A Connecticut yankee in King Arthur’s court (Mark Twain) [1889]

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En briljant roman om ‘den upplyste despoten’. Mekaniker slår i huvudet, när han vaknar upp befinner han sig i England under medeltiden. Det blir en fantastisk pulvrisering av det idealiserade viktorianska samhället, med riddare, kungligheter och så kallad ära. Twain vänder upp och ned på hela den världen! Det är en värld full av fattigdom, svält och misär, de adliga porträtteras som totalt inkompetenta parasiter, kyrkan (som vanligt i Twains värld) sprider vidskeplighet och nonsens som maktmedel, och så vidare i all oändlighet.

Det är ljuv musik för slitna öron när Twain överträffar sig själv i nya sätt att förgöra mytologin kring noblessens dygder. Långt ifrån lika sorgfritt som de föregående berättelserna om Huck och Tom, inte ännu så cynisk som i Mysterious stranger. Men trots despotens fullständiga överlägsenhet och hans osvikligt goda intentioner för folket, kollapsar riket som han bygger upp. En varningsklocka om något sjukt i mänsklig natur, som Twain skulle komma att utveckla mer senare.

There did not seem to be brains enough in the entire nursery, so to speak, to bait a fish-hook with.

It’s a little thing – glass is – until it is absent, then it becomes a big thing. But perhaps the worst of all was, that there wasn’t any sugar, coffee, tea, or tobacco.

Look at the opportunities here for a man of knowledge, brains, pluck, and enterprise to sail in and grow up with the country. The grandest field that ever was; and all my own; not a competitor; not a man who wasn’t a baby to me in acquirements and capacities; whereas, what would I amount to in the twentieth century?

Som vanligt spikar MT klassaspekten, men snarare än att endast sympatiskt skildra den fattiges vedermödor (Jim i Huckleberry Finn, Prince and the pauper, etc), riktar han gång på gång dräpande slag mot överheten:

Well, it was a curious country, and full of interest. And the people! They were the quaintest and simplest and trustingest race; why, they were nothing but rabbits. It was pitiful for a person born in a wholesome free atmosphere to listen to their humble and hearty outpourings of loyalty toward their king and Church and nobility; as if they had any more occasion to love and honor king and Church and noble than a slave has to love and honor the lash, or a dog has to love and honor the stranger that kicks him! Why, dear me, ANY kind of royalty, howsoever modified, ANY kind of aristocracy, howsoever pruned, is rightly an insult; but if you are born and brought up under that sort of arrangement you probably never find it out for yourself, and don’t believe it when somebody else tells you. It is enough to make a body ashamed of his race to think of the sort of froth that has always occupied its thrones without shadow of right or reason, and the seventh-rate people that have always figured as its aristocracies — a company of monarchs and nobles who, as a rule, would have achieved only poverty and obscurity if left, like their betters, to their own exertions.

Pjoskandet för adeln:

The most of King Arthur’s British nation were slaves, pure and simple, and bore that name, and wore the iron collar on their necks; and the rest were slaves in fact, but without the name; they imagined themselves men and freemen, and called themselves so. The truth was, the nation as a body was in the world for one object, and one only: to grovel before king and Church and noble; to slave for them, sweat blood for them, starve that they might be fed, work that they might play, drink misery to the dregs that they might be happy, go naked that they might wear silks and jewels, pay taxes that they might be spared from paying them, be familiar all their lives with the degrading language and postures of adulation that they might walk in pride and think themselves the gods of this world. And for all this, the thanks they got were cuffs and contempt; and so poor-spirited were they that they took even this sort of attention as an honor.

Briljant, briljant, briljant. Om kyrkans symbios med överklassen:

But then the Church came to the front, with an axe to grind; and she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one way to skin a cat — or a nation; she invented ”divine right of kings,” and propped it all around, brick by brick, with the Beatitudes — wrenching them from their good purpose to make them fortify an evil one; she preached (to the commoner) humility, obedience to superiors, the beauty of self-sacrifice; she preached (to the commoner) meekness under insult; preached (still to the commoner, always to the commoner) patience, meanness of spirit, non-resistance under oppression; and she introduced heritable ranks and aristocracies, and taught all the Christian populations of the earth to bow down to them and worship them.

Kanske väl idealiserande 1800-talets Amerika, men det är i enlighet med bokens budskap:

Even down to my birth-century that poison was still in the blood of Christendom, and the best of English commoners was still content to see his inferiors impudently continuing to hold a number of positions, such as lordships and the throne, to which the grotesque laws of his country did not allow him to aspire; in fact, he was not merely contented with this strange condition of things, he was even able to persuade himself that he was proud of it. It seems to show that there isn’t anything you can’t stand, if you are only born and bred to it. Of course that taint, that reverence for rank and title, had been in our American blood, too — I know that; but when I left America it had disappeared — at least to all intents and purposes.

