Monday, October 28, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 188: Mark Twain, Queen Victoria’s Jubilee (#11)

Mark Twain, "Queen Victoria’s Jubilee" (1897) from Mark Twain: A Tramp Abroad, Following the Equator, Other Travels:

Even when Twain is talking about a parade of American Civil War veterans and Queen Victoria's Jubilee, he can't resist a few jokes of varying quality. But unlike Twain's pure-humor "Hunting the Deceitful Turkey,"his two-part report on "Queen Victoria's Jubilee" (written for Hearst) mostly avoids "jokes" in order to focus on simple reportage--and an occasional dig at the social order.

The first part offers Twain's theory of parades: they should be either spectacle or symbol. Like this amazing parade of Civil War veterans--and the huge holes in their ranks where the fallen would have marched--the Jubilee procession is a symbol: not of loss, but of English growth and achievement.

Twain demonstrates this growth in the first report (a) by comparing London from its beginning, to its 1415 procession celebrating the Agincourt victory (with two pages of "eye-witness account"), to what he expects this procession will be like; and (b) by noting how much change Queen Victoria's reign includes. There's medical advances (anesthesia!) and legal advances (international copyright!).

And there's also a lot of areas that still need improvement. Sure, women are better off now than they were earlier, but there's still a long way to go. Here Twain deploys his acid humor (my favorite of his humors) by noting that woman can now earn degrees--even if, in many cases, they cannot actually gain those degrees; and the queen was even able to create a woman lord during her reign--out of 500 lordships she granted.

The second piece reports the actual Jubilee procession and is a slightly drier piece, for me. That is, it mostly consists of lists and reports of who is in the procession, which includes lots of people from the colonies. I can only imagine how a more bigoted writer would've either bemoaned the multi-racial procession or creepily admired the fine physiques of the Africans/Asians. Twain only does a little of that; and so this piece doesn't really make much of an impression. Imagine: take any news article in the paper today. Would that have any interest to you in a hundred years? Probably not--and that's mostly the case with Twain's piece.

The only time that Twain's report shifts from the expected report is at the end, when he notes how this procession was made up of the people who benefit from progress rather than create it. It's the useless royalty rather than the businessmen, scientists, and others who actually made the progress. If you're a Twain fan, you recognize some of this sentiment from Connecticut Yankee.

No comments:

Post a Comment