Last week, I completed my reading of the 8th book on my Classics Club list, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. What I’m about to say may be quite difficult to believe, but until this book, I had never read anything by Mark Twain. While in high school, when other English classes were reading Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, I was reading Ayn Rand. I’m not exactly sure how that came about, but it most certainly did. Throughout college, I also didn’t have the opportunity to read Twain as the literature course I took was British literature as opposed to American literature.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court was originally published in 1889 both in England and here in the good ole USA. It’s very much a satirical novel in which Twain makes he thoughts known on a variety of topics, such as slavery, political institutions, and most particularly the church, in only such a way that Twain accomplishes quite well in his own unique style.
In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, we discover that Hank Morgan, an industrial worker, wakes up, after being conked in the head, in King Arthur’s England. I wasn’t sure, if at the beginning of the book, if it was a dream or not of Hank’s, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t. Hank quickly realizes the gravity of his situation and acts accordingly in order to stay alive in a society that isn’t anywhere close to being as advanced as late 19th century America.
One of the things he quickly observes, is that the knights of Arthur’s realm are a very superstitious lot, and hold a great deal of fealty to their lord, King Arthur. Being a native of 19th century America, he clearly feels that democratic principles generally serve the greatest amount of people, he holds this system in great disdain, and as such, wants to place himself into the position of being able to disable this system of government.
After getting into the good graces of the king, Hank goes about putting into place a system that will accomplish those very goals. He attempts to innovate England into a state of technological advancement similar to what he experienced in the 19th century. He establishes a telephone/telegraph system, military academies, etc, in order to further his own goals. However, I found it quite impressive that he took advantage of a system he clearly despised, in order to further his own goals, mainly the superstition of the English people.
While, overall, I enjoyed the story immensely, there were parts that I felt were pretty long-winded and could’ve been left out. As I was nearing the end of the book, I found myself wanting it to be over as I was having a hard time trying to exactly see the point. And the end where society seemed to be obliterated, seemed to be a bit far-fetched to me, if you ask me. But overall, I was really impressed with the satirical imagery presented in the book, and I honestly can’t wait to read my next book by Mark Twain. In closing, I figured I’d also share a couple of quotes from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court that caught my eye:
Concentration of power in a political machine is bad; and an Established Church is only a political machine; it was invented for that; it is nursed; cradled, preserved for that; it is an enemy to human liberty, and does no good which it could not better do in a split-up and scattered condition.
I saw this quote on page 160, and it was one of many quotes where you can clearly see Twain’s disregard for established churches and organized religion. I think, that given religion’s role in a lot of European wars, that this statement makes a great deal of sense.
Training – training is everything; training is all there is to a person. We speak of nature; what we call by that misleading name is merely heredity and training. We have no thoughts of our own, no opinions of our own; they are transmitted to us, trained into us.
I saw this quote on page 161, and there is definitely a lot of truth in it, and I strongly feel that it applies to people today as well. Through school, society, religion it is ingrained in us to think a certain way. And that’s why it can be difficult to change the paradigms that surround us. I found the quote to be quite telling, and was very impressed that it was something that Twain mentioned in this book.
If you’ve read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, or any other works by Twain, I’d love to hear what you thought!