Places: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1889

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social satire

Time of work: Late nineteenth and early sixth centuries

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*England

*England. Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, AApart from the frame that surrounds the main narrative and a brief interlude in Gaul toward its end, the entire novel is set in southern England during a roughly ten-year period that begins in June, 528 c.e. Before selecting this time period, Mark Twain contemplated writing a novel contrasting the feudal institutions of the Hawaiian kingdom, which he had observed in the 1860’s, with those of the modern West. He decided instead to set his story in England of the sixth century after reading Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Mort d’Arthur (1485). As is typical of literary treatments of Arthurian legends, Twain’s depiction of sixth century England is far from realistic. What interested him was not the details of any specific period, but resistance of old and entrenched institutions to change. He was particularly critical of the Roman Catholic Church, which dominated England through the Middle Ages. His Yankee’s noble efforts to implant modern technology and democratic social and political institutions in medieval England meet the implacable resistance of the Church and end in apocalyptic failure.

*Warwick Castle

*Warwick Castle. Castle on the Avon River, near modern Birmingham, in which the novel begins and ends. The castle links distant past and present and may be seen as Hank’s emotional portal to the sixth century. In the book’s prelude–set around 1889–the frame narrator meets the “Yankee,” Hank Morgan, at the castle. Later, at an inn, Hank begins telling his story and lets the narrator read his manuscript, which becomes the core of the novel. The novel ends with the narrator revisiting Hank just before the latter dies. Connections between the historical Warwick Castle–which Twain visited and admired–and Arthur’s Camelot are entirely Twain’s invention. The castle’s location is several hundred miles north of the novel’s sixth century settings.

*Connecticut

*Connecticut. New England state that is home to Hank, who styles himself “a Yankee of the Yankees.” As befitting the stereotype of a no-nonsense New Englander, Hank calls himself “practical . . . and nearly barren of sentiment.” Twain was born and raised in the South but lived in Hartford, Connecticut, at the time he wrote A Connecticut Yankee, and he strongly admired New England culture and values.

*Hartford

*Hartford. Connecticut city in which Hank is head superintendent in the great Colt Arms Factory until he is sent back in time by a blow on the head he receives in a crowbar fight with a factory ruffian. Hank’s job makes him even more versatile and inventive than the typical Yankee. At the factory, he “learned to make . . . anything in the world, it didn’t make any difference what; and if there wasn’t any quick new-fangled way to make a thing, I could invent one.” These skills give him the confidence to try to make over early England’s technology.

Hank mentions Hartford several times in his narrative and has a wistful nostalgia for a young West Hartford telephone operator (a “hello-girl”) that tends to pull him emotionally back to his own time.

Camelot

Camelot. Legendary seat of England’s King Arthur’s courtand principal setting for the novel’s earliest and last chapters. Though the subject of intense research, Camelot’s historical location–if it actually existed–is unknown, and Connecticut Yankee itself provides only vague clues to its location. Its Camelot appears to be about fifty or sixty miles southwest of London and nowhere near Warwick Castle. The novel depicts Camelot as a large city on a plain overlooked by a hilltop castle. In common with other renditions of Arthurian legends, the novel describes a castle with towers, turrets, and vaulted ceilings more characteristic of the architecture of the High Middle Ages than of the much earlier period in which the story is set. Under Hank Morgan’s leadership, Camelot begins to develop into a truly modern city, only to revert to its primitive condition when Hank’s new civilization collapses.

Valley of Holiness

Valley of Holiness. Home to several hundred monks and ascetic hermits who represent a concentration of early England’s most backward beliefs. After rescuing imaginary princesses from imaginary ogres, Hank arrives in the valley to find that its famous holy fountain has stopped flowing. He uses the crisis to mount his most spectacular demonstration of modern technology, when he uses a rocket display to punctuate his triumph over the magician Merlin in a competition to restart the fountain’s water flow. Modernism’s other triumphs over backwardness in the valley include the appearance of the first issue of Hank’s Camelot newspaper. However, the tenuous line between old and new belief systems is strained when Hank is nearly upstaged by a second-rate conjurer whose crude magic impresses the local monks almost as much as his own real science and technology. The incident shakes Hank’s confidence in his ability to transform England.

