Last night Scott read to me Mark Twain’s essay on Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. I’m sure most of you are familiar with it but I was not. Dear readers, I laughed. A lot.
Mr Twain, it seems, was unfond of Cooper’s writing. In one of the bits that made me laugh the hardest, Twain sets out the “nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction,” and exactly how Cooper violated them. The fifth of these rules requires that
when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. But this requirement has been ignored from the beginning of the “Deerslayer” tale to the end of it
Excuse me. I am rolling about laughing all over again. As it happens, I have attempted to read Copper (The Last of the Mohicans) and was completely unable to finish it and the insanely ridiculous dialogue was a big part of that. Also I just finished reading a book that violated this rule just as outrageously as Cooper did.
Bless you, Mr Twain. This almost makes up for your insane blindness on the subject of Jane Austen. Almost.
Of course, I do hope Mr Cooper was dead when the article was published. I’d feel awful if he ever read that essay. I mean, yes, I know, criticism is part of this business but still. Vicious. (Even if completely true.)
I do find this kind of savage (but accurate) criticism a pleasure to read. (When done well.) But on the other hand I always feel dreadful for the writer and/or book it’s aimed at. Because it really is mean. And yet . . .
I have a similar discomfort with Go Fug Yourself. I love that site. I adore laughing at dreadful clothes. I figure as they only take aim at celebrities it’s okay. Laughing at people with more social status is very different from the other way around.
But I also can’t help thinking that celebrities, no matter how annoying, are people too, and wondering how I’d feel having my favourite outfit so mercilessly mocked. Then I feel less good for laughing at their lime green formal pants teamed with black fishnet stockings, tan spike-heeled pumps, a pastel pink Bonds singlet and a white fedora worn backwards. But seriously, how could anyone not mock such a combination?
In the meantime, the Twain essay on Cooper is still making me laugh.