Seven:

During the week of December 5th through December 11th, we are reading pages 205 - 227:

WEEK 7 - DEC 5 - 11
Chapter 37 - The End of the 'Gold Dust' p205
Chapter 38 - The House Beautiful p206
Chapter 39 - Manufactures and miscreants p210
Chapter 40 - Castles and Culture p215
Chapter 41 - The Metropolis of the South p220
Chapter 42 - Hygiene and Sentiment p223
Chapter 43 - The Art of Inhumation p226

Remember, these weekly non spoiler threads are just that - non spoiler. There are many other threads where "spoiler information" can be placed including the glossary and any of the other supplemental threads.

We will open up a thread for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers. We will also open up supplemental threads as we have done for other spotlighted reads.

We look forward to your participation. Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library, on iTunes for the iPad, etc. However, be careful, some audible formats are abridged and not unabridged.

There is still time remaining to obtain the book and get started. There is no rush and we are thrilled to have you join us. It is never too late to get started and/or to post.

Alisa will be moderating this book and discussion.



This is a link to the complete table of contents and syllabus thread:


Life on the Mississippi (Signet Classics) by Mark Twain by Mark TwainMark Twain

Remember this is a non spoiler thread.

Alisa (mstaz) He begins by reporting that The Gold Dust, the boat of the previous chapter, exploded.

In "The House Beautiful," Twain compares steamboats to the average fancy house in many southern areas, finding it vastly superior to even the loveliest houses from twenty years ago.

Their journey down the river continues to Natchez, which he describes as a manufacturing city. Here, they make ice, as well as olive oil from cotton seeds.

In "Castles and Culture," Twain writes about Baton Rouge and particularly the architecture of educational instructions nearby. Here, he finds complex architecture in female colleges and very Southern styles. He gives more accounts by Mrs. Trollope to back up his ideas here.

Ahh, New Orleans. "The Metropolis of the South," starts off with Twain's return to New Orleans, which he finds much the same as when he left it except more hygienic and with fewer fires in its recent history. He writes about the graveyards in New Orleans, which he finds beautiful but dangerous in the chemicals the dead bodies emit. In this way, he writes, the relics of Saint Anne may have saved some people but it was just due diligence for everyone they had killed. He writes that he wishes to be cremated.

Twain describes an encounter with an old friend who has become an undertaker in "The Art of Inhumation." The man talks about how happy he is, since the money is excellent and nobody ever skimps on funerals - in fact, the opposite. However, he does not like epidemics, because they are not as profitable as regular funerals.

message 3: by ☯Emily (last edited Dec 06, 2011 12:09PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

☯Emily I had a difficult time getting through chapter 38, which has only 7 paragraphs because one paragraph is five pages long in my edition.

I did enjoy the descriptions of New Orleans. Many things are the same (cemeteries) and some things different, especially since Katrina. Twain said that New Orleans was the best lit city (electrically) in the USA at that time, even more than New York.

Alisa (mstaz) When you walk through New Orleans and particularly the French Quarter where the steamboats docked you can see many of the old remaining lamp posts. Somehow you can imagine it as a well lit city back then! It seems that this was a period of time when New Orleans really came into it's own. It has a long history before then under the hands of many rulers. As a point of commerce it is interesting to see his description.

message 5: by Patricrk (new)

Patricrk patrick | 435 comments I can remember buying blocks of ice at an ice house when I was a boy. We then chipped it up and used in the hand cranked ice cream churn. Reading Twain's account of New Orleans made me realize the place really hasn't changed much in the last 130 years. State capitol in Baton Rouge was replaced finally by Huey Long but the old one is still there as a museum. The new one is an art deco skyscraper, nothing traditional for Huey.

Alisa (mstaz) Patricrk, what a great memory. There is something very lyrical about the history of New Orleans, and through the ages they manage to hang onto the same feel to the old city.

I have not been to Baton Rouge since 1992, but I do like the art deco look to the capitol building. Huey Long, now he is a figure that could take up another thread entirely!

☯Emily We need a history read about Huey Long. Sounds like a fascinating, love-to-hate kind of character.

Alisa (mstaz) The book to read about the illustrious former governor is this one:

Kingfish The Reign of Huey P. Long by Richard D. White Jr. by Richard D. White Jr.

He was a very colorful character.

message 9: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Taylor (jatta97) | 79 comments In chapter 40 Twain lobs a heavy gage shell at Sir Walter Scott and holds him responsible for the false facades, columns and crenelations on so many Capitol buildings. Then he notes, money would be better spent creating something genuine rather than reproductions. We have two of those buildings in my town. Although I adore museums and venerate old buildings, in reconstructing them to their former false grandeur, often times, rather than preserve them,we simply make them an artifact of themselves. Our old governor's mansion was once the residence of the Dean of our local branch of the state university. That at least put the building to some use that paralleled the purpose that built it. Today it is just a museum. The old state legislature building where the ordinance of succession was passed is today used as a school by Georgia Military College. It still has a functional use. There is something somehow sad and debilitating in turning a building into an artifact. Granted a museum is serving an educational purpose but that mission is depleted when it only serves to educate people about the building itself.

Alisa (mstaz) Good point Jeffrey. Sad to see something become something of a mockery of its former self. We have a couple of old buildings that are on the historical register that were formerly school buildings. They have been repurposed into condos. The structure and appearance of the buildings has been lovingly maintained, but hard to argue the spirit of its original intended use is the same.

Cheryl (Cheryl319) | 372 comments The old Baton Rouge Capitol building:


I enjoyed Twain's mockery of Sir Walter Scott - the classic battle of the realist vs. the romantic. His inner realist also curses the inventor of the bridal chamber in chapter 38. I also enjoyed the footnote following the description of the Southern being the 'highest type of civilization' - of the southern gentlemen and professor from the 'female college' killing each other.

He also hits upon another famous theme of his in these chapters: exposing the fraud. He does it with the manufacturers of butter and olive oil, as well as the way undertakers cheat take advantage of the human nature of grief.

Alisa (mstaz) Cheryl, great pic of the old Capitol Building, thanks for the addition.

He does take aim at those who take advantage of others. Glad you are enjoying the book.

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