"Absorb the Character":
Acting and "Authenticity"
In the 1880s and the 1890s, when dramatic readings by authors had been established as a fashion and a staple of the lecture circuit, Mark Twain frequently "acted" his works at the lectern. This was especially the case during his reading tour with George Washington Cable in the 1884 to 1885 season. As he polished his delivery, Twain later recalled, he kept in the back of his mind the readings he had seen by Dickens in 1867—highly theatrical events, with the black-suited Dickens against a red background, brightly lit while his audience "sat in a pleasant twilight," a separation further underscored by Dickens's refusal to acknowledge his audience. "It will be understood," wrote Twain, "that he did not merely read but also acted," gesturing, modulating his voice, riveting his spectators. After a week of readings with Cable, however, Twain decided that it was not sufficient "to do like Dickens—get out on the platform and read from the book." Instead, Twain memorized his passages. When reading from a text, he explained, "You are a mimic, and not the person involved; you are an artificiality, not a reality; whereas in telling the tale without the book you absorb the character, just as in the case of an actor."
A different aspiration from that of deadpan performance, this aim of obliterating the gap between artist and creation, performer and character, had pertinence for Twain, of course, beyond the genre of dramatic readings. This was especially true for the Mark Twain of this period, who by the 1880s had a claim to literary credentials, but could still be beset with the anxiety, as he reportedly (perhaps apocryphally) said to Cable, that he was "demeaning" himself on the lecture platform, "allowing myself to be a mere buffoon" instead of a serious artist. The concerns here—between mimicry and identification, detachment and absorption, and the artificial and the real—were crucial questions now for Mark Twain as a "realist" writer, as a
depicter of characters he evaluated according to their "authenticity," and they were rehearsed again and again in his writings, especially in the 1880s and thereafter.
These concerns bore upon a host of questions about representation: how an actor or writer could represent another person, what conscious or unconscious processes enabled such representation, what kinds of selves were best suited to represent other selves, and whether an artist could represent people of other classes, genders, and races. They resurrected, of course, old arguments over whether acting (or dramatic reading, or writing) properly flowed from the heart or from the head, from inner resources of emotion and character or from fabrication and calculation. Mark Twain's versions of these disputes, however, drew upon contemporary reconceptualizations of emotional expression and "character" and, ultimately, on changing cultural conceptions of the self. The ways in which habit, repetition and "practice," automatisms, and other unconscious processes constituted both expression and character, and circumvented mimicry and artificiality in art, became preoccupations, as we shall see, in Huckleberry Finn (1884), A Connecticut Yankee (1889), and Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894). Not coincidentally, the 1880s saw a renewed and heightened debate over these questions among actors and critics Mark Twain knew and in the magazines of the middle-class and genteel cultures he was embracing. The debate over acting reverberated with Twain's concerns about realistic and credible representation.
For a long time before this debate of the 1880s, Mark Twain seemingly subscribed to the general tenets of absorbed acting—that serious actors ought to feel the emotions they portray, should identify with the characters they embody, and must dramatize parts of themselves on stage. In 1853, when the young Samuel Clemens saw Edwin Forrest in The Gladiator , he thought the last part of the play was "splendid" because, in portraying "the fierce pleasure of gratified revenge" as Spartacus battles the Roman murderers of his family and then falls mortally wounded, Forrest's "whole soul seems absorbed in the part he is playing; and it is really startling to see him." Through at least the 1860s Twain remained a staunch defender of Forrest and his acting, though by the mid-1880s he agreed with the general opinion that Forrest's "startling" moments displayed theatrical overexertion rather than convincing absorption. By the 1880s, of course, the "quieter" and "realistic" style of the sentimental comedians—Joseph
Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle, E. A. Sothern as Lord Dundreary—had supplanted Forrest's romantic style in the premier theaters as well as in Twain's esteem. But the terms of identification remained in force as criteria for evaluating such performances. Importantly, these terms shaped the understanding Twain had of the performance of his own effort in sentimental comedy, the wildly successful play Colonel Sellers (1874). As noted in the previous chapter, scholars have not pursued the impact of its success on Mark Twain's work, perhaps because the play has not been readily available. But, I would like to reemphasize, because it set Twain off on a course of playwriting—five plays between 1877 and 1884, often written with particular actors in mind, plus several unhatched playwriting projects—it deserves reevaluation as a formative moment in Twain's career.
The remarks of Twain and his friend William Dean Howells about the performance of Colonel Sellers by John T. Raymond hinge on the opposition that would garner so much attention in the 1880s: whether actors ought to efface themselves, indeed suppress themselves, so that they might serve as transparent mediums for an artist's conception, or whether they must draw on their own experience, character, and emotion, capitalizing on personal resources in order to "realize" the text. In the first flush of success of Colonel Sellers , both Twain and Howells praised Raymond for subordinating himself to Twain's conception, erasing himself for the sake of Sellers. Twain acknowledged that Raymond had "faithfully reproduced the Sellers that is in the book." And Howells, in his review of the play in the Atlantic Monthly , declared that Raymond "does not merely represent; he becomes, he impersonates, the character he plays. The effect is instant; he is almost never Raymond from the moment he steps upon the stage till he leaves it"; Raymond's "assumption of Sellers" is "perfect," with the result that Twain's conception of the character is "interpreted without loss by the actor."
