The American