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The following review appeared 5 February 2008 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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This collection of eleven essays on the anti-imperialist movement and Mark Twain in Confronting Imperialism gives readers access to much of the scholarly work that Jim Zwick published between 1992 and 2002 in books, journals, and Zwick's sorely missed website. The essays vary in approach and content, but all focus on the larger questions of the history of the anti-imperialist movement and Mark Twain's views of empire, government, and politics. These essays constitute, in Zwick's words, "my continuing effort to trace and interpret his anti-imperialist writings, his involvement with the Anti-Imperialist League, and the history and continuing relevance of the Anti-Imperialist League itself" (x). They are a testament to the scholarly contributions of Jim Zwick to both Mark Twain and American studies.
The first four essays of the book explore the general topic of anti-imperialism as an important social movement, with only minimal reference to Mark Twain. These essays do not seek to provide a comprehensive argument, but rather they attempt to revise some outdated historiographical notions about the meaning of anti-imperialism in the United States.
The first essay, "The Anti-Imperialist Movement, 1898-1921," argues against the popular view, adopted from Theodore Roosevelt and others, that the anti-imperialist movement was short-lived, minimally influential, and largely unsuccessful. Instead, Zwick argues that the Anti-Imperialist League should be viewed as part of a larger social movement whose leadership and members were continuous with later anti-imperialist movements stretching at least into the 1930s (2). Zwick traces the institutional history of the Anti-Imperialist League through three periods (from its founding in 1898 to the election of 1900, through a major split in 1904-1905, and into its final years from 1912-1921), showing that the League changed with its political context while continuing to play a key role in American culture well past its period of initial influence. Also included in this group of essays are "The Anti-Imperialist League and the Origins of Filipino-American Oppositional Solidarity," "What's Age Got to Do With It? The Generation Gap Theory of American Imperialism," and "Oswald Garrison Villard and American Anti-Imperialism: A Biographical Excursion from 1900 to the 1960s."
The final seven essays of this collection focus on Twain's views of different international questions. "Mark Twain's Hawaii" examines Twain's first excursion outside the United States, a four-month visit to the Hawaiian Islands in 1866, and the importance of his writings and speeches on the subject. Zwick writes: "Much of what made Mark Twain a 'quintessentially American' writer did not start to develop in America but in the independent nation of Hawaii in 1866" (67). The subject of Hawaii influenced Mark Twain's thinking on questions of politics, human nature, and America's role in the world for decades after his visit. By tracing the evolution of his thinking on the islands, Zwick illustrates an important foundation for Twain's later views on American empire.
"Mark Twain and the Russian Revolution" discusses his first official public participation in a political cause, when Twain's opposition to the Russian Czar led him to join "The Society of Friends of Russian Freedom" in 1891. Twain wrote several pieces that roundly condemned the Russian monarchy in similar terms as his later anti-imperialist writings. Like his participation in the Anti-Imperialist League, the importance of Twain's writings on Russia have remained largely ignored in Twain studies, apart from Twain's unfortunate sponsorship of Maxim Gorky's visit to New York in 1906, when the "Mrs. Gorky" who had accompanied the Russian writer and activist was discovered to be an actress, not his wife. An essay on Mark Twain's response to the Dreyfus Affair in France further argues for Twain's ability to link abstract questions of freedom and repression with concrete examples of imperialism and racism.
For Mark Twain scholars, the centerpiece of the book will undoubtedly be the essay "'Prodigally Endowed with Sympathy for the Cause': Mark Twain's Involvement with the Anti-Imperialist League." First published in 1994, the essay recovered Twain's contributions to the Anti-Imperialist League--as a vice president of the League from 1901 to 1910, as a participant in the League's propaganda efforts, and as an essayist and speaker who used his fame to promote his political views. Twain did not take an active role in the day-to-day activities of the League, but instead used his name and his writings to express his sympathy with the cause. Twain's anti-imperialist views influenced much of his writing during his final years, in both direct pieces such as "To the Person Sitting in Darkness" and as a theme in writings such as "Extract from Captain's Stormfield's Visit to Heaven," The Mysterious Stranger, and What Is Man? (128). As Zwick points out, Mark Twain's social and political writings were often viewed with confusion by those who viewed his role as a humorist as antithetical to serious writing. This essay recontextualizes Mark Twain's political activities within the larger history of anti-imperialism at the time.
Zwick also provides two brief essays on Mark Twain's connections with various figures related to the imperialist question. The first traces out the links between Twain, the anti-imperialist writer and activist Ernest Crosby, and the illustrator Dan Beard. The second discusses the connections between Twain and Andres Bonifacio, the first leader of the Philippine Revolution, and between Twain and Winston Churchill. These two essays, while not making large historical points like other essays in this book, are interesting to read and point to the historical figures who are linked with Twain through his anti-imperial work.
The final essay of the book, "Mark Twain's Anti-Imperialist Writings in the 'American Century," traces some of the reasons why Mark Twain's anti-imperialism was forgotten in the twentieth century. The historical amnesia about Twain's anti-imperial views can be seen, in Zwick's view, as part of the larger denial of empire in American culture (156). Twain's position as a uniquely American icon makes the cultural status of his anti-imperialist writings "a good reference for understanding the contours of the public debate about imperialism in the twentieth century" (158). While he actively supported anti-imperialist causes and used the theme of anti-imperialism in many of his later writings, Twain chose not to publish certain pieces he viewed as too controversial, and his publisher, Harper and Brothers, refused to publish some that he did submit for publication. After his death, the limited picture of Twain's political views continued when Albert Bigelow Paine and Harpers chose to limit, and in some cases censor, Twain's views to protect what Paine called "the Mark Twain that we knew, the traditional Mark Twain" (166-7). Paine's official versions of Twain's biography, notebooks, letters, and other writings deleted references to subjects deemed too controversial, often specific references to imperialism, and Zwick shows how this "literary fraud" affected scholarship well into the 1970s (171).
After Paine's death in 1937, Twain's daughter Clara continued to promote a whitewashed view of Twain's writings until her death in 1962, when Twain's papers were donated to the University of California at Berkeley and the Mark Twain Project. At the same time, Mark Twain's anti-imperialist views became the subject of Cold War skirmishes between Soviet and American scholars. No longer simply a commercial question, Twain's anti-imperialist views became a matter of international politics. In the 1960s, Twain's views were used to legitimize dissent to American policies in Southeast Asia (175). This use of Mark Twain as a figure who can justify a critique of the government within political debate has continued through our day, demonstrating that the importance of Twain's role as a social critic continues into our time. Zwick does an excellent job tracing these contours over the course of the century.
Confronting Imperialism demonstrates the legacy of Jim Zwick's scholarship on Mark Twain and anti-imperialism. Zwick's 1992 book, Mark Twain's Weapons of Satire: Anti-Imperialist Writings on the Philippine-American War (Syracuse University Press), recovered and contextualized Mark Twain's writings on American intervention in the Philippines, and the book should be credited as a major contribution of the development in both Mark Twain studies and in the push to incorporate the study of nationalism and imperialism into academic disciplines. That book, in combination with Confronting Imperialism has helped restore a central element of Twain's life to scholars and to the larger reading public.
Jim Zwick's recent death from complications of diabetes is an unfortunate loss to scholars interested in Mark Twain, and based on the personal testimony of his friends on this list, a profound loss to those who knew him personally. While I never met Jim, he was kind and gracious in offering me help on several occasions and his scholarly work has influenced the direction of my own career. His work plotted new, significant directions for work on Twain and anti-imperialism that will continue to be influential for years to come.
American Studies, University of Texas, Austin