But when, as Twain put it, Raymond adopted the idea from reviewers that he had "taken a vague suggestion from the novel & by his genius created a fine original character from it," both Twain and Howells emphasized different terms of evaluation. Howells, to console Twain, pointed to the part of his review criticizing Raymond for overplaying the "absurdity" of Sellers and missing "the tenderness of the man's heart"; "We are loath to believe," the review said, that Raymond "is not himself equal to showing it" (751). Twain seconded
Howells's remark; Raymond "can't do a pathetic thing," he declared, for "he isn't man enough." And Twain later asserted that "only half" of Colonel Sellers was portrayed on stage—the laughable, not the pathetic, half. "Raymond could not play the other half of him; it was above his level." The idea that an actor must subordinate himself to an author's conception remains in place, but instead of mediumistically erasing the sell the actor here must dramatize the proper inner resources in order to realize the author's conception. If the author's conception is larger than the actor's self, if it includes features of character or aspects of experience the actor lacks, the representation will fail.
These were essentially the terms around which the debate of the 1880s waged. The most important instigator of this debate was the English translation in 1883 of Denis Diderot's Paradox of Acting (written 1773–78). Diderot's basic view—that an actor ought to remain unmoved in order to elicit emotion from an audience—was elaborated, with more or less agreement, in essays by two French actors, the 1881 English translation of Benoit Constant Coquelin's 1880 essay, "Art and the Actor," and the English reprinting in 1883 of François Joseph Talma's 1825 essay, "Reflexions on Acting." Diderot's view was contradicted, however, by the English actor Sir Henry Irving, who argued in his prefaces to the 1883 editions of Diderot and Talma that actors, at least to some degree, must experience the emotions they represent. Four years later, in 1887, Coquelin, Irving, the actor-director Dion Boucicault, and Henry James (the actors, at least, were friendly acquaintances of Twain's during the late 1880s) published essays—in Harper's Monthly, Nineteenth Century , the North American Review , and Harper's Weekly —engaging the question of whether actors should identify with their roles. And William Archer wrote a series of important articles in Longman's Magazine , collected in 1888 into Masks or Faces? A Study in the Psychology of Acting , which countermanded Diderot's argument and placed these questions of acting into a more modern frame—by introducing into the debate contemporary theories of the unconscious, automatism, and multiple levels of consciousness.
Mapping the positions in this argument is necessary for understanding Twain's deliberations over acting in his fiction and composing. For Diderot, absorption in a role and actually feeling the emotions portrayed were the road to failure not only because emo-
tions unleashed were undisciplined by art, but also because actors who relied on their own feelings and character would have a narrow repertoire. They would fall short, as Twain and Howells thought Raymond fell short, of being able fully to embody a great writer's conception. The best actors, in Diderot's view, would be able to mimic any of "the outward signs of feeling" (19), even if they were incapable of feeling them, and could therefore realize conceptions created by authors who had experience and imagination beyond their own. The crucial faculty for imitation works best when the actor's "own special shape never interferes with the shapes he assumes" (41), and such interference is best surmounted by people who do not have much of a self to begin with (46). Diderot's endorsement of the emotionless and characterless mimic raised objections, naturally enough, from the actor Irving, who thought that emotion and character were most realistic when they were expressions of inner condition; felt emotion, sympathy, strong "personality," and full "being" were assets for an actor. Instead of effacing themselves, actors benefited from relying on their own characters. The more there was to a person—the more experiences, emotions, observations, and impressions that had become "a part of his being" (Talma, Reflexions , 2)—the better the actor.
While this outline of the debate provides my frame for grasping Mark Twain's engagement of acting in his fiction of the 1880s and 1890s, Twain pushed these issues in more complicated directions, directions that are best laid out in Archer's Masks or Faces? A Study in the Psychology of Acting . Although I have no particular evidence that Twain read Masks or Faces , Archer serves as the perfect template for configuring Twain's ideas about acting and representation, because Archer was so attuned to the developments in physiology and psychology that were imbuing Twain's conceptions of representation and performance. The strongest line of argument Archer presented against Diderot's contention that the best actor consciously and detachedly manipulates the body to mimic emotion lay in his assertion that human means of emotional expression are not all subject to conscious control. Drawing on Charles Darwin, who characterized most emotional expressions as innate, products of inbred survivalist habits, Archer wrote that our "simple emotions" (grief, joy, rage, terror, shame) are expressed "directly and unmistakably," and often irrepressibly, in "physical manifestations" (101), and many of these
bodily symptoms "cannot be imitated by mere action of the will" (219). In addition, because the more "complex" emotions, those of learned rather than instinctual habits, are often expressed "through the medium of the simple emotions," the more or less involuntary manifestations of these emotions are "the raw material of expression" (101–2).
Because of the direct and automatic nature of much emotional expression, Archer concludes, most actors believe that feeling the emotion, then letting the expression flow from it, is more effective than trying to mimic and police all the facial and gestural details of expression (220). Imaginatively felt emotion, he writes, "can readily bring about minute yet expressive changes, muscular and vascular, which the unaided action of the will is powerless to effect" (225), and without which the expression is easily detected as mechanical and artificial (115). Moreover, the process by which imaginatively felt emotions "communicate themselves to the nerve-centres of the actor" and "affect his organs of expression" so closely resembles the action of actual feeling "that it is surely illogical to deny the 'reality' of this mimetic emotion" (224–25). Archer ends his study by distinguishing between "mimicking tricks or habits and yielding to emotional contagion." "Roughly speaking," he concludes, "the one is an affair of the surface, the other of the centres" (218).
