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“The French Barber”: Calvin As A Source Of Burlesque In Mark Twain

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Chapter Summary

According to several 1876 newspaper articles, a preacher that Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) became acquainted with aboard the Quaker City during his trip to Europe and the Holy Land presented him with a bust of John Calvin. Twain dutifully placed the bust on his writing table, fixed a top hat on it, and then drew "a pair of spiral moustaches and a fanciful goatee" to make Calvin look "like a French barber." Most writers employed the genres in straightforward ways, while Mark Twain, on the other hand, responded to Calvin's influence with burlesque by invoking and distorting Calvin's image for comedic purposes. While Twain could destroy the actual bust of Calvin, the "French barber" remained a potent force in Twain's writing. To understand Twain's burlesque images of Calvin, one has to understand the power of Calvin's image in American culture.

Keywords: American culture; French barber; John Calvin; Mark Twain



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