Catalogue to accompany the exhibition Mark Twain: A Skeptic’s Progress, on view September 17, 2010 through January 2, 2011.
Mark Twain’s life (1835-1910) spanned and era that witnessed the trasnformation of America and the world by the Industrial Revolution. With the expansion of transportation, manufacturing, and communications technology, the focus of American life in the North began to shift from its farms and small towns to its cities. For Twain, such technological, industrial, and urban developments were the means by which America might become a more prosperous and just society and also realize the nineteenth-century ideal of universal progress. But his conflicted love affair with his native South and its rural culture and traditions, his close observation of the natural world, and his skepticism about the possibility of changing human nature made him doubtful about the effectiveness of these means or even the possibility of human progress. In the final two decades of his life, the skeptic saw his worst fears justified in the advance of European imperialism and its attendant atrocities throughout Africa and Asia, and by America’s own imperialist ambitions. Only his faith in the clarity of the written word and its cleansing possibilities remained constant.