Clearly enough, Mark Twain's concern with such automatisms, with unconscious mechanisms of expression, preceded Archer's exposition of them. An instance in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), for example, exemplifies the point that imagined feeling generates expression that far surpasses mimicry. Disinclined to go to school, and having heard of a patient whose "mortified" finger laid him up for a couple of weeks, Tom Sawyer lies in bed in the morning groaning and fancying "that he began to feel pain in the toe." Moaning away, trying to wake his brother Sid—sharply attuned, in other words, to his mimicking and to his audience—Tom finds himself "panting with exertions"; fabricating the false outer expressions of inner pain is work, and unconvincing partly because of the transparency of this labor. But this condition changes after he has awakened Sid and sent him for help: "Tom was suffering in reality now, so handsomely was his imagination working, and so his groans had gathered quite a genuine tone." Tom's efforts at acting the part ultimately lead to identification and an imaginative self-deception that change the reality of
Tom's inner condition and render the false expression seemingly authentic (though in this case Aunt Polly, initially worried about the groans, immediately laughs at the story of mortification).
A somewhat similar instance occurs in The Prince and the Pauper (1881), as Tom Canty's boyish play of imagining himself a prince ultimately works "such a strong effect upon him that he began to act the prince, unconsciously"—in a kind of automatic response to his imaginings—and he gains the admiration of his fellows. And the circumstance reappears in Huckleberry Finn (1884), as the king, disguised as Harvey Wilks, tries to explain why his handwriting and that of his brother fail to match letters from the Wilkses, and he "warmed up and went warbling and warbling right along, till he was actuly beginning to believe what he was saying, himself ." In each case, after some warmup, these actors submerge in their roles, deceive themselves into believing in their new characters, and gain in credibility (even if they cannot manage to fool everyone). As William Archer argued, it is precisely the automatic expression of a newly imagined subjective reality that makes the role-playing credible. Emotion finds expression in ensembles of symptoms that exceed the supervisory capacities of consciousness and the will.
But if this idea seemed clear enough to Twain, a host of problems nonetheless accompanied it. What, after all, were the limits of such imaginative identification? None of these characters—Tom Sawyer, Tom Canty, and the king—had experience in their roles. Tom Sawyer had merely heard about the intense pain from a mortified finger; Tom Canty had merely read about being a prince; and the king had launched off into full-blown fabulation, starting from a flimsy, secondhand sketch of the Wilks brothers. If credible emotional expression involved automatic, unconscious, habitual bodily manifestations— of inner condition that could be activated by imaginative identification—then were there not limits, both in one's capacity to imagine another person and in one's repertoire of habitual circuits of expression? In the well-known instances of Huckleberry Finn's roleplaying, Twain exactly sets out to examine these questions. At issue, seemingly, is whether an irreducible bodily and psychological self can be located—as a complex of emotion, memory, nerves, reflex, and habit—that would both enable and limit the imaginative identification of acting. Twain sets up extreme cases for Huck—acting a girl and acting runaway boys—in order to clarify the matter.
When Huck decides to masquerade as a girl as part of his reconnaissance mission ashore, he makes his project one of conscious effort and mimicry. Dressed in a girl's gown and bonnet, he "practiced around all day to get the hang of the things," and, thanks to Jim's coaching, learns to walk less like a boy and manages to repress his impulse to pull up the gown to get at his pants pocket (67). When he finally gets to Loftus's, Huck tells us, "I... made up my mind I wouldn't forget I was a girl." But Huck's conscious resolution does not stop him from automatically blurting out a defense of Jim against the charge that he murdered Huck (though he stifles this before Loftus seems to notice). He also fidgets because he is uneasy, looks afraid and uncomfortable when Loftus eyes him suspiciously, shakes like a leaf when she accuses him, and, of course, decisively betrays himself by his boy-gestures of catching the bar of lead between his knees rather than in his lap, throwing the lead overhand, and threading a needle by bringing the eye to the thread. The point, clearly enough, is that conscious mimicry does not work, and the automatic and habitual expressions of emotion and character do . For as hard as he tries, Huck cannot consciously police his automatic responses, and Loftus is able to discern, in his involuntary fidgeting and shaking and in the habitual boy-movements that flow automatically from his identity, that he is a male in female clothing. Huck's experience and habits are far enough away from a girl's to prevent him from identifying and then letting the expressions emanate from that identification. The fact that Huck is more believable as George Peters (the identity he adopts after Loftus finds him out) further suggests that credible role-playing is enhanced by imaginative identification enabled by common experience; "George's" orphanage, his escape from cruel treatment, his traveling by night, and so on, resonate with Huck's identity. Indeed, whenever Huck can identify so that his expression, be it physical or verbal, can "flow" automatically, whenever he can rely on "instinct" to put words in his mouth (279)—as when he plays the roles of George Jackson and Tom Sawyer—he elicits belief.
In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court , Mark Twain again explicitly revives these issues, most particularly in the section in which, with Hank Morgan as acting coach, Arthur prepares to travel the kingdom disguised as a peasant. The structure of the situation—which echoes Jim's serving as Huck's acting coach—helps to
signal us that Twain is returning to similar problems of expression and representation. And, indeed, the section begins exactly with the opposition between a drilled and self-conscious mimicry of external signs of identity and an automatic and unconscious revelation of inner being. But, almost as if Twain had indeed read Archer's recent writings, the terms and implications of this opposition between mimicry and absorption, drill and identification, are here more fully laid out. And before the section is over, the issues are complicated in an Archer-like way, as Twain introduces notions of analogous, rather than identical, sympathetic states, and multiple, rather than exclusively absorbed or detached, states of consciousness.
