You know, I know this has been a slow news week. And going out and interviewing the people of Jamestown, Tenn., about their great pride in being the place where Mark Twain was conceived is one way to fill time.
But I feel like this news report raises more questions than it answers. Is celebrating the literary-history-changing fuck completed by Mr. and Mrs. Clemens promoting gateway sexual activity? Can a town really claim a fetus? I mean, I roll my eyes when Indiana is all, "Abraham Lincoln lived here," as if it counts and Abraham Lincoln actually lived there.
And most of all, have the people of Jamestown actually read any Twain?
Here's a hilarious passage from Life on the Mississippi (which really should have just been called In Which I Invent Snark) where Twain is complaining about the architecture of Baton Rouge, which leads to a tangent about the Athenaeum down in Columbia, Tenn., and finishes with a flourish of a dig at people who run Southern women's colleges:
It is pathetic enough, that a whitewashed castle, with turrets and things — materials all ungenuine within and without, pretending to be what they are not — should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place; but it is much more pathetic to see this architectural falsehood undergoing restoration and perpetuation in our day, when it would have been so easy to let dynamite finish what a charitable fire began, and then devote this restoration-money to the building of something genuine.
Baton Rouge has no patent on imitation castles, however, and no monopoly of them. Here is a picture from the advertisement of the 'Female Institute' of Columbia; Tennessee. The following remark is from the same advertisement —
'The Institute building has long been famed as a model of striking and beautiful architecture. Visitors are charmed with its resemblance to the old castles of song and story, with its towers, turreted walls, and ivy-mantled porches.'
Keeping school in a castle is a romantic thing; as romantic as keeping hotel in a castle.
By itself the imitation castle is doubtless harmless, and well enough; but as a symbol and breeder and sustainer of maudlin Middle-Age romanticism here in the midst of the plainest and sturdiest and infinitely greatest and worthiest of all the centuries the world has seen, it is necessarily a hurtful thing and a mistake.
Here is an extract from the prospectus of a Kentucky 'Female College.' Female college sounds well enough; but since the phrasing it in that unjustifiable way was done purely in the interest of brevity, it seems to me that she-college would have been still better — because shorter, and means the same thing: that is, if either phrase means anything at all —
'The president is southern by birth, by rearing, by education, and by sentiment; the teachers are all southern in sentiment, and with the exception of those born in Europe were born and raised in the south. Believing the southern to be the highest type of civilization this continent has seen,' the young ladies are trained according to the southern ideas of delicacy, refinement, womanhood, religion, and propriety; hence we offer a first-class female college for the south and solicit southern patronage.'
What, warder, ho! the man that can blow so complacent a blast as that, probably blows it from a castle.
So, you know, I wonder: What parts of Twain's opinions on Tennessee and the South do the proud people of Jamestown want to celebrate? Do they, too, think that it's embarrassing how people living in the greatest century to exist turned their faces to the past instead? Do they, too, think the idea of "the southern being the highest type of civilization this content has seen" is a hilarious unintentional joke? Or are they just so eager to be associated with someone famous that they don't care what he says about them, as long as he said something?
I think Twain would find that funny as well.