Thursday, April 22, 2010
So what did he think of Wallace’s writing style? Twain’s handwriting on one of the endpages of his copy of Wallace’s 1906 Autobiography is pictured here, and the transcription below spells it out clearly:
“The English of this book is incorrect & slovenly & its diction, as a rule, barren of distinction. I wonder what ‘Ben-Hur’ is like.”
This may be professional jealousy on Twain’s part. After all, Wallace’s epic – which Twain had apparently not read – outsold Twain’s work handily.
On the other hand, he’s kind of right. I mean, a two-volume autobiography? I’m not sure if he learned to be long-winded or if it was just his personality, but Lew could go on a bit. Modern readers in particular can get lost in the flowery, descriptive sentences that fill Lew’s writings. But, if it was “slovenly”, as Twain puts it, then why was Ben-Hur so popular? Was Mark Twain’s grammatical knowledge that far above the masses, or was he nitpicking other authors of popular works?
Frankly, even as a self-proclaimed “grammar Nazi”, I find Twain’s comments unnecessarily abrasive. True, some of his better-known works – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for instance – contain diction that is quite distinctive, enough to prompt some school districts to ban some of them from the required reading list. But, is his work “correct” enough to qualify him to criticize so harshly? Wallace was not the only recipient of his reproach. Perhaps the question for the ages is not so much, “did Lew Wallace’s writings measure up?” as, “can Mark Twain make these claims?”
Friday, April 16, 2010
Out of the mouths of babes – an eighth-grader on a recent school visit made a striking connection between the popularity of Lew Wallace’s masterwork and the rise of new novels made into films. One aspect of the Ben-Hur legacy is merchandising in a variety of franchises and media – books, films, comics, you name it. Just as Mel Brooks immortalized in the film Spaceballs, after Ben-Hur rose to great fame they came out with Ben-Hur the children’s books, Ben-Hur the action figures, Ben-Hur the hairpins, Ben-Hur the freezer...and on and on. Merchants figured they could sell just about everything imaginable by attaching the name of a popular novel to the products. The concept has continued into modern literature and films as merchants continue to market lunchboxes, posters, and clothing by attaching images of popular media. It all comes back to Ben-Hur.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Kids compete at tug-of-war at Lew Wallace's 183rd Birthday Celebration on the grounds of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum on Saturday, April 10, 2010.
Young visitors color stained glass designs at Lew Wallace's 183rd Birthday Celebration on the grounds of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum on Saturday, April 10, 2010.
Visitors try walking with old-fashioned stilts at Lew Wallace's 183rd Birthday Celebration on the grounds of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum on Saturday, April 10, 2010.
General Lew Wallace, and a dead-on homemade dough facsimile, skillfully crafted by one of our visitors for Lew's birthday!