Hank Morgan insists at the start that if Arthur is to travel England incognito, he must be "deliberately and conscientiously drilled," or "the very cats would know this masquerader for a humbug and no peasant" (320). But Huck's problem pops up: disguise, drill, and practice do not suffice, because the obscured and repressed interior persists and resurfaces. While Hank can get Arthur's clothes and face to look properly bedraggled, his "soldierly stride" and "lordly port" betray him. "You stand too straight, your looks are too high, too confident," Hank explains. "The cares of a kingdom do not stoop the shoulders, they do not droop the chin, they do not depress the high level of the eyeglance, they do not put doubt and fear in the heart and hang out the signs of them in slouching body and unsure step. It is the sordid cares of the lowly born that do these things" (320). As Hank has it, in other words, inner, "sordid cares" are directly and reliably manifested in the bodily signs of a peasant. This is a question of natural expression; droops and stoops unconsciously and automatically expose doubt and fear. Although Hank declares that Arthur "must learn the trick; you must imitate the trade-marks of poverty, misery, oppression, insult, and the other several and common inhumanities that sap the manliness out of a man and make him a loyal and proper and approved subject," the "trick," if it merely involves consciously imitating trademarks, apparently will not work. A peasant's body will express a peasant's inner being, and Arthur's body will persistently, and unconsciously, betray his kingship.
Hank eventually makes a distinction that reproduces Archer's contrast between "mimicking tricks or habits" as "an affair of the surface" and "yielding to emotional contagion" as an affair "of the centres." After more efforts to train the king to lower his chin, look at the ground, and shamble, Hank declares:
"Now then—your head's right, speed's right, shoulders right, eyes right, chin right, gait, carriage, general style right—everything's right! And yet the fact remains, the aggregate's wrong. The account don't balance. Do it again, please .... now I think I begin to see what it is .... You see, the genuine spiritlessness is wanting; that's what's the trouble. It's all amateur —mechanical details all right, almost to a hair; everything about the delusion perfect, except that it don't delude." (321)
Even when Arthur's conscious efforts actually succeed in policing the expressive details in his deportment, he fails to be credible. Only the unconscious and automatic expression that integrates expressive details by linking them all to an inner core of identity and feeling promises success. Arthur presents externals unconnected to a "genuine" source, studied bodily signs unanchored in interior life, a body-machine without the ghost, or spirit—or spiritlessness—that would animate it.
Hank's solution, in order to transform the king from an "amateur" actor into one who will delude, is to work on Arthur's interior—to get the right feeling and to hope that the external details will come by themselves. "Now, make believe you are in debt," he exhorts the king, "and eaten up by relentless creditors; you are out of work—which is horse-shoeing, let us say—and can get none; and your wife is sick, your children are crying because they are hungry" (323). This work of the imagination, however, proves equally unsuccessful. Tom Sawyer may be able to imagine himself into real suffering, and Tom Canty may be able to imagine himself into a credible version of a prince. But, like Huck's failure as a girl, Arthur cannot "be" a peasant. He simply does not have the inner wherewithal, the experiences and memories, that would enable identification. Hank concludes that his coaching of Arthur's imagination "was only just words, words,—they meant nothing in the world to him, I might just as well have whistled. Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you, unless you have suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to describe" (324–25). Here, successful acting does depend on the actor's self, on its resources and limitations, rather than on its ductility and imitative skill. But having to draw on one's self in order to embody another does, too, quite practically limit the repertoire.
Arthur's ensuing misadventures as a peasant would seem at first simply to underscore this lesson. Hank must always worry that the king will unconsciously betray his identity by saying something "in a style a suspicious shade or so above his ostensible degree," and
Hank must deal continually with instances in which the king "had forgotten himself again" (316); as an actor, Arthur simply "can't remember more than about half the time" that he is "letting on to be something else" (355). Continuously effective conscious control over his bearing eludes Arthur, and uncontrollable expressions of his identity constantly glimmer through. But the king does have a success, one that follows partly from an automatic response of sympathy, of identification. When Hank and Arthur, in the peasant hut, watch the smallpox-infected mother kissing her young daughter and cooing over her, both Hank and the woman see "tears well from the king's eyes, and trickle down his face." The old woman says, "Ah, I know that sign: thou'st a wife at home, poor soul, and you and she have gone hungry to bed, many's the time, that the little ones might have your crust; you know what poverty is, and the daily insults of your betters, and the heavy hand of the Church and the king." Hank notes that the king "winced under this accidental home-shot, but kept still; he was learning his part; and he was playing it well, too, for a pretty dull beginner" (332). What he has "learned" and "played" well is partly the conscious suppression of his own kingly, automatic response to insult; he keeps still and does not betray his true identity. But he has also been mistaken for a genuine peasant because of his sympathetic, unwilled tears. He does delude here.
