Lines, circles, time loops, and mark twain's a Connecticut Yankee, in king Arthur's court

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The plot of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) is based on a time-loop structure, with Hank Morgan traveling backward in time and altering Arthurian history. The novel emphasizes this feature of circularity in a variety of ways: with characters, actions, dialogue, and scenic descriptions, as well as with plot itself. Yet if circularity is at the heart of Hank's ambitious efforts to insert himself into actual history, then it also confirms at last the ineffectuality of those efforts. Time cannot be converted into a physically traversable space, and despite Hank's most flamboyant efforts, nothing has been transformed. The circular process of narrating oneself into existence is defeated by a historical line, which always resists efforts at pure self-constitution. The novel thus represents in its formal narrative strategies a testament to Twain's own deeply split conception of power, as something only briefly achieved and quickly denied. The conflicting claims in the novel for circular narrative and linear history intersect with Twain's deepest desires for mastery and commensurate fears of failure. does the same upon meeting Sandy (p. 136) as well as others (see p. 161), and they repeat the habit on occasion when stymied by his modern vernacular usage (p. 172).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)230-248
Number of pages19
JournalNineteenth-Century Literature
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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