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Huck and Hank go to the circus: Mark Twain under Barnum's big top

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This essay argues that Mark Twain's acquaintance with P. T. Barnum, and more especially Twain's fascination with the world of popular entertainment that Barnum epitomized, provided inspiration and material for some of Twain's most enduring works. In particular, the essay argues that two of Twain's most revered novels The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court (1889) are invested both thematically and generically in the complex cultural associations of the postbellum circus. Embodying the commercial capitalism of industrialized America whilst also offering a romantic liberation from everyday life, the circus becomes a condensation of many of the competing impulses of Twain's life and work: between irreverent humour and sober social critique and between the desire for imaginative freedom and a recognition of financial imperatives.

Keywords: American circus; Barnum; Connecticut Yankee; Court popular; Huckleberry Finn; Twain; at King Arthur's; entertainment

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Nottingham.

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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  • The European Journal of American Culture (EJAC) is an academic, refereed journal for scholars, academics and students from many disciplines with a common involvement in the interdisciplinary study of America and American culture, drawing on a variety of approaches and encompassing the whole evolution of the country.
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