The format is recognizable to contemporary readers—Boswell, in the manner of, say, Dick Cavett, prods his all too opinionated subject with deliberately leading questions about matters literary, moral, and philosophical.
A typical exchange proceeds thus: "I attempted to argue for the superiour happiness of the savage life, upon the usual fanciful topicks. The savages have no bodily advantages beyond those of civilized men. No, Sir; you are not to talk such paradox: Let me have no more on't. It cannot entertain, far less can it instruct. While there is an eighty-year span between the last of the conversations recorded by Boswell and the first of the interviews included in the Twain volume, neither style nor substance changes much. Not unlike Johnson, Twain was every inch the public performer.
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Indeed, many of the interviews from the book's thirty-nine-year period were given while he was on national or international speaking tours. Twain exhibited a slyly iconoclastic verbal style that meshed neatly with the persona his audiences had come to know through his writing. In full Johnsonian mode, the author deigned to micturate from a great height upon the very process of interrogation: "You don't love the interviewer, I see, Mr. Clemens," a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter said during Twain's visit to that city in The oracular tone and curmudgeonly wit were the author's conversational mainstays over his long career.
Reporters from Boston to Bombay, from Cincinnati to Sydney, could count on this patented display of Authorial Presence to fill the pages of their newspapers and weekly magazines.
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A reading of these reports from distant and familiar quarters, decade after decade, evinces just how rote Twain's responses, as well as the questions, became. The interviews take on something of the ritualized aspect of a minstrel show, with the great man playing comic end man while the reporter serves as Mr. Invariably, each profile introduces Twain with extravagant honorifics "the most refined humorist that America, and probably the world, has ever known" , a quick tour of the famous visage "his long untidy hair, and ferocious mustache; and the grey eyes that are not ferocious, but kind, and gentle, and pathetic" , and some characterization of his voice, which almost always is said to "drawl.
Given his canny, even prescient grasp of the monetary value of celebrity, Twain understood the value of giving interviews in spite of the disdain he felt for them. His financial straits often necessitated lecture tours and the consequent encounters with journalists. In fact, he often required them to paraphrase his words rather than quote him directly—he preferred, editor Gary Scharnhorst notes, "to sell his words rather than give them away. He was especially obsessed with the last topic—always at the ready to delve into the economic minutiae of an author's remuneration.
He was, by turns, bombastic, pedantic, droll, and charming—his showmanship never flagging. It's a daunting example, one that even the most charismatic contemporary writer might be hard-pressed to match. Twain enthusiastically initiated his commodification unburdened by self-consciousness; he saw no contradiction in hustling his wares while remaining a member in good standing of what Jonathan Franzen, in the midst of his recent brush with celebrity, called the "high-art literary tradition.
If Twain often impersonated a dyspeptic curmudgeon, Theodore Dreiser didn't need to dig too deeply for his performance. He shared a barbed disposition with his friend H. Mencken and was rarely reluctant to complain—about small-minded Americans, censorious publishers, Hollywood moguls, plutocrats, the Soviet Union, labor unrest, and the general stupidity and cupidity of mankind.
He did all this while shrewdly ensuring that his numerous interviews this volume includes 74 out of what editors Donald Pizer and Frederic E.
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Rusch estimate to be a total of promoted his publications. In what might be thought of as obligatory invocations of the muse before their inquisitions, many authors dismiss or challenge the very legitimacy of the interview process. His first novel, Sister Carrie , was withdrawn from publication by one firm and bowdlerized by its eventual publisher, and for decades afterward, the author bore a vigorous grudge. In , he aired the untrue claim that Frank Doubleday had backed out of publishing the novel because the businessman's wife objected to its subject matter.
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Doubleday did refuse to produce the book, but there's no evidence he did so because of his wife. Nearly forty years later, in , the novelist continued to flog the poor lady: "After Mrs. Doubleday had Sister Carrie scrapped, kept out of circulation. Why, you'd have thought I was the devil. Nobody would have anything to do with me—none of the people in power. Interviewers accommodated Dreiser's debate-team demeanor, sometimes casting their encounters as fraught. In a interview with the Jewish Journal —Dreiser was in San Francisco to visit jailed labor activist Tom Mooney—the author uncorked a series of deliberately trenchant pronouncements: "Jews are marked by a strong feeling for the conservation and use of power.
They've always yelled about Justice, but with the thought of making things easier for themselves. Reform Judaism is the only tolerable kind of Judaism.
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I had an opportunity to carefully inspect his bronzed face. I noticed that although he spoke vehemently but quietly, and seemed to possess great repose, nevertheless his mind and body were taut. He returned with a jerk to [the subject of] intermarriage. Certainly, they all approached the "Literary Mastodon" with an awe and deference that can barely be imagined in our present moment, when writers more often are the objects of derision or stand as the accused in some ethical scandal.
Substitute the name of any contemporary figure for Dreiser's in the following sentence and try not to chuckle: "There is something revelatory in listening to Dreiser talk, and in watching him. You see a tall man, lithely put together; you see a sculptural head, massive of structure, and with features formed on a large scale and ruggedly, as if hewn laboriously out of rock.
The seriousness that attended these interviews—mostly done in the '20s and '30s—reflects their historical moment. Dreiser was queried about all the momentous issues of the day—Freud, the Depression, isolationism—and never took refuge in the feint of merely being an artist. Luke : He caught me sleeping.
Giles : [To Willow] Well then help me in researching this Harvest affair. It seems to be some sort of preordained massacre. Rivers of blood, hell on Earth. Quite charmless. I'm a bit fuzzy, however, on the details.
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Buffy : Welcome to the New World. Xander : This is just too much. I mean, yesterday my life's like, 'Uh-oh, pop quiz. Willow : I know. And everyone else thinks it's just a normal day. Xander : Nobody knows. It's like we've got this big secret. Willow : We do. That's what a secret is, when you know something other guys don't. Giles : It may be that we are all that stands between the Earth and utter destruction. Buffy : Well, I gotta look on the bright side.
Maybe I can still get kicked out of school. Xander : Oh, yeah, that's a plan. Cause lots of schools aren't on Hellmouths. Willow : Maybe you could blow something up. They're really strict about that.
Buffy : I was thinking of a more subtle approach, ya know, like excessive not-studying. Giles : [to himself as the others are walking away] The Earth is doomed. Witch [ edit ] Giles : Why should someone want to harm Cordelia? Willow : Maybe because they met her? Did I say that? Willow : You're the Slayer, and we're, like, the Slayerettes! Xander : I laugh in the face of danger!
Then I Joyce : Look what I found. It's my yearbook from junior year. There I am. Buffy : Mom, I've accepted that you've had sex. I am not ready to know that you had Farrah hair. Joyce : This is Gidget hair. Don't they teach you anything in history? Giles: This is madness. What could you have been thinking? You are the Slayer. Lives depend upon you.