Mark Twain at Versailles
I have mixed feelings towards Mark Twain. This is, after all, the man who dared write of Jane Austen, “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” Shocking.
Yes, I know, now some will tell us that he didn’t really mean it, that he was a “closet Janeite”… And why did he bother to reread Pride and Prejudice if every time it awakened his tomb-robbing instincts?
It remains that Mark Twain, whatever one thinks of his literary taste, was a well-traveled man and a remarkable journalist. And he visited France. There too his judgment was provincial, not to say puritanical, abrupt and dismissive: “France has neither winter nor summer nor morals–apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country.”
Gimme a break, Mr. Clemens! France has winter AND summer AND morals. And it’s not a “fine” country. It is maddening and beautiful. Maddeningly beautiful, you could say.
But at Versailles, Twain changed his tune. Suddenly he was awed, stupefied, mesmerized. Listen to him:
VERSAILLES! It is wonderfully beautiful! You gaze and stare and try to understand that it is real, that it is on the earth, that it is not the Garden of Eden–but your brain grows giddy, stupefied by the world of beauty around you, and you half believe you are the dupe of an exquisite dream.”