Annotated Bibliography–Mark Twain & Material Production

By: Michael Druffel

The purpose of this bibliography is to scout out texts that might be useful in writing a paper on how 19th century physical production and distribution of literature influenced the content of Mark Twain’s books. To that end I’m scouting texts that explore both Twain’s own issues with production (e.g.: his dealings with publishers, interest in new printing technology, &c) and texts that explore publishing in Twain’s time more generally. By gaining general knowledge of the material book culture in the 19th century, and combining that background knowledge with Twain specific material, I hope to begin thinking about the ways Twain’s engagement with the material production of books could have influenced his writing. To best organize this bibliography I have broken it into two parts: one on Twain specifically (with an eye to his relations with material processes) and the other on publishing in general in the 19th century.

Twain Specific Material

  • Bird, John. “Mark Twain, Karl Gerhardt, and the Huckleberry Finn Frontispiece.” American Literary Realism 1 (Fall 2012): 28-37. Web.

 John Bird teaches American literature at Winthrop University, specializing in Twain, humor, and HD Thoreau. Bird examines the double frontispiece in Huck Finn: one page displays a frontispiece showing Huck with a dead rabbit; the opposite page shows a heliotype of a bust of Twain sculpted by Karl Gerhardt, an artist under Twain’s patronage. Bird argues that Twain wanted Gerhardt’s work prominently displayed in the book so Twain would benefit from Gerhardt’s fame. However, this claim doesn’t hold water. How would Twain benefit from Gerhardt’s fame? Bird re-suggests that Twain was smitten with Gerhardt’s wife and wanted to help the young couple. This seems more likely as Twain wrote letters about how beautiful the couple was. However, perhaps the best use for the double frontispiece for my purpose would be to tie it to Michelson’s argument in chapter four of Printer’s Devil and use it as an example of the corporate nature of authorship: sculptor, heliotypist, printer, and binder come together to show an image of Mark Twain.

  • Budd, Louis J. “The Recomposition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The Missouri Review1 (1987): 113-130. Web.

Louis Budd was a noted Twain scholar associated with Duke University. Budd was particularly interested in Twain’s politics and social commentary. This article takes Stanley Fish’s assertion that each reader recomposes a text through reading and applies that view to the myriad recompositions of Huck Finn. The most interesting recompositions are: 1) EW Kemble’s recomposition through his 174 illustrations in Huck Finn; 2) why HF is recomposed in readers’ minds as separate and better than Tom Sawyer. Budd notes that initially critics viewed HF and TS almost interchangeably. Around the 1940s HF was lifted to a higher plane. This is interesting to note with regard to Michelson’s claim that authorship becomes corporatized. In Budd’s view, the reader becomes a kind of editor curating the texts of TS and HF. Unfortunately, the article loses steam by going into a diatribe against the canonization of Huck. Budd argues that HF’s canonization abstracts the novel from its comic roots. While the canon offers many dangerous political traps, Budd’s argument isn’t as radical now as it may have been in 1987, and comes across as less than breathtaking. However, the examination of illustrators and readers as kinds of authors is still sharp. 

  • Hill, Hamlin. Introduction. Mark Twain’s Letters to his Publishers. Ed Hill. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967. Print.

Hamlin Hill, editor of Twain’s letters, was a Mark Twain scholar with special interest in Twain’s humor, bitterness, and his relation with his publishers. Hill argues Twain, a former newspaperman, came to literature to make money, and “The world of subscription book publishing into which Clemens moved in 1867 could only have strengthened his commercial approach to ‘literature’” (2). However, Twain struggled against subscription publishing’s (and his own personality’s) push to avarice. Caught between the facts of subscription production (which Hill calls dishonest and profit driven) and his own vision of high-minded literature, Twain vented his frustration on his publishers (MT called one “a most repulsive creature… a bastard monkey”). Hill thinks Twain was really frustrated with himself for sacrificing literary value for commercialism. This analysis seems well founded as Hill deploys quotes from Twain’s letters throughout the intro to show the writer’s struggle with commercialism’s pitfalls. Certainly, the struggle between the mode of production, publishers Hill calls dishonest, and Twain’s divided nature could be an entry point into thinking about how the content of Twain’s novels was shaped by these forces. The one critique I’d offer is that Hill doesn’t go into great specifics about how Twain’s subscription publishers were dishonest, but this could be easily researched further.