The larger implication for acting and fiction making is at least twofold: first, that credible role-playing indeed involves identification in which "real" emotion, upwelling practically unconsciously, manifests itself in those small, not completely voluntary, and therefore seemingly authentic "signs" such as tears—but that such identification need not rest on absolute identity. Arthur apparently can elicit the response of a tearful parent without being an oppressed, peasant parent by generalizing and analogizing his feelings. Talma had declared that "the man of the world and the man of the people, so opposite in their language, frequently express the great agitations of the mind in the same way.... Each puts off the artificial man to become natural and true." As an illustration, he noted, the emotional expression of a mother "looking on the empty cradle of a child she had just lost" will "represent the sorrow of a woman of the people the same as that of a duchess" (Reflexions , 16). While Mark Twain may have entertained such an idea that at the extremes of emotion humanity is one—Hank Morgan's frequent moments of sympathy with
tortured slaves (199, 245, 390) and cruelly divided families (246, 337, 403) might suggest this—he clearly enough would have agreed with Archer that there can be "a close analogy between personal and mimetic emotion" (222), and that the memory of an emotion can mingle with and enliven a representation it (merely) resembles (130–38). That Arthur's fatherly emotion could be mistaken for empathy with the oppressed points the way to possibilities in duplicity that Twain would more fully explore in Pudd'nhead Wilson , as we shall see in a moment.
The second important implication of Arthur's successful "playing" of his "part" is that the conscious suppression of his kingly wince occurs along with his sympathetic emotional identification. The idea that in acting there is a dual consciousness, with felt emotion existing alongside a detached consciousness that can suppress discrepant signs and shape a performance, can be traced back for centuries in the persistent formulation that an actor ought to have a balance between spontaneity and premeditation, nature and art. Prior to writing the Paradox , Diderot, too, had believed in a balance between calculation and emotion and, in a conception based on the mind-body split, he thought that detached observation could coexist with bodily automatisms. Both Coquelin and Talma wrote of an actor's "double personality" or "dual consciousness," both detached and involved, and in the 1880s it was an actor's commonplace to claim to act with a "warm heart and a cool head," with emotion and restraint, passion and composition. But the later decades of the nineteenth century brought a new twist to the cliché as an emergent psychology and psychophysiology was brought to bear on the problem. Archer wrote of "double or treble strata of consciousness" (190) and of "the multiplex action of the mind whereby the accomplished actor is enabled to remain master of himself even in the very paroxysm of passion" (224). Automatic action of the nervous system coexisted with (and was often hard to distinguish from) "conscious or subconscious mental activity" (185–87). Claiming that "the total absorption in one mode of feeling which numbs the intellect and deadens the sense is of very rare occurrence in real life, and still rarer, of course, on the stage" (196), Archer argued that it was, however, a common thing to have "double and treble strata of mental activity" (224), detached and involved, rational and emotional, conscious and unconscious. His articulation of this psychology with theories of cre-
ativity and acting formed part of the discursive context for the division in King Arthur's successful acting between the flowing tears and the suppressed wince.
These uncertainties of representation and character seem to have loomed larger and larger for Mark Twain. His stretching of the bounds of resemblance in sympathetic identification, so that whatever basis Arthur may have had to weep can be mistaken for actual experience of oppression, clouded the aura of "authenticity." The search for the realism of the "genuine" by requiring that an actor's (or writer's) embodiment of it draw on actual experience and inner resources was undermined because the whole enterprise was based upon resemblance, upon analogies whose similarities could be stretched further and further, until the connection between the artist's reality and the represented reality was tenuous and weak. In addition, the security of identity that lay in the absorbed mode of acting was weakened by the acknowledgment of multiple "strata of consciousness." The irreducible core of identity that both Huckleberry Finn and King Arthur had, the basic substratum that prevented Huck from embodying a girl and Arthur from portraying a peasant, was shaken through this fragmentation of the self.
Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894) pursues these uncertainties doggedly, particularly through the role-playing of Roxy and her son and in ways that exacerbate Twain's shifting sands of character and representation. Identities that are deposits of habit show themselves capable of erosion and reconfiguration. The capacity Mark Twain discovered in his dramatic readings of the 1880s for memorizing a part so that he "absorbed the character" is reproduced, with the effect that memorization, drill, and practice troublesomely transform artificialities into realities, transform one habit-based identity into another. The exhilaration in this for credible acting and fiction making—that one could adopt a role in such a way that it became an "affair of the centres" and would issue in natural and automatic expression—brought with it anxiety about the durability of the self and the fragility of reality. In the possibilities for believable role-playing lay anxieties about the effectiveness of duplicity.
Huck practices to be a girl only to find that his boy-self will come irrepressibly to the surface; Hank drills Arthur in the gait and attitudes of a peasant only to discover that such exercise fails to cover up the king's durable and insistent kingly self. But Roxy's experience seems completely to contradict the assumptions about character that
underlie the unsuccessful role-playing of these fictional predecessors. In her case, after switching Tom and Chambers, she spends the night "practicing," treating her son like the master, the other baby like a slave:
As she progressed with her practice, she was surprised to see how steadily and surely the awe which had kept her tongue reverent and her manner humble toward her young master was transferring itself to her speech and manner toward the usurper, and how similarly handy she was becoming in transferring her motherly curtness of speech and peremptoriness of manner to the unlucky heir of the ancient house of Driscoll. (16)
This is a virtual reprise of the drilling and practicing Huck and Arthur go through, but in Roxy's case the drilling works. It is true, of course, that Roxy has had "training" at being both slave and mother, and therefore has resources Huck did not have in playing a girl and Arthur did not have in trying to be peasantlike. It is nonetheless significant that Twain accentuates Roxy's practice and makes her "awe" transfer itself as a result of rote action and manner, rather than insisting that action and manner flow automatically from inner condition or a reimagined interior.
