Mark Twain's secret writings
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Mark Twain’s life-long fascination with enciphered literature is a little known aspect of his otherwise exceptionally well-documented literary career. Apart from a handful of articles tangentially touching on the issue of ciphers, there is almost no scholarship on the topic. This dissertation argues that encipherment is an essential component of Twain’s fiction. The argument redefines Twain as a skilled formalist who uses encryption in order to express covertly his most candid political and philosophical views. By redefining Twain as a formalist, I question the critical consensus that Twain is primarily a realist writer whose strength lies in his use of mimetic prose to truthfully represent the various speech patterns, lifestyles, and idiosyncrasies of nineteenth-century American life. The consensus that Twain’s writing is mimetic is often paired with the assumption that Twain is an intuitive writer whose “most exciting narrative,” in the words of Twain scholar Bruce Michelson (1995), “exemplifies no formal strategy.” The idea that Twain is a spontaneous writer of mimetic prose, however, has led to an enduring blindness towards Twain’s more subtle narrative craftsmanship such as his art of encryption. The oversight of Twain’s ciphers by more than a century’s worth of scholarship suggests the need for a fundamentally different interpretive framework for grasping the formal design of his works. The implication of this project is at once taxing and exciting: taxing because it drastically increases the degree of attentiveness to detail that readers must bring to bear on Twain’s fiction, but exciting because it opens up the possibility that numerous other enciphered texts could be hidden in Twain’s works.