A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

ISBN: 159818587X
ISBN 13: 9781598185874
By: Mark Twain Amy Sterling Casil

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About this book

Hank Morgan, a 19th century American, is sent back in time to 6th century England and opens up a debate on free will versus determinism and the monarchy versus democracy, as well as urging the reader to consider the consequences of technology gone mad.

Reader's Thoughts

Ken Doggett

I don't know what I can say about Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain that hasn't been said before. I consider him to be the finest American writer, and one who helped to change the conception of how literature should be written and brought it into the modern era. "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" was written in 1889, and isn't so much a time-travel story as a dream sequence. It's an "as told to" by a character who gets hit on the head and dreams that he is back in a starkly violent and miserable medieval England. This is not the Mark Twain you expect if you have read "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" or "Huckleberry Finn.Some of Twain's writing style in this story is slightly antiquated, occasionally going into much detail as writers often did to fit the leisurely reading habits of the public in that time. Little of it takes away from the enjoyment of the story by the modern reader. Twain notes in the preface that the history he presents may not be perfectly accurate, and he employs his usual wit and imagination to brutally satirize and demolish our romantic notions of knights, nobles, and chivalry. Some of the scenes in the book depict the violence, poverty, and misery that was part of that era, though perhaps exaggerated at times, and although none of the scenes are as graphic as you might see today, Twain does detail quite a bit of it, holding back little.The book is long, perhaps longer than it needed to be, but for its time, I think it's a perfect story, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Samuel Longhorne Clemens may have chosen a more succinct name but it didn't make him any less verbose!At times, this book was brilliant, but surely it could have been condensed by half (of course it could, and don't call me Shirley!). I nearly gave it up half way through. Though I'm glad I continued (and didn't miss out on Merlin's weather predictions mishaps or The Knights of the Round Table baseball team), I don't think I could recommend this book to just anyone, but this poorly acted condensed Lego version will suffice for those with enough interest but lacking in patience. (If you can sit through the clip, you might be able to endure the book.)One quote that will stay with me:"People talk about beautiful friendships between two persons of the same sex. What is the best of that sort, as compared with the friendship of man and wife, where the best impulses and highest ideals of both are the same. There is no place for comparison between the two friendships; the one is earthly, the other divine."

Georgiana 1792

L'americano delle barzelletteDelusissima da questo Twain pedante e saccente, che pretende di arrivare nel VI secolo e di fare tutto a modo suo, non solo, ma di piegare tutti al suo modo di vedere le cose... come se non dovessero passare 12 secoli di civilizzazione! Ma non si rende conto che è lui che deve adeguarsi (e cercare di non farsi scoprire) allo stile di vita dell'epoca? Io francamente, sarà che sono Italiana, ma credo che ad essere trasportati in un secolo remoto si sarebbe molto più vicini a Troisi e Benigni in Non ci resta che piangere, per quanto istruiti si possa essere. Mancherebbero le tecnologie e, per qunto si possa essere dei Superman, non si potrebbe innovare tutto come invece fa il nostro Capo... Addirittura, pur non essendo un astronomo, conosce le date delle eclissi totali di Sole spaccando il secondo! (Mi sono riproposta di chiederlo a una mia amica Astronoma! Vorrei proprio sapere se lei le conosce... ma i Calendari all'epoca funzionavano come da noi? Sì, sì!...)E fra parentesi anche storicamente sta messo maluccio... la ricostruzione riguardo a vestiti, armi e anche all'istituzione della Chiesa (che è uno dei principali bersagli dello scrittore) è piuttosto approssimativa. Se fosse stato scritto ai giorni nostri, un qualunque editor di basso calibro gli avrebbe confutato ogni paragrafo! Ma naturalmente lo scopo di Twain è quello di paragonare la Grande Democrazia Americana, che da poco si era liberata dai colonizzatori inglesi, con una prima forma democratica proprio dell'odiata Madrepatria: la Tavola Rotonda di Re Artù. Vuole dimostrare che essa è solo un mito e ne fa vedere tutti i lati negativi... Come se all'epoca non fosse già un grande passo in avanti!Poi lui è il più intelligente, il più istruito, il più dritto, il più bravo... (Ti piace vincere facile, eh?!)Insomma, L'Americano delle barzellette!!!

