This class is presented in partnership with One Day University

In 1908, William Dean Howells introduced Mark Twain in a speech as “Mark Twain, originally of Missouri, but then of Hartford, and now ultimately of the solar system, not to say the universe.” Samuel Clemens entered the world and left it with Halley’s Comet, little dreaming that generations hence Halley’s Comet would be less famous than Mark Twain. He has been called our Rabelais, our Cervantes, our Homer, our Tolstoy, our Shakespeare. Ernest Hemingway maintained that “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt got the phrase “New Deal” from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Twain saw more of the world than any other American writer of his era–and the world saw more of him, as well–both in print, and in person. Throughout the world he is viewed as the most distinctively “American” of American authors—and also as one of the most universal.

In this talk, leading Mark Twain scholar, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, will explore what Twain learned from his world travels and what the world learned from him–both during his lifetime and in the century since his death: a century during which his work has been translated into virtually every language in which books are printed.

Discussion Questions:

1. What did Mark Twain learn from his travels? How did they shape his work?

2. What universal themes that Twain addressed spoke to audiences around the globe?

3. Why were Americans relatively inattentive to Twain’s social criticism? Why did readers outside the United States pay so much more attention to the serious issues he raised?

4. What allows humor to travel and what stops it from travelling? What is hard or impossible to translate?

5. What is the connection between laughing and thinking? Twain thought it was very important for his readers to learn to think for themselves. What role could laughter play in that process?