Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 63: Rudyard Kipling, An Interview with Mark Twain (#16)

Rudyard Kipling, "An Interview with Mark Twain" (1890) from The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Works:

Mark Twain is a fascinating figure who can be seen both as an exemplar and a radical of his time; and so my only hesitation with a collection like this one (or the collection on Lincoln that came up here) is that it may list to the side of our current understanding of Twain. That is, it's all well and good to read how Kipling loved Twain--but shouldn't we also hear how various others thought his works were juvenile, or cynical, or etc. Luckily, we have an interview with the editor, the great Shelley Fisher Fishkin, where she notes that she was most interested in how other writers felt about Twain.

However, although Rudyard Kipling had already published several books of short stories, his visit with Twain is less as a fellow writer and more like a worshipper meeting his idol. The opening is a pretty cute and somewhat Twainish recollection of how Kipling tried to track the man down throughout the northeast; but after that, we give the floor over to Twain and his feelings about writerly things.

Hilariously, at this moment, as in ours, one of the things that's on Twain's writerly brain is the businessy side of writing: copyright and the prospect of international copyright. I can't say that Twain's notion--copyright as real estate--bears much relevance to today's arguments, but it's a nice reminder that this argument has a long history.

Similarly, when they get to talking about a sequel to Tom Sawyer, Kipling may sound like a fan from today. The whole set-up of the question--will Tom marry Becky Thatcher?--is at the heart of many a fan-fic; and when Twain playfully suggests that he'll write two books, one where Tom triumphs and one where he fails, Kipling is aghast at Twain's playing with such a real person. Kipling's response is a direct attack on Twain's notion of copyright: "because he isn’t your property any more. He belongs to us.” Can Stephen King's Misery be far behind. where Kipling kidnaps Twain and forces him to write the relationship that Kipling wants for the characters that are now his?

No comments:

Post a Comment