Jennifer (aka EM)

Ok, so Mark Twain. This is the only one I've read, once way back when and just now. MT/SLC - he's not really part of the curriculum or general literary zeitgeist in Canada. So I don't really know much about him or about that Huckleberry boy and the other one, Tom. I'm likely talking out of my hat when I say, if you liked them you've just got to like this one. Although maybe this is more directly scathing and satirical? Connecticut Yankee is an eviscerating take-down of the entire British social structure, y'know, the one that the U.S. revolted (or as Twain would say "revoluted") against. On top of that, it's a castigation of the RC Church and its role in the oppressions of, at the time he was writing, the past 1800+ years. And most of all, it's an abolitionist tale. Call 'em serfs, call 'em slaves (as Twain does), same difference. This is a plea for egalitarianism and humanism.At the same time, "The Boss" - as the prototypical late-19th century entrepreneur and manufacturing baron -- is flawed and gently mocked for his belief that capitalism and technology will win the day. I don't know how much mockery would have been recognized at the time of publication, but from 100+ years later, we can clearly see the hand of a clear-eyed and prescient satirist at work in the immense and disproportional carnage wreaked by the improved technology of warfare, the raping and pillaging of natural resources and resulting destruction of the environment of the Industrial Age, the rabid commercialism that leads to the trading of one type of slavery for another.Twain does not give two hoots for historical accuracy here, nor for any of the conventions by which literary time travel is supposed to "work." He doesn't care if this makes any logical sense, and to make sure we understand that, he picks, first of all, the already fictional 6th-Century King Arthur and his Knights as the time to travel back to. He then thinks nothing of weaving in references to King Henry VIII and the Tower of London and a bunch of other anachronistic details that defy the historical record and the laws of physics. That is part of the delight of this book - it's a romp.His brush is so broad he takes the piss of everyone and everything on that little island of Britain from about 500 to 1850 A.D.This perhaps goes without saying, because no satire is fully effective without it, but his righteous anger is not just expressed through ridiculousness and absurdity -- there are scenes here that are heartbreaking and tragic, and Twain skilfully reins in his pen to paint these with the pathos (albeit romanticized and sentimentalized) they require to keep our eyes focused on the fact that there are real people who suffer at the hands of others and institutions who enslave them.Powerful reading (and a bit of a brain-twist, coming right after Wolf Hall, which I'm off to review in just a moment.


I have to say I browsed the final chapters - even if I understand the message, the book seemed to me longish and somehow boring, too long for a parody, anyway, and too many themes not so developed at all - politics, society, even linguistics and I didn't like the choice of the historical period, why King Arthur, anyway? Maybe because his figure is half historical half mythological and therefore you can put him in (almost) any historical context you want, but he is also a symbol and I wish he remained like thatMaybe I'll re-read it sometime in the future but I'm not so sure.


This book is--being written by Mark Twain--a brilliant lampoon of both the dark ages and 19th century culture. Obviously, reason and science come out ahead of the backward people who can't inspect a well to see if it has a leak even though they're living a thousand years after the Greeks. Still, no one makes it through this book looking like anything but a blood-thirsty, power hungry animal. The Boss travels mysteriously back in time to set up flat taxes, polluting factories, and standing national armies in the time of King Arthur. Lessons to be learned by all, which is great, except that you have to read a whole book without a single likable character. Clarence almost made the cut with his suggestions of replacing the royal family with a family of cats that would serve the exact same function, until the reader realizes that he also keeps any offer of mercy being made during the war.Overall, this book was intelligent without being very entertaining, which is a shame, because it is one of the greatest ideas ever written.

Erik Graff

One of the many good things about lying in order to avoid junior high school is that it allows time to read good books. Having done the old "thermometer to the light bulb" trick, I spent a very productive couple of days home in bed reading, among other things, Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.My parents weren't entirely stupid. My frequent illnesses had to be demonstrated by coughing, dripping, abnormal temperature and the like. Since they were still suspicious, it was a rule that I had to stay in bed when ill. This meant no television, no telephone, no sunny days in the backyard with the dog. I don't think they intended to promote reading by this stricture, but it certainly worked that way.

