A Dog’s Tale by Mark Twain

For Short Stories on Wednesday (hosted at Risa’s Bread Crumb Reads) I was planning to read and review a vampire short story by Anne Rice. Which I did, and it did seem exciting for about the first two pages.

“Julie!” he whispered, in a voice so low that it seemed my own thoughts were speaking to me. But this was no dream. He was holding me and the scream had broken loose from me, deafening, uncontrollable and echoing from the four walls.

The story is called The Master of Rampling Gate and it is a vampire ‘love’ story, which is something they had forgotten to mention where I first read about it. It was such a grave disappointment, that it didn’t make much sense to review it. Let’s just say that it’s a story Stephanie Meyer would adore; take that whatever way you want.

So, instead, I am reviewing a very beautiful and touching story I read by Mark Twain, titled A Dog’s Tale (1903). It is the life story of a loyal pet dog, told from her point of view.

The story begins in a way that is quintessentially Twain – “My father was a St. Bernard, my mother was a collie, but I am a Presbyterian. This is what my mother told me, I do not know these nice distinctions myself. To me they are only fine large words meaning nothing.”

The dog talks about her life with her mother, who was a favourite among the other dogs and about her puppy-hood adventures. She then goes on to tell us about the sorrow of her separation from her mother, the following joys of the nice, new household, until the day she has her own puppy.

The story is crude and cruel, and it is the story of so many other loyal house pets who don’t deserve the treatment that they get from their “masters”. It is a silent, confused cry for help, and it really affects you. That’s great writing for me.

Short Stories by Mark Twain

This week, I read two stories by Mark Twain: Extracts from Adam’s Diary (1904) and Eve’s Diary (1905).

Extracts from Adam’s Diary is a wonderfully hilarious story – told, of course, by Adam, right from when he first meets Eve in the Garden of Eden and is incredibly annoyed by her, till he eventually falls in love with her. It is in the form of “entries” he writes in his diary (which Twain claims to have translated from the original manuscripts by deciphering Adam’s hieroglyphics!)

The same is the case for Eve’s Diary – right from her first day on earth when she sees “the man” for the first time, till forty years later, after the fall. The story ends with Adam’s speaking at Eve’s grave, “Wherever she was, there was Eden.”

Mark Twain is indescribably amazing. Reading Adam’s Diary is a colourful experience; something you would have never thought of – the day-by-day experiences of the first man! It is amusing in most parts and absolutely hilarious in some – especially when Adam tries to figure out what species the little baby, that Eve claims to have found, belongs to (his guesses range from a fish to a talking parrot!) I also love how annoying he finds Eve – especially when she starts crying!

Eve’s Diary, on the other hand, was something completely else. It is humourous right from the start; but along with that it’s also a wonderful story. She is fascinated by everything she sees and everyone she meets and simply loves to talk! Twain has written beautifully from the point of view of a woman. And call me crazy, but it’s actually easy to relate to her. This is, without a doubt, one of the most amazing stories I have read in a while.

Last week, when I posted about the short stories that I read by Kafka, I came across Short Stories on Wednesday, a meme hosted at Risa’s Bread Crumb Reads. I’m going to take part in the meme and so, read at least one short story every week!

The Awful German Language

“The inventor of the language seems to have taken pleasure in complicating it in every way he could think of.”

“The Awful German Language” is the most outrageously funny essay I’ve read in a long time. It was written in 1880 by Mark Twain as a part of the book “A Tramp Abroad.”

As an English speaking person learning German as a second language, he explains his exasperation with the language using a bunch of wildly amusing examples. Personally, German being pretty similar to my mother tongue, it wasn’t hard getting used to most of the rules; I can only imagine how complicated it otherwise must be.

The worst are, of course, the genders of the common nouns and Twain has a lot to say about them:

  • To continue with the German genders: a tree is male, its buds are female, its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are female – tomcats included, of course; a person’s mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the sex of the individual who wears it.

The longest English word has forty five letters and no one bothers using it!! That’s more than you can say for most German words!

  • Some German words are so long that they have a perspective. These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions. And they are not rare; one can open a German newspaper at any time and see them marching majestically across the page – and if he has any imagination he can see the banners and hear the music, too. They impart a martial thrill to the meekest subject. Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen” seems to be “General-states-representatives-meetings,” as nearly as I can get at it – a mere rhythmical, gushy euphuism for “meetings of the legislature,” I judge.
It’s not just the words that seem to irritate the writer, it is also the names! This incident had me laughing for an hour:

  • German names almost always do mean something, and this helps to deceive the student. I translated a passage one day, which said that “the infuriated tigress broke loose and utterly ate up the unfortunate fir forest” (Tannenwald). When I was girding up my loins to doubt this, I found out that Tannenwald in this instance was a man’s name.

The writer doesn’t stop at calling German language ridiculous – he does suggest ways to improve it. One of these includes removing the Dative case entirely!!

  • Personal pronouns are a fruitful nuisance in this language, and should have been left out. For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them. Think of the exasperation of never knowing which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says sie to me, I generally try to kill him, if a stranger.

Of course, this essay is pretty biased, because English is basically built on exceptions and German rarely strays from the rules, making it much easier to learn! Still, I loved it. And I’m sure anyone who has ever learnt German as a second language will agree with every single thing Mr. Twain has to say!!