This causal reversal is underscored later, when Twain, in a wellknown passage, reviews Roxy's accomplishment of installing her son in the role of Tom Driscoll:
By the fiction created by herself, he was become her master; the necessity of recognizing this relation outwardly and of perfecting herself in the forms required to express the recognition, had moved her to such diligence and faithfulness in practising these forms that this exercise soon concreted itself into habit; it became automatic and unconscious; then a natural result followed; deceptions intended solely for others gradually grew practically into self-deceptions as well; the mock reverence became real reverence, the mock obsequiousness real obsequiousness, the mock homage real homage; the little counterfeit rift of separation between imitation slave and imitation master widened and widened, and became an abyss, and a very real one—and on one side stood Roxy, the dupe of her own deceptions, and on the other stood her child, no longer a usurper to her, but her accepted and recognized master.
He was her darling, her master, and her deity all in one, and in her worship of him she forgot who she was and what he had been. (19)
The success of practicing "outward forms" is striking. Even if we consider Huck's and Arthur's selves to be no more solid than a set of habits, their characters prove much more stable, capable of resisting
drills, and ready to maintain a less mutable reality. What, then, might account for Roxy's susceptibility to change in her reality and identity? I would like to argue that in the model of absorbed acting, as Mark Twain and his contemporaries conceived of it, reemerged the tension between tapping the resources of a durable self in order to play a role and transforming the self in order to do it. But the tension was transformed by newly subtle ideas of self and expression that eroded distinctions between durable and transformed selves, and that complicated the representation of switched identities in Pudd'nhead Wilson . And Mark Twain's pursuit of the implications for "character" of the suggestible self proceeded straight into the problems of race, training, and identity that so preoccupied Twain in Pudd'nhead Wilson , and have so occupied critics ever since.
Citing the anecdote about the English tragedian William Charles Macready's shaking a ladder in order to work up the feeling of anger in his role as Shylock, William Archer in Masks or Faces noted that many actors will physically perform the signs of an emotion in order to generate it inside, a practice that verifies "the undoubted tendency of outward expression to react upon emotion" (171–72). In a section titled "Autosuggestion and Innervation," Archer invokes Darwin to support the idea that "the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds" (Archer quoting Darwin, 172). By relating this phenomenon to Darwin's idea of innervation, in which physical stimulation excites sensory cells, which excite nerve cells, which produce a response (including emotional expression)—all by reflex and apart from consciousness and will—Archer gave the matter a scientific basis. Archer took the term "autosuggestion" from Eduard von Hartmann's Philosophy of the Unconscious (1868; translated into English in 1884), and he used it to support the same basic principle, that physical or "mechanical" activity could work through a physiological circuit, apart from the will, to effect changes in emotion.
In attending to this phenomenon in relation to acting, Archer presented it as another way to generate "genuine" emotion, a way inferior, perhaps, to conjuring the emotion less mechanically, but a way nonetheless of creating an inner condition that would then manifest itself in the full complex of physical and involuntary details that convincingly signal emotional expression. The basic assumption, that felt emotion would express itself in physical expression, could remain intact if this mechanical, physical activity was thought merely
to awaken the inner "centres" and memories of emotion. Nonetheless, a distinction lurks in the mechanics of autosuggestion between the more essential self that could be drawn upon to stage a reality and the more ductile self so susceptible to suggestion, between the affective self as fount of expression and the malleable emotional self as epiphenomenon of the body. Intertwined in the relative unconsciousness of absorbed acting, in other words, was, first, a notion that freedom from a shaping and censoring consciousness would enable "genuine" and unmediated expression of the "centres," but also, second, a sense of surrender to processes, such as autosuggestion, liable to erode a central identity.
This doubleness in the processes of imaginative embodiment helps explain the apparent vacillation in Mark Twain's writings between characters highly susceptible to autosuggestion, so susceptible, in fact, that their realities can be fundamentally changed—such as Tom Sawyer when focused on his mortified finger, Tom Canty acting as prince, and Roxy—and characters with residual selves resistant to such changes—such as Huck and Arthur. Mark Twain, arguably, was working through conceptions of the self as they relate to capacities for representation. This thinking was connected to intellectual developments, especially those Darwin precipitated in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). And it was related to cultural developments as well. As I suggested in the previous chapter in reference to the uncertain and emergent conceptions of the self and its continuous psychology that the deadpan style invoked, the older notions of "character" (which historians such as Joseph Kett, Karen Halttunen, and Warren I. Susman have situated in the earlier and middle nineteenth century) were losing their hold in mainstream American culture; by the 1890s, clearly enough, the common idea of character as a relatively sturdy, acquired structure contended with widespread ideas of it as malleable and multiple. And this contest marked Twain's conception of an actor's absorbed representation of another, as the necessity of drawing on one's inner resources for identification clashed with the idea of reshaping one's reality through practice and drill. For Twain, the correspondence between this actorly concern and cultural conceptions of the self had sharp social ramifications—especially for racial identity.
