Abstract

Mark Twain begins his 1880 travelogue, A Tramp Abroad, with the ostensible goal of studying art. Early on, he describes inserting his own paintings into a gallery's “wilderness of oil pictures,” calling attention to the text's complicated relationship with nature and art. Quite often, Twain approaches art as a reflection of human hubris, his own included: his consideration of the overblown reputations of Old Masters who owe time more than skill for their veneration is a case in point. But it is notable that throughout A Tramp Abroad, Twain perseverates on the imagistic and physical imposition of the human over the landscape, questioning what goes into, and comes out of, anthropocentric visions of the environment. Rather than perpetuating the split between human and nature, so prominent in nineteenth-century picturesque and sublime art, he reorients himself and his reader so that we are off to the side, no longer chasing after dominance but coexisting, even minimized. In A Tramp Abroad, Twain disrupts the petrification of the natural world and the overwriting of the human onto the nonhuman from aesthetic, touristic, and nationalist vantage points by confronting the way the world is often translated into human terms. While Twain's characteristic humor ripples across the surface of A Tramp Abroad, the text uses his course of study to pose serious questions, ones connecting the author's aesthetic reflections with his perambulations. He asks what is wilderness? how do we define (or refine) it? and how do our renderings of it affect our relationship to it?

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