When A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court was published in 1889, Mark Twain was undergoing a series of personal and professional crises. Thus what began as a literary burlesque of British chivalry and culture grew into a disturbing satire of modern technology and social thought. The story of Hank Morgan, a nineteenth-century American who is accidentally returned to sixth-century England, is a powerful analysis of such issues as monarchy versus democracy and free will versus determinism, but it is also one of Twain's finest comic novels, still fresh and funny after more than 100 years.
This novel tells the story of Hank Morgan, the quintessential self-reliant New Englander who brings to King Arthur’s Age of Chivalry the “great and beneficent” miracles of nineteenth-century engineering and American ingenuity. Through the collision of past and present, Twain exposes the insubstantiality of both utopias, destroying the myth of the romantic ideal as well as his own era’s faith in scientific and social progress.
A central document in American intellectual history, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is at once a hilarious comedy of anachronisms and incongruities, a romantic fantasy, a utopian vision, and a savage, anarchic social satire that only one of America’s greatest writers could pen.
Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, led one of the most exciting and adventuresome of literary lives. Raised in the river town of Hannibal, Missouri, Twain had to leave school at age twelve to seek work. He was successfully a journeyman printer, a steamboat pilot, a halfhearted Confederate soldier (for a few weeks), and a prospector, miner, a reporter in the western territories. With the publication in 1865 of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” Twain gained national attention as a frontier humorist, and with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1855), he was acknowledged by the literary establishment as one of the greatest writers America would ever produce.
In 1880 Twain began promoting and financing heavily the ill-fated Paige typesetter, an invention designed to make the printing process fully automatic. This enterprise drained his energy and funds for almost fifteen years, until it drove him to the brink of bankruptcy. Ironically at the height of his naively optimistic involvement in his technological “wonder,” he published his satirical A Connecticut Yankee in King’s Arthur’s Court (1889), as though the writer in him could see the dangers the investor in him was blind to.
Toward the end of his life, plagued by personal tragedy and financial failure, Mark Twain grew more and more pessimistic–an outlook not alleviated by his natural skepticism and sarcasm. Though his fame continued to widen. Twain spent his last years in gloom and exasperation, writing fables about “the damned human race.”
"Twain is the funniest literary American writer. . . . [I]t must have been a great pleasure to be him."