  • Jenn, Ronald. “From American Frontier to European Borders: Publishing French Translations of Mark Twain’s Novels Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (1884-1963). Book History (2006): 235-260.

This is Jenn’s only publication I could find. I do not know if he is affiliated with a university. However, Book History is a relatively new journal founded in 1998 that specializes on broad topics dealing with the history of book production and distribution. In the article Jenn examines the first French translations of TS and HF (1884 and 1886). He notes that Twain encouraged his American subscription sellers to market TS and HF to everyone, but that French booksellers narrowed the audience to children. In fact the translation makes many changes: improving teachers’ images; referring to Tom and Huck as “schoolboys;” concentrating the plot around school; and having Huck and Tom praise literacy they learned in school. In 1881 France made school mandatory and free for children, and French publishers tried to support the cause with pro-school books. As a result the translations of TS and HF are very different from their American counterparts. The translations are beautiful artifacts (gilt edges, renowned illustrators) designed to attract children to school through the physical structure of the book. This article shows one other aspect of production, and how that aspect (translation) shapes a text. It could be useful to think about.

  • Michelson, Bruce. Printer’s Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006. Adobe Digital Edition. 

    Bruce Michelson is a Mark Twain scholar with special interest in neuroscience and Twain’s humor. His book situates Twain in the midst of a great technological change: steam powered printing, railroads, and telegraphs were re-forming the landscape of American letters. Michelson contends Twain was shaped by these radical shifts, which BM argues are very similar to the digital revolution today, which Michelson thinks is “killing” the author in a Barthes-ian sense. Though the whole book seems useful, I was particularly interested in chapter four, “Huckleberry Finn and the American Print Revolution,” in which Michelson explores the problem of authorship in Huck Finn. Is the author of HF “Huck” or Twain? Michelson argues this question of split authorship hints at the corporate nature of publication when Twain was writing and suggests the multiple personalities were responsible for any single book in 1885: printers, editors, and illustrators to name a few. Michelson has several interesting pages on the technology of illustration and how that collaboration creates the book. This seems useful to my project by situation Twain among the people and technology who make books and showing the very voice of Huck as a kind of collaboration.


General History of Material Production

  • Casper, Scott E, Nissenbaum, Stephen W, and Michael Winship,eds. History of the Book in America, Volume 3: The Industrial Book, 1840-1880. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Adobe Digital Edition.


Scott Casper, who writes the introduction, is a professor of history at University of Maryland Baltimore County. He specializes in 19th century American cultural studies. Volume 3 focuses on the period between 1840, which, as Raven argues, is when steam printing took off, and 1880, when copyright laws began to change how printers could operate. Not technologically deterministic, Volume 3 examines how industrial printing (which includes industrial production of paper) interacted a growing middle class culture of education and “refinement.” But Volume 3 seems hesitant to locate the source of this new culture in the technology itself: rather the other way around. The most interesting chapter is Susan Williams’s (Provost Ohio State University, focus on women and the book before 1900) Authors and Literary Authorship. Because of the amount of capital needed to produce books at the time, publishers gained power. They would bear the cost of printing but pay the author a royalty (percentage of retail price). Sometimes this led to padded statements, which seems to point to the dishonesty Hill alluded to in his intro. However, authors were used to treating publishers not as business partners, but friends: genteel equals. As a result, many authors were hesitant to negotiate with publishers out of politeness. This changing relation between publishers and authors could certainly relate to Twain’s contentions dealing with his publishers.


