Heretical Fictions

Heretical Fictions : Religion in the Literature of Mark Twain

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Challenging the prevailing belief that Mark Twain's position on religion hovered somewhere between skepticism and outright heresy, Lawrence Berkove and Joseph Csicsila marshal biographical details of Twain's life alongside close readings of his work to explore the religious faith of America's most beloved writer and humorist. They conclude not only that religion was an important factor in Twain's life but also that the popular conception of Twain as agnostic, atheist, or apostate is simply wrong. 'Heretical Fictions' is the first full-length study to assess the importance of Twain's heretical Calvinism as the foundation of his major works, bringing to light important thematic ties that connect the author's early work to his high period and from there to his late work. Berkove and Csicsila set forth the main elements of Twain's "countertheological" interpretation of Calvinism and analyse in detail the way it shapes five of his major books--'Roughing It', 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer', 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn', 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court', and 'No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger'--as well as some of his major short stories. The result is a groundbreaking and unconventional portrait of a seminal figure in American letters.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 288 pages
  • 147.32 x 226.06 x 17.78mm | 408.23g
  • University of Iowa Press
  • Iowa, United States
  • English
  • 1587299038
  • 9781587299032
  • 1,851,979

Review quote

An important contribution to Twain studies, "Heretical Fictions" offers a provocative argument for the centrality of Calvinist religious thought in Twain's works that will surely spark significant debate. While readers may balk at some of their conclusions, Berkove and Csicsila offer close readings of Twain's major fiction that overall mount a formidable and compelling case for the pervasiveness of his struggles with and against the implications of a Calvinist worldview. Their reading reveals a coherent thematic structure that undergirds some of Twain's most apparently episodic major fiction, but more importantly, it offers an intriguing explanation for many of Twain's apparently contradictory stances during his lifetime. At its strongest, this book explores the serious moral inquiry beneath the surface of much of Twain's humor, arguing that Twain used fiction to test the emerging social and intellectual movements of his day against the Calvinist worldview, (sometimes desperately) seeking viable alternatives. "Heretical Fictions "argues cogently that the apparent pessimism of Twain's last ten years was not the morbid preoccupation of an aging and embittered man, but the compassionate culmination of a lifelong quest to test the reluctant conclusions of a God-haunted mind. Sharon D. McCoy, University of Georgiashow more

About Lawrence I. Berkove

Lawrence I. Berkove is a professor emeritus of English at the University of Michigan Dearborn. He is the editor of "The Fighting Horse of the Stanislaus" (Iowa), "The Sagebrush Anthology: Literature from the Silver Age of the Old West," and "The Best Short Stories of Mark Twain" and coeditor of" The Short Fiction of Ambrose Bierce, " as well as numerous articles on Twain s major novels, short fiction, travel literature, religious values, and the Sagebrush School associates. Joseph Csicsila is a professor of English at Eastern Michigan University. He is the author of "Canons by Consensus: Critical Trends and American Literature Anthologies," co-editor of "Centenary Reflections on Mark Twain s No.44, The Mysterious Stranger," and of the "Prentice Hall Anthology of American Literature, "editor of "The Gilded Age"," " and review editor of the "Mark Twain Annual."show more

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