Mark Twain – A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
The middle Victorian era saw a surge in popularity for romantic tales of chivalry, and pseudo-historical romances of the Sir Walter Scott variety were almost universally read. Mark Twain had no time for this nostalgia for a time that never was – in fact he held it partially responsible for the civil war;
It was Sir Walter that made every gentleman in the South a Major or a Colonel, or a General or a Judge, before the war; and it was he, also, that made these gentlemen value these bogus decorations. For it was he that created rank and caste down there, and also reverence for rank and caste, and pride and pleasure in them. […] Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the war.
A Connecticut Yankee… is a satire of these attitudes, disguised as a time travel narrative. The first half shows our adventurer easily impressing the locals with his knowledge of science and technology and using his advantage to become a virtual king. The second half moves into much darker territory, the superstition mixing with the darker aspects of mechanization to produce (essentially) the first world war.
I have to confess at this point that this is my first Mark Twain, but found it a fascinating read. It’s a deeply strange book, at once understandable on multiple levels (and absolutely awash with ideas) but at the same time working as a light farce, that is, before it gets really fucking dark.