Abblasoure

Abblasoure (ab-lah-sewr). Village about ten miles south of the Valley of Holiness near which Hank and King Arthur–traveling incognito–visit the home of a family wiped out by smallpox and then spend several days in the home of the charcoal burner Marco. During this sojourn, Hank and the king have their first extended exposure to the everyday lives and concerns of the lowest rungs of English society. Initially, Hank is favorably impressed by the people he meets; however, careless remarks that he and the king make elicit the villagers’ deep fear of new ideas and turn the villagers savagely against them.

Cambenet

Cambenet (kam-beh-net). Village where Hank and the king are sold into slavery by the Earl Grip. From there, they begin a month-long march to London as members of a slave caravan–an experience that moves the king to begin modifying his views on the institution of slavery.

*London

*London. Little more than the small trading center founded by Romans several centuries earlier, London is the principal setting of chapters 35-38. Hank and the king arrive there as slaves but are rescued by a brigade of knights who ride in from Camelot on bicycles.

Sand Belt

Sand Belt. Site of an apocalyptic battle after the Church’s Interdict forces the collapse of Hank’s civilization. The belt is a defense perimeter around Merlin’s Cave, where Hank and his few remaining allies confront more than twenty-five thousand knights. The first knights who enter the belt are blown to bits by mines. When a second wave of knights enters the depression created by the explosions, they are drowned by a stream that Hank suddenly diverts into the new ditch. Hank’s victory is pyrrhic, however, as the immense numbers of dead bodies surrounding the cave make his stronghold a death trap from which he is the only person to escape, and he escapes only because Merlin casts a spell that makes him sleep for thirteen centuries.

BibliographyFoner, Philip S. Mark Twain, Social Critic. New York: International Publishers, 1958. Explains the novel’s vindication of democracy as a response to such foreign critics as the British historian Matthew Arnold, and analyzes Mark Twain’s fear of American sympathies toward monarchy, aristocracy, and established churches. Includes a bibliography.Fulton, Joe B. Mark Twain in the Margins: The Quarry Farm Marginalia and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Alabama, 2000. An examination of the marginalia that Fulton finds revealing of the development of Twain’s Connecticut Yankee.Hill, Hamlin. Introduction to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. San Francisco: Chandler, 1963. Hill’s introduction to this fully illustrated facsimile reprint of the first edition explains the caricatures of illustrator Dan Beard, and Mark Twain’s attitude toward them.Rasmussen, R. Kent. Mark Twain A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Writings. New York: Facts On File, 1995. Contains a detailed synopsis of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, cross-referenced to analytical entries on both real and fictional names, places, and events. With additional entries on Mark Twain’s illustrators and publishers, this volume is an excellent resource for placing the novel within the broad context of Mark Twain’s work.Sloane, David E. E. Mark Twain as a Literary Comedian. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979. Defines, with many examples, the traditions of American humor, seeing A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court as their literary culmination. Identifies the novel’s allusions to persons, events, and conditions of Mark Twain’s time. Discusses the book’s diction, combining humorous caricature with corrective satire. Includes a bibliography.Smith, Henry Nash. Mark Twain’s Fable of Progress: Political and Economic Ideas in “A Connecticut Yankee.” New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1964. Compares Mark Twain’s novel to works by Charles Dudley Warner, William Dean Howells, and Henry Adams, contemporary authors who treated problems of changing American values during post-Civil War industrialization. Discusses Mark Twain’s ambivalence as a critic of political corruption in America and a defender of entrepreneurship over feudalism.Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Edited by Bernard Stein. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. The definitive, revised edition of the novel, prepared by the Mark Twain Project in Berkeley. Contains all of Dan Beard’s original illustrations, as well as extensive annotations and an elaborate editorial apparatus.
Categories: Places