Ken Elser

Although a bit of a mish-mash of ideas and stories and not particularly coherent in its structure, A Connecticut Yankee is surely an intriguing social commentary about the limits of progress and a strong condemnation of human nature. Twain uses his fantastical tale of a 19th century New Englander become right-hand man to King Arthur in the 6th century to illustrate his cynacism at the idea of true human progress and civilization, showing it to be ultimately self-defeating and as cruel as the midevil world that he imagines. In Twain's conception, a human being can never overcome their inborn superstitions and prejudices, despite any apparent progress in this vein. A critical review contained in my copy finds fault with the fact that Twain simply observes these failures of human nature laughingly, deriding while offering no solution. The real height of arrogance, however, would surely be to offer the platidudes that any such "solution" would have to represent. In the end, Twain does what he does best: He holds a mirror up to society and our own natures, that we might nod (and perhaps chuckle in a spasm of morbid humor) at the terms of our own sentence.

Ruth Hinckley

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is a train wreck of a novel that, if written today, would never have seen print. While notable for its innovation during its time and its hundred thousand imitators, the narrative is rambling, one-sided and frustrating.The book begins well enough, with a nineteenth century factory boss being transported into the past, where his knowledge of obscure trivia and "modern" science saves his life and earns him a position as a wizard. King Arthur and his court are described as "innocent savages", which the main character (whose name is mentioned not more than twice in the book) starts out trying to civilize. The nobility, of course, are resistant to these changes, and so our protagonist sets about to undermine and unseat them.From here it rumbles along with little in the way of character development, and 19th century technology developed whole cloth by a secret society of educated peasants. The narrative is interspersed with lengthy excerpts out of even more antiquated volumes - whose point or purpose is largely left unexplained - and lengthy jaunts into the countryside where every character who shows a bit of spirit is recruited into the secret technology schools, all under the nose of the oblivious king.There is very little which actually poses a challenge to our hero, which makes the reader yearn for something to backfire on him. Eventually it does - through no fault of his own, of course - but the lessons he and Arthur learn in this episode are squandered as the ending is rushed to a conclusion, with the downfall of our hero orchestrated by the previously impotent but much-maligned Established Church.At the end, there are questions left unanswered and foreshadowed promises left unfulfilled, with logical jumps and temporal leaps which confuse and frustrate. It almost seems to change voice in the middle, and more than once. Even as a satire it fails to satisfy, and a comedy it is most certainly not. To anyone wishing to familiarize themselves with the story, I recommend choosing one of its many imitators and enjoying yourself for an hour or a day with it. Your time will be better spent.

Wouter de Visser

I really liked the book. Mark Twain in this novel walks the thin line between humor and serious social and political commentary. In it he treats subjects like slavery, organised religion, feudalism and aristocracy in a compelling way. When reading one must sometimes struggle through some of the monologues, spoken by 6th-century English people, but overall it the novel reads pleasantly. The basic story is about a 19th century American, Hank Morgan, who gets transported to 6th century Arthurian England. Here he takes it on himself to introduce modernity and progress into a cruel and feudal society dominated by the nobles and the established church. Some of the things Morgan introduces are patent bureaus, protestantism, telegraphy, electricity, soap, public educationg and so called 'man-factories'.Without spoiling to much I had the feeling that Mark Twain was pessimistic about the idea of forcing progress or modernity on to a people. Morgan's attempts eventually end in failure when the forces of reaction (the church) undue years of his work in the final chapters. The book ends with a pitched battle between Morgan, supported by about 50 young boys who believe in his vision of modernity and 'the whole of England' lead by the church. The final battle resembles in some ways WWI battles, involving machine guns and barbed wire. In a way the novel makes the point that actions done with the best of intentions can have the worst (unintended) consequences. In short I liked the book and would recommend it to everybody.

Steven Benesi

What do I think? Well, I have a malleable top ten books I've ever read list, but there are two stalwarts that will never be shaken from it; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is one of these. Brilliant in its satire, cutting in its humor, in my opinion this is Clemens at his finest. I've read that it wasn't received well in its time, but for the days we all live in now it is a master work. It's amazing how much can change, yet how everything stays the same. Clemens take on the era of King Arthur and the failings of society echo the world we live in now. The parallels that Clemens draws between the Dark Ages and his era echo similarities in our own modern era. This is both hilarious and frightening as it proves that ignorance, fear, propaganda, media-hype, war, and the people that would take advantage of these things don't seem to be going anywhere no matter the strides that humanity takes. Read it lightly and it's an adventure story with amazing wit and prose; delve deeply into it and it yields much much more,and, as always, Clemens word play and puns satisfy even the most snobby of readers. Recommended to anyone and everyone. Put down what you're reading now and pick this up, and please talk to me about it when you're done.


