It must have seemed a clever idea to send a popular young comic journalist on a tour with a boatload of prominent citizens in order to record, as The Innocents Abroad did, the day-to-day experience of Americans having a good time in the exotic old countries. When the book came out, however, the reaction was not entirely favorable. Twain had confirmed what every American already knew—that Europe was terribly run-down and was greedy for the dollars of rich Americans. He also suggested that the Americans often made fools of themselves and quite as often were downright vulgar—thereby confirming what Europeans already knew about America.
Obviously someone had misjudged Mark Twain when he was sent on the trip. His career as a literary figure was in its infancy, and he had yet to write a novel, but there was surely sufficient evidence in his newspaper work and in his short stories that he had a gift for satire that was barely controlled and that he was not quite as refined in his literary conduct as might have been expected from an East Coast journalist. He was, in short, not always as fastidious in his work as might have been expected, and this book, certainly one of the funniest (and sometimes satirically savage) works in the travel genre was to offend at the same time that it added to his reputation as a writer of promise.
The book can also be seen as an interesting anticipation of a theme that Twain is to use over and over again: the confrontation between liberal, nineteenth century ideas of politics and society with the old, sometimes savage conservatism of the Old World. The latter problem is to be used in The Prince and the Pauper, in which the concern for humanity and for fair treatment of citizens is manifested in the conduct of both the prince and the pauper. It becomes even more central in the later work A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, where a nineteenth century American finds himself in a position of power and attempts to put his ideas about society, politics, and commerce into action—with sometimes comic but often...
(The entire section is 858 words.)