Mark Twain and the Art of the Tall Tale

Mark Twain and the Art of the Tall Tale

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Mark Twain and the Art of the Tall Tale is a study of a peculiar American comic strategy and its role in Mark Twain's fiction. Focusing on the writer's experiments with narrative structure, Wonham describes how Twain manipulated conventional approaches to reading and writing by engaging his audience in a series of rhetorical games--the rules of which he adapted from the conventions of tall tale in American oral and written traditions. Wonham goes on to show how Twain's appropriation of the genre developed through the course of his career, from The Innocents Abroad to Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Pudd'nhead Wilson. This eminently readable study will interest Twain enthusiasts and students of nineteenth-century American literature, as well as anyone interested in American humor and oral narrative traditions.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 216 pages
  • 145.3 x 217.9 x 22.1mm | 358.31g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195078012
  • 9780195078015

Back cover copy

Mark Twain and the Art of the Tall Tale explores a predominantly American comic strategy and its role in Mark Twain's fiction. Focusing on the writer's experiments with narrative structure, Wonham describes how Twain manipulated conventional approaches to reading and writing by engaging his audience in a series of rhetorical games - the rules of which he adapted from the conventions of the tall tale in American oral and written traditions. After surveying the rich history of yarn-spinning in America, Wonham traces Twain's appropriation of the genre through the course of his career, from The Innocents Abroad to Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Pudd'nhead Wilson. He contends that as Twain turned from short sketches to extended travelogues and quasi-fiction, he found in the tall tale a means of dramatizing his disparate comic material. Later, as Twain worked consciously to purge his writing of its anecdotal quality, the oral genre remained central to his imagination - less as a source of comic material than as a paradigmatic encounter between competing points of view, an encounter that resonates throughout the author's major fiction. Offering an original interpretation of Twain's narrative and rhetorical techniques, this absorbing and readable study will interest Twain enthusiasts and students of nineteenth-century American literature, as well as anyone interested in American humor and oral narrative traditions.show more

Review quote

Wonham's investigation is fruitful ... since it shifts the focus from a folklorist perspective to the communicative process to the communicative process, examining the roots of the genre's idiosyncratic relationship between truth and lie, fact and fiction, reality and fantasy. The study profits from its specialized focus and, as good ones do, thus triggers a host of new questions. Like any good study, Wonham's book raises crucial questions and deserves particular credit for elaborating the complexity of tall-talking. * Gerd Hurm, Kritikon Litterarum 23 (1996) * he has moved beyond previous scholarship in his conceptualisations of the epistemological problematic and of the rhetorical situation of yarn spinning as well as in his interesting analysis of the tall tale's metamorphosis from oral tradition to an indigenous literay form...an innovative understanding of the rall tale and a reinterpretation of the entire Mark Twain cannon. * American Studies * `fascinating book ... Wonham's analysis unties knots in Mark Twain's rhetoric. Beyond that, it suggests fascinating lines of investigation into American identity.' Stephen Fender, Times Literary Supplementshow more