Two Old-Timey Things

1. Google is marking Mark Twain’s birthday with a mess. Huck Finn is making Tom Sawyer paint a fence?! That doesn’t make sense on at least two levels. I just don’t think it’s a compliment to fuck up a man’s iconic work like that.

2. Bridgett reminded me that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, which was one of the worst losses for the South in the Civil War and is regarded as one of the most colossal disasters in the history of warfare. I believe the Confederates lost more generals in this battle than had ever been (and it still may be a record) killed in a single battle ever. Yes, ever. So, that’s… um… kind of embarrassing. Even worse is that the Confederates basically committed suicide by soldier in order to stop the Union from retreating. I know there are many, many good reasons why the Confederates did not want to let the Union forces get to Nashville. Don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying that when someone is trying to run away from you, it makes them handing you your ass even more embarrassing.

We’re just two weeks out from the Battle of Nashville.

I read Lucy Virginia French Smith (or maybe Smith French)’s diary when she was up in McMinnville and the thing that struck me–well, two things–is that they’d hear of these battles quite quickly (in her case, she said she could even hear the guns from the Battle of Murfreesboro) and they’d always be framed as Confederate victories. Only days later would they learn the truth. It’s weird to think of those false days when they got to live with the idea that they were winning. I wonder if that’s part of what encouraged insurrections like the Klan. They’d felt as true an alternative history in which they’d had great victories. It seemed as possible as defeat.

Second was the absolute terror she felt after Lincoln was assassinated, sure that the Federal army would come into the South and slaughter everyone. And you know, frankly, it was a possibility. A very likely possibility. We don’t hear about it now because it didn’t happen, but Booth was willing to risk the lives of the very people he claimed to be acting on behalf of.

13 thoughts on “Two Old-Timey Things

  1. I’ll try my best to not ramble on too much about these two topics, even though they’re both wheelhouse-adjacent.

    1. I think most people just think “Tom Sawyer=Fence; Huck Finn=Raft” these days. I’m afraid we are now witnessing the first Post -Twain generation. So many Twain references fall on deaf ears anymore, and that makes me sad. I know we’ve got to flush some things down the memory hole to make room for new experiences. But subbing Dan Brown for Mark Twain is hurty in my brain and heart places.

    2. For all that Booth tried to frame himself as a folk hero, he was at heart a theatrical buffoon. He never thought through his actions beyond the Blaze Of Glory moment. If he had, he would have realized that the leap to the stage would have incapacitated him. I go back and forth on the guilt of Mary Surratt, but she’s a prime example of one of the many unintended consequences of I’m Not As Revered As My Brother So I Have To Make My Mark Wilkes Booth’s hairbrained scheme.

    And I’m stopping now because if I don’t this will become a book-length comment on the ins and outs of the Assasination. And it will be a better comment with more accuracy than O’Reilly’s farkakte book.


  2. 1. Yeah, but if you’re going to honor the dude, don’t you make sure you get it right? I’m not going to honor Mandelbrot by putting up a picture of a simple circle, you know? It’s weird as hell.

    2. I sometimes try to imagine if Drew Barrymore had an assassin sister or if one of the Baldwins was. But it’s so strange to think of it. But I agree. Booth seemed to have considered the theatricality of the moment, but not what could happen in the aftermath. I mean, not to put to fine a point on it, but the South had just been decimated by a terrible War. It’s like France after World War I. Who did he think was left to fight and would still have the stomach for it?

  3. 1. I’m not going to honor Mandelbrot by putting up a picture of a simple circle

    This is genius.

    2. The least theatrically successful Baldwin brother has found another way to keep his name before the public. If JW Booth had lived in the days of the internet….

  4. Oh, I don’t think the picture honours Twain in the least. But it speaks VOLUMES about the level of Twain ignorance out there.

    He’s all kinds of Hipster-Trendy because of the autobiography, which is why I surmise they decided to do the fauxmemoration in the first place. But he’s become the latest Author Who Is Cool To Reference Even If You Have No Basic Knowledge Of His Actual Work (see also: Joyce, James; Chabon, Michael; Stephenson, Neal)

  5. I do not doubt your word, but I’ll admit that I haven’t come across mentions of Chabon’s work by people who haven’t read it. Mentions of his looks, yes.

  6. Booth was from Maryland (for the most part only tangentially affected by the brunt of the war’s horror) and spent most of the war touring Northern cities. He had no idea of what the war had been like in Mississippi, for example, beyond the devils that danced in his imagination. Lost Causers like him loved the dream until it killed the dreamers.

  7. I feel this sense of deja vu, as in I am almost certain that I have seen that Twain graphic before, in an edition of Huckleberry Finn I read at my grandparents’ house as a little kid. Weird. Wish I knew how to confirm that.

  8. I do not doubt your word, but I’ll admit that I haven’t come across mentions of Chabon’s work by people who haven’t read it.

    It may just be me, and in my experience it was most prevalent when AoK&K first came out. That was sort of the book everyone at parties pretended to have read. At least the parties I went to.

  9. Okay….

    According to this article:

    The kid in the hat is NOT Finn but Sawyer (?) and the other kid is Random Neighbour Patsy.

    so…am I Twain-ignorant? I didn’t think so.

    I went back and read the story excerpt, and Sawyer isn’t wearing the hat in that scene. I know his Birds nest hat is iconographic to a point, and that such hats are called “Tom Sawyer hats” but according to the actual stories (well, my recollection and a brush up scan of them in Google Books), Tom is usually put together pretty nicely while Huck is the more disheveled one.

    I guess since EVERYONE in the world seems to think that the mural looks good I’ll defer and shut my mouth. But my first thought was yours–the behatted kid is Huck and the other kid is Tom.

  10. I didn’t think it was Huck & Tom but Tom & Ben. Huck was mostly never put together, but Tom tried his best to look like Huck when aunt Polly couldn’t see him. He too wore a straw hat and rarely wore shoes.

    I don’t know anything about the level of research google’s doodlers undertake. But I’m not bothered by this one.

    But I am bothered that fewer Americans know much about Twain these days because the books aren’t read, or because they’re read having been whitewashed (ha, that worked well) and thus even those who seem to know what he’s arguing don’t know.

  11. Oh, flannerycat, I bet you’re right. They probably just modified a public domain image, but yeah, I still think it looks like Huck and Tom.

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