Mark Twain’s classic American novel “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” will be discussed by Island resident John Crelan at the Oak Bluffs library at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, April 19. The presentation, free and open to the public, is the second in a discussion series called “Islanders Read the Classics” (IRTC), sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Times in partnership with the Martha’s Vineyard Library Association.
Mr. Crelan, an Oak Bluffs resident, has taught English and creative writing at Emerson College and published satire, plays, poetry, and book reviews. He is the executive director of Arts & Society, a nonprofit organization that presents concerts, concert dramas, and literary events, including the on-Island annual Bloomsbury celebration of James Joyce’s work. Mr. Crelan is also a native of Hartford, Conn., where Mark Twain made his home for many years. His presentation will feature slides from Hartford cultural sites.
Interest in rereading classic literature has been ongoing for several years in America. Pulitzer Prizewinning literary savant Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post reconsidered “A Connecticut Yankee” in a 2009 piece, in which Mr. Yardley said Twain (né Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was “celebrated and loved as humorist and journalist, was America’s first truly great writer, and had engineered his way into the classroom, which today is probably the place where people first encounter him.”
Twain’s best-known novels, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” published in 1876, and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1884), established Mr. Clemens, once a Missourian riverboat pilot, in the popular firmament, but Mr. Yardley argued that the Huck Finn tale also “was a literary masterpiece of immense depth and complexity.”
Critics have argued that “A Connecticut Yankee,” published in 1899, plumbed deeper levels of societal perspectives as well. The book tells the improbable tale of Hank Morgan, the manager of a Hartford munitions plant, who is knocked out in a fracas at his workplace and regains consciousness in sixth-century England, at the court of King Arthur.
The practical Yankee sets about “fixing” life in feudal times, and the tale unwinds around societal ills and the effects of mechanization, and includes more than a few opinions we’ve heard on the presidential campaign trail this year.
Mark Twain’s life is a story in itself. Born in Florida, Mo., in 1835, Mr. Twain’s life spanned the era of the Wild West, where he mined for gold; then he riverboated on the Mississippi until he eventually newspapered his way into celebrated authorship. But he also observed the blooming of the Industrial Revolution, locomotion, auto and air travel in the early 20th century before his death in 1910 in Redding, Conn., a perspective that informed his viewpoints and his work.
Mr. Crelan’s talk on Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” will take place at the Oak Bluffs library on Tuesday, April 19, at 6:30 pm.