  • Chartier, Roger, Henri-Jean Martin. Le histoire de l’edition francaise, Tome 3: Le temps des editeurs: Du romantisme a la Belle Epoque. Paris: Fayard/Promodis, 1985. Print.

 Roger Chartier is Directeur d’Études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He also teaches history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the current leader of the Annales School that examines the mentalities that exist in different historical periods. The Annales School focuses more on beliefs than on materials like other historians do.

Chartier’s book argues that new printing technology, industrialization of intellectual labor and the development of liberalism (during 1830-1900) created flush times for publishers, but led to eventual overproduction. That overproduction, and eventual competition against other forms of information, led to something of a downfall for the book. What is notable is that Chartier emphasizes the public’s demand for books as a separate feature than simple production through technology. This is not a technologically determinist outlook. Chartier focuses on the editor as the key figure in the history of the book from 1830 to 1900. Twain focuses on publishers. It could be interesting to see how editing fit in with Twain.

  • Martin, Henri-Jean, Lucien Febvre. L’apparition du livre. Paris: Albin Michel, 1958. Print.

 Lucien Febvre, the founder of the Annales School, asked Henri-Jean Martin, then a student, to help him on this book. While Febvre died before more than 10% of the book could be finished, his spirit presides over it. Conforming with the Annales School, L’apparition du livre, offers a look at how the book developed over five centuries, paying attention to the production of paper, transportation, and the growth of a reading public. While the book ends before Koenig built his 1814 steam-powered printing press, it could act as a counterpoint to the steam-power that was taking hold in Twain’s time. L’apparition du livre concludes that, at least before steam power, the book was a conservative force. It spread popular views and reinforced dogma. This seems counterintuitive to one who grew up with Fahrenheit 451 and saw books as an agent of change. Even Twain’s literature is often portrayed as socially minded. Perhaps technology, which made books cheaper, allowed for more voices to gain an ear.

  • McKitterick, David. Old Books, New Technologies: The Representation, Conservation and Transformation of Books since 1700. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.

David McKitterick is a professor and librarian at Trinity College. He resigned one of his chairs when the University of London closed the Institute of English Studies. Like Bruce Michelson, McKitterick relates digitization to 19th century publishing techniques. But McKitterick believes that digitization obscures the meaning of the original text by obscuring the form of the book: “form and meaning are inseparable” (14). To try to recover that connection, McKitterick looks back at the way books were handled, studied and produced from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The most interesting section to my project is McKitterick’s examination of the 1877 Caxton exhibition. McKitterick argues that this exhibition caused British scholars to realize “the essential materiality of print…. If [old books] were to be understood… it was necessary to understand their making” (184). This late 19th century realization (that artifacts from the past are also produced from material through labor) relates in really interesting ways to Twain. Twain’s 1889 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court explores this very idea: that the ancient past (6th century) was subject to its own material production that shaped its culture. Certainly Twain, who was very involved in publishing and the material nature of book production, would be aware of the Caxton exhibition. A good paper could examine how contemporary views of the old books shaped views of the past in A Connecticut Yankee.

  • Raven, James. The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade 1450-1850. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Print.

 James Raven is a Professor of history and Director of the Centre for Bibliographical History at the University of Essex. His book, like McKitterick’s, follows printing history from the early modern period to the 19th century. Raven’s limitation is he only follows the English book. However, any background printing knowledge is helpful. Particularly helpful is Raven’s penultimate chapter “Steam and Stamps: Nineteenth Century Transformations.” He discusses the transformation in British publishing that came with Koenig’s 1814 introduction of the steam-powered printing press. At the beginning of the 19th century the steam-powered press produced a variety of cheap texts briefly freeing creative literature from the constraints of capital. But by 1840 the steam-powered improvement in printing forced little publishers out of the business concentrating publishing power in the hands of a few capitalists. Printers’ growing power led to struggles between the author and the publisher for control of the final product. That this happens in the 1840s ties into part of Michelson’s argument that Huck Finn, which is set around 1840, voices Twain’s struggle with the other parties who give life to literature.