Sheesh, wrote a whole review, was about to hit save when the computer quit and I lost it! Here we go again:Our main character is a Connecticut Yankee who is cracked over the head with a crowbar in 1879 and wakes in England year 528. He is quickly taken prisoner and brought to King Arthur's Court and sentenced to death. Our "Hank" is a an American however; quick-witted, educated and optimistic. He remembers that an eclipse is due to take place shortly and manages not only to save himself, but to secure a position of second in command to the King.What I loved about this book is Mark Twain's use of the language, juxtaposing the archaic with the modern to a very amusing result, and often playing with the language with run on sentences that become nonsensical and using rhyme in clever ways to make his reader laugh. It reminded me at times of Mrs. Murphy's Chowder (bedslats, Democrats, floating all around!)I also love what I see as Mark Twain's quintessential American-ness. I often felt great waves of nostalgia and patriotism while reading this-- while I was also annoyed by what I perceived as the American superiority that permeates it. Our Hank is busy building factories, reducing the worth of coinage to save the government money, blowing things up, and finding fault with the realm (not too hard to do, that one).The book is very political in nature, even as it jokes along in rhyme and fantasy. Mark Twain has written a rambling, ruminating rant against slavery, oppression, injustice, monarchy, nobility and The Catholic Church while promoting education, science, a government for the people by the people, and religious faith and practice that is neither a monopoly nor a dictate.


I don't know if anything will ever beat--for emotional intensity and moral education--Huck Finn's "All right, then, I'll go to Hell" (when he recognizes that Jim is as human as he is, and that he can either ignore that fact and get along in life, or be ejected from the world and hold on to that truth). Connecticut Yankee has no such moral clarity, which is both its promise and its curse.The moral obscurity of Connecticut Yankee comes out to trouble the reader anytime the reader begins to get comfortable with the frame here. I mean, a satirical critique is only understandable from a particular frame; that is, while critiquing some topic (say, Catholic superstition), Twain is privileging some other approach to the world (say, scientific progress), either implicitly or explicitly.But Twain's satire here shifts over the course of the novel, until the reader may not have any dry place to stand in this sea of bitterness: when the novel starts, Hank Morgan may seem crafty and capable, a perfect trickster hero--Bugs Bunny, but with expertise in mechanics instead of cross-dressing. (It occurs to me now that there has to be a Bugs Bunny in King Arthur's Court version, and lo and behold.) And Morgan takes some hearteningly democratic and modern standpoints throughout the novel: he's for the small people; he recognizes the social pressures that substitute meaningless signs for actual economic progress (his chapter "6th Century Political Economy" might as well be called "What's the Matter with Camelot?" after Thomas Frank's book on Kansas); he seems capable of inventing all sorts of labor-saving devices; and he keeps a certain cool detachment that often prevents him from taking himself too seriously.And, then, in the blink of an eye, he can kill a knight for telling a bad joke, organize the pulverization of the countryside, and talk about how he's spreading American-style democracy whether the people want it or no (and, well, you can't make an omelet without a few casualties). If you could read this book in 2000 and miss the satire on Morgan's rah-rah imperialism, it's harder to ignore post-"Operation Iraqi Freedom." (There's actually an entire article I read that makes the Morgan-Bush connection; it's slightly harder to imagine an article making the Bugs Bunny-Bush connection, if only because Bugs's wars are all defensive in fact.) While we might be horrified by the unchecked power wielded by Morgan le Fay, we also recognize King Arthur's heroism; as much as we recognize our historical gains in this novel (we have bicycles and voting!), we also recognize our historical losses by the end.(One of my favorite ways that this uncertain position--both of gain and loss simultaneously--comes out in this novel is the use of language: Twain not only gives us this eerily pitch-perfect Arthurianisms, and the super-slangy Yankeeisms of Morgan, but he shows what happens when they collide; our first clue that Alisande might be more than just a damsel in distress is probably when she appreciates Morgan's idiom "hang out": Then she said musingly, and softly, turning the words daintily over her tongue: "Hang they out -- hang they out -- where hang -- where do they hang out; eh, right so; where do they hang out. Of a truth the phrase hath a fair and winsome grace, and is prettily worded withal. I will repeat it anon and anon in mine idlesse, whereby I may peradventure learn it. Where do they hang out. Even so! already it falleth trippingly from my tongue...")Lastly, as has been noted, some of this moral uncertainty has a lot to do with Twain's biography; for one thing, during the writing of this novel, he sunk a lot of money into the Paige Compositor, a type-setting machine that failed to work. So much for technology!Note: One thing to note is that the moral uncertainty that troubles the reader of the text finds no purchase in Dan Beard's illustrations, which are very clear about their populist politics.