It was in Pudd'nhead Wilson that Twain most pointedly brought these conflicting ideas in contact with questions of race, and particu-
larly with the racism that declared blacks both characterless and highly imitative. Susan Gillman may be right to suggest a connection between the role-playing of Roxy and Tom Driscoll and the fact that "as mulattoes their identity is, more radically than any white person's, tampered with by social fictionalizing." They are indeed "the novel's only explicit manipulators of identity" (73), and their malleability may be due to a social victimization of character structure, a violation of identity that Mark Twain's King Arthur and Huckleberry Finn never endured. But that hypothesis is undermined by the contrast drawn between Roxy and Tom. Roxy, who has lived all her life with the violence of the social fiction about her identity, nonetheless has a "strong character and aggressive and commanding ways" (46); "her face was full of character and expression," and a seeming inner vitality of character appears to manifest itself in her "majestic form and stature," her "imposing" "attitudes," and the nobility and "grace" of her "gestures and movements" (8). Within her, as Twain has it, there is a formidable inner core that magnificently radiates outward in all her bodily and habitual actions. When the same kind of familiar, nineteenth-century notions of strong and durable character are applied to Tom, he is found wanting, largely, it seems, because of his lax upbringing. Judge Driscoll accuses himself of not "training him up severely, and making a man of him" (67). Pudd'nhead Wilson decides Tom "hadn't character enough" (98) to kill his uncle, and the fact that Tom did kill the judge after all does not quite redeem him on the character scale—it was not the effect of premeditation or will. And Roxy has trouble truly loving him "because there 'warn't nothing to him'" (46). An idea of character as a built-up structure, and as inner fortitude, is operating here, and we are clearly invited to think that Tom's flaccid character emerged from his easygoing ways, and that Roxy's strength, perhaps, may have come from adversity, from having weathered the humiliations of slavery.
I would propose, that is, that as part of the argument in this novel between race and training as determinants of identity, Twain invokes assumptions about the "natural" imitativeness and characterlessness of blacks in order to discount such racisms and to emphasize instead the effect on role-playing of "character" as a deposit, a structure, an accretion of habits. Consider Tom's instant transformation from a white man to a black, his immediate identification with the plight
of the slave. The day after learning he is Roxy's son, Tom wakes up thinking, "How hard the nigger's fate seems, this morning!—yet until last night such a thought never entered my head" (44). And from that instant Tom unconsciously and automatically acts like a "nigger," his identification so complete that aspects of bodily expression that are not or cannot be controlled by the will constantly declare his new identity: blushing before old white friends, "involuntarily giving the road, on the sidewalk, to the white rowdy and loafer," "shrinking and skulking here and there and yonder," feeling "ashamed to sit at the white folks' table," and manifesting other symptoms of "the 'nigger' in him asserting its humility" (44–45). Roxy thinks the manifestations of the "nigger" in her son are the result of black blood (70). But Tom's transformation into a "slave" is both so quick and so temporary—we are told that, quite suddenly, "the habit of a lifetime," that is, all the habits of behaving like a white man and slave owner, "had in some mysterious way vanished" (45)—that it is much more satisfactorily explained by Mark Twain's understanding of character, identification, and the psychology of acting. Tom has a character flimsy enough to be powerfully susceptible to suggestion.
Tom appears to be a textbook example of thorough identification that, through the automatisms of bodily expression, produces the details that guarantee authenticity. Because of his conviction and belief, his imaginative identification, "the 'nigger' in him" is expressed automatically, unconsciously, and "involuntarily," in signs ranging from uncontrolled blushing to all the minutiae of gait, gesture, and attitude. The contrast to King Arthur is sharp, and perhaps purposeful. For, although Tom and Arthur have similar role changes—each goes, without experience, from being a ruler to being a subject, from being a master to being a slave—Arthur never identifies with slavehood. Whereas Arthur has to guard against unconsciously revealing himself as king, Tom has to worry about betraying his new inner condition of blackness and slavehood. He fancies he sees "suspicion and maybe detection in all faces, tones, and gestures," and people do notice his conduct, and give him "puzzled s"; he "feared discovery all the time" (45). So convincing is his portrayal that Judge Driscoll says, "What's the matter with you? You look as meek as a nigger" (45). The novel retains the faint, racist suggestion that Tom's black blood has predisposed him to characterlessness, to a self so unstructured that it is quite vulnerable
to being possessed by a new identity—so that, even though he has no more inner grasp of slavery than Arthur, his ductility enables him to surrender to the conception of it. But when we remember that Roxy, who does have experience in her slightly altered roleplaying of slave and mother, finds it hard to adopt her new roles, Tom's malleability cannot easily be ascribed to race.
I would like to suggest that, in the cases of Roxy and Tom, Mark Twain is focusing on oppositions between character and characterlessness, and between ductile actorly selves and strong actorly personalities, in order to find middle terms. In the process, the racial charge that the opposition between character and characterlessness could carry is also complicated, its terms confused, in a movement that meshes with Twain's general undoing of racial difference. Roxy has a strong character, and yet she can transform her identity through the autosuggestion of practice and drill. Tom has a weak character, readily transformed through imaginative identification, and yet , the narrator tells us, though "Tom imagined that his character had undergone a pretty radical change," this was not so: "the main structure of his character was not changed, and could not be changed." His opinions had changed, and a couple of "features" of his character "were altered." Nonetheless, we are told:
Under the influence of a great mental and moral upheaval his character and habits had taken on the appearance of complete change, but after a while with the subsidence of the storm both began to settle toward their former places. He dropped gradually back into his old frivolous and easygoing ways and conditions of feeling and manner of speech, and no familiar of his could have detected anything in him that differentiated him from the weak and careless Tom of other days. (45)
In a way typical of Mark Twain, oppositions are presented to be confounded. Here, sturdy character turns out also to be malleable, and pliant character is nonetheless structured. Moreover, Tom's character structure is pliancy; when he stays the same he returns to malleability. The confounding of these oppositions had a meaning that resonated widely through conceptions of the self. It also dovetailed with the confounding of race, with the damage that Pudd'nhead Wilson enacts on the boundaries of "whiteness" and "blackness." And, in the idea that a strong character like Roxy's could be altered by memorization and drill, and a changeable character like Tom's would only momentarily undergo complete metamorphosis, Mark
Twain invested possibilities for fiction making as well as anxieties about mutability.