Kommentar överflödig:

And yet they were not slaves, not chattels. By a sarcasm of law and phrase they were freemen. Seven-tenths of the free population of the country were of just their class and degree: small ”independent” farmers, artisans, etc.; which is to say, they were the nation, the actual Nation; they were about all of it that was useful, or worth saving, or really respect-worthy, and to subtract them would have been to subtract the Nation and leave behind some dregs, some refuse, in the shape of a king, nobility and gentry, idle, unproductive, acquainted mainly with the arts of wasting and destroying, and of no sort of use or value in any rationally constructed world.

…but our shudders are all for the ”horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heart-break?

Then I saw that she was right, and gave her permission to hang the whole band. This little relaxation of sternness had a good effect upon the queen.

All that is original in us, and therefore fairly creditable or discreditable to us, can be covered up and hidden by the point of a cambric needle, all the rest being atoms contributed by, and inherited from, a procession of ancestors that stretches back a billion years to the Adam-clam or grasshopper or monkey from whom our race has been so tediously and ostentatiously and unprofitably developed.

Here they were, kenneled like toads in the same rock; they had passed nine pitch dark years within fifty feet of each other, yet neither knew whether the other was alive or not. All the first years, their only question had been — asked with beseechings and tears that might have moved stones, in time, perhaps, but hearts are not stones: ”Is he alive?” ”Is she alive?” But they had never got an answer; and at last that question was not asked any more — or any other.

I was gradually coming to have a mysterious and shuddery reverence for this girl; nowadays whenever she pulled out from the station and got her train fairly started on one of those horizonless transcontinental sentences of hers, it was borne in upon me that I was standing in the awful presence of the Mother of the German Language. I was so impressed with this, that sometimes when she began to empty one of these sentences on me I unconsciously took the very attitude of reverence, and stood uncovered; and if words had been water, I had been drowned, sure. She had exactly the German way; whatever was in her mind to be delivered, whether a mere remark, or a sermon, or a cyclopedia, or the history of a war, she would get it into a single sentence or die. Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.

An aristocracy, is but a band of slaveholders under another name. This has a harsh sound, and yet should not be offensive to any — even to the noble himself — unless the fact itself be an offense: for the statement simply formulates a fact. The repulsive feature of slavery is the THING, not its name. One needs but to hear an aristocrat speak of the classes that are below him to recognize — and in but indifferently modified measure — the very air and tone of the actual slaveholder; and behind these are the slaveholder’s spirit, the slaveholder’s blunted feeling.

He was great now; sublimely great. The rude statues of his ancestors in his palace should have an addition — I would see to that; and it would not be a mailed king killing a giant or a dragon, like the rest, it would be a king in commoner’s garb bearing death in his arms that a peasant mother might look her last upon her child and be comforted.

This was depressing — to a man with the dream of a republic in his head. It reminded me of a time thirteen centuries away, when the ”poor whites” of our South who were always despised and frequently insulted by the slave-lords around them, and who owed their base condition simply to the presence of slavery in their midst, were yet pusillanimously ready to side with the slave-lords in all political moves for the upholding and perpetuating of slavery, and did also finally shoulder their muskets and pour out their lives in an effort to prevent the destruction of that very institution which degraded them.

Debatt med ledare från grannlandskapet:

…the first statesman of the age, the capablest man, the best-informed man in the entire world, the loftiest uncrowned head that had moved through the clouds of any political firmament for centuries, sitting here apparently defeated in argument by an ignorant country blacksmith!

Kungen säljs som slav:

Dear, dear, it only shows that there is nothing diviner about a king than there is about a tramp, after all. He is just a cheap and hollow artificiality when you don’t know he is a king. But reveal his quality, and dear me it takes your very breath away to look at him. I reckon we are all fools. Born so, no doubt.

I urged that kings were dangerous. He said, then have cats. He was sure that a royal family of cats would answer every purpose. They would be as useful as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would have the same virtues and the same treacheries, the same disposition to get up shindies with other royal cats, they would be laughably vain and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive; finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other royal house, and ”Tom VII., or Tom XI., or Tom XIV. by the grace of God King,” would sound as well as it would when applied to the ordinary royal tomcat with tights on.

defalcation = förskingring
exegesis = förklaring / kritisk tolkning av text (ffa religiösa sammanhang?)
usufruct = nyttjanderätt av någon annans/gemensamt ägd egendom
pillory = substantiv: schavottering/skampåle ELLER verb: ”att schavottera” / förnedra
hellion = bråkstake
Annonser

~ av bookplanet på februari 7, 2013.

Ett svar to “A Connecticut yankee in King Arthur’s court (Mark Twain) [1889]”

  1. […] observante läsaren har redan noterat otaliga likheter med Mark Twains skrivande (framför allt A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s court, förstås), och hans skärskådande av såväl kyrka som ridderliga ideal. Nedanstående stycke […]

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