Calling a novel so consistent in its clarity uneven may seem paradoxical, but Mark Twain was nothing if not paradoxical. Its flaws are of the sort which only an author of fully established reputation would have given it. In 1889, when this was published, HUCKLEBERRY FINN had been out for four years. He was fifty-four years old, and he'd live another twenty-one years. He was, therefore, in the early part of the last third or so of his life. With nothing to prove to anyone but himself, he wrote a book which was part parody, part adventure, and which also had, for every moment of unvarnished realism, a moment of mawkishness to match.He very pointedly compares the slavery of the Dark Ages to the slave system which he saw in his lifetime. The Civil War was not yet twenty-five years in the past when he wrote A CONNECTICUT YANKEE and when he talks about the brutality of slavery, as witnessed by his time-traveling narrator (who, of course, goes back to the time of King Arthur from the present day -- the present being about the time Mark Twain wrote his book) Twain not only is writing from memory, he even states, in the body of the text, that the old European slave system was just like that of the American South. Twain grew up in Missouri and did, indeed, see slavery up close. There are several scenes in CONNECTICUT YANKEE where the conditions of slaves and of prisoners are described in excruciating, unblinking detail. But Twain also, at other times in the book, makes a mistake he never makes in HUCKLEBERRY FINN: He has people who live all their lives in abject poverty speak like after-dinner speakers.At this point in his life, Mark Twain was, perhaps, the most successful after-dinner speaker in human history. He had already made and lost a fortune or two and had to travel the globe telling humorous (and deeply sentimental) stories to various organizations, professional gatherings, town functions, etc. He was prey to his own glibness. Somebody, somehwere, referred to "Mark Twain's Wound", and CONNECTICUT YANKEE shows it in high relief. He was the most comprehensively skilled writer this country has ever produced, but the world saw him as a court jester (and I emphasize the word "court" in the case of A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT), and when he needed money (it being that he was the kind of millionaire who lost in investments and needed a million or two to get out of a hole or two) he had to, and could, and did, turn on the comedic juice. But he was, at the same time, as deep as Beethoven, and when he writes a few pages in the mode of an observer of the human condition, it becomes disheartening when he turns back to mimicking Mallory. Nevertheless, he mimics him well. But when he then becomes as treacly as, say, a newspaper editorialist, he undercuts his essential message, which is that man never changes.Of course this novel is worth reading. But it is the work of a genius who really does not have a sounding board. In conclusion I'll use something H. L. Mencken said about Henry James and spin it. He said that what James needed was a whiff of the Chicago Stockyards. Well, what Mark Twain could have benefited from was a bit more of Henry James's artistic seamlessness. The man who could steer a paddle steamship through the narrowest slice of the Mississippi river couldn't quite see this book through to its own conclusions.


A book about going to a backwards place, dominated by an ignorant faith and blowing a lot of stuff up in the name of freedom. If you can be non-cynical enough, you might be able to find sympathy for our American freedom-fighters in Iraq by reading of Hank's well-meaning attempt at a socio-political overhaul. I won't tell you how it ends, but your world won't be too rocked. This book is really amazing to read from our contemporary perspective. Here's a cusp-industrial mind writing on the dark ages. It's sort of like we get to time-travel twice. Somehow though, Twain manages to seem more than ahead of the dark ages, more than ahead of his own time, he seems ahead of our time. His book, as it sees Arthurian England ratchet awkwardly up to the 19th Century brings to light the same issues we are dealing with today. The benefits versus the costs of technology, the tenaciousness of class lines and the ignorance produced by religious faith. It's very much worth the time today to read a great American's thinking on these issues and be reminded that though ideals are necessary for advancement, they must put humanity first or be made monstrous.Also, look out for some very, very dry humor. I know I didn't pick up all of it, but what I did was a treat. Finally, I recommend getting an edition that includes the original illustrations - they're beautiful and funny.

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