Accompanying this dissolution of the sureties of character, race, and identity is an undermining of certainties of expression. The moment in A Connecticut Yankee when Arthur's sympathetic, fatherly tear serves to verify him as a peasant has numerous analogues in Pudd'nhead Wilson , especially in the successful role-playing of the novel's primary dissimulator. For example, after his mother returns from downriver slavery and explains that she fled because her owner's jealous wife ordered the overseer to work her especially hard, Tom seethes with anger at "that meddlesome fool" who drove Roxy to escape. "The expression of this sentiment was fiercely written in his face," we are told, but Roxy happily and affectionately mistakes it for grief for her wrongs and resentment toward her persecutors (86). Even more telling, perhaps, when Tom grieves for the man he murdered, he "was playing a part, but it was not all a part"; he keeps seeing the image of his bloody "alleged uncle," and the grisly picture gives him a "quiet and sorrowful" demeanor that is mistaken for proof of his sensitive nature and his adoration of his uncle (99). The sources of the emotion in such playing of a part are unverifiable. If it is "genuine," even if it is also actually the opposite of what it seems, it certifies authenticity. Tom is angry that Roxy is free, not because she was mistreated; he is dismayed because his dead uncle's image persists, not because Driscoll is dead and buried. But the sympathy he invites through such expressions of feeling persists almost to the end; as Tom looks more and more distressed at the trial, because of the way Wilson's argument closes in on him, the audience takes the distress as a further sign of his supposed bereavement and pities him (109, 111). Such misperception obviously has plenty to do with the frames of interpretation and the prejudices of the perceivers—the same ones who scrutinized David Wilson's face and misdiagnosed irony as pudding-brains. But the combination in the performance situation of the perceptual predilections of the spectators and actorly emotions once-removed could obviously provide a profound basis for mistakes—and fictions.
Part of Mark Twain's preoccupation with these cases had to come from a fiction writer's agenda. The grasp Twain had of an actor's multiple strata of consciousness (as in King Arthur's successful acting) accommodated his own practice, which involved identifying
with his characters and allowing them to use him as an "amanuensis," at the same time that it demanded conscious shaping. Coquelin had used writers to explain actors, because, he said, writers must be both involved and detached, and are apt to write "under the dictation of some spirit" only to revise later and shape their writings more carefully (Art of Acting , 5–6, 85). Boucicault also invoked the writer as a model—of one who can lose self-control and be transported, becoming "an actor, not a spectator in the scene," allowing the writing, including grammar and spelling, to be "instinctive" (Art of Acting , 56–58). Such nineteenth-century models may, then, relieve us from arguments over whether Twain was a "jack-leg" novelist, submitting willy-nilly to his unconscious, or a scrupulous craftsman and reviser. The consistent returns, however, to absorbed, identifying, and virtually unconscious acting are crucial, for they echo Twain's conviction about his fictional practice that, as he said in his autobiography, "if I tell a boy's story, or anybody else's, it is never worth printing; it comes from the head and not the heart, and always goes into the wastebasket. To be successful and worth printing, the imagined boy would have to tell his story himself and let me act merely as his amanuensis."
But within this dynamic—of necessary identification, of writing as automatic and therefore as heartfelt and authentic as a blush or a tear—there remained the question of the limits of identification. Not only in the case of a boy's story, but also, Twain claimed in the autobiography, in "the 'Horse's Tale,' the horse told it himself through me." Joan of Arc , too, he claimed in 1894, seemed to write itself. As he later recalled, Joan knew what she had to say without intervention from Mark Twain, and "she said it, without doubt or hesitation." Such problems of stretched identifications—across species, across gender—had in effect been broached and to some degree solved in Pudd'nhead Wilson . For a man who liked to joke about the weakness or absence of his own character, the example of Tom Driscoll, who could momentarily undergo a radical transformation, long enough for some absolutely convincing performances, and yet return to his old identity, provided a model. For a man who knew well enough that his habits, and the identity they preserved, could not be "thrown out the window," but only "coaxed down-stairs a step at a time" (Pudd'nhead Wilson , 27), the possibility Roxy held out that drill, memorization, and imagination could enable one to "absorb the character"
held promise for both dramatic readings and writing. For a writer doubly committed to authenticity and fiction, there must have been a welcome prospect in the sense that analogous experience and emotion could root writing or acting in reality, yet enable the artistic embodiment of identities quite different from the performer's. But if these questions of acting helpfully infused Twain's notions of realistic writing, the concomitant uncertainties about character and reliable representation persisted. The dubious identities of Tom Driscoll and Chambers at the end of Pudd'nhead Wilson attest to this, as they attest to the uncertainty of race and the unreliability of its representation, and as they subtly undermine the certainty of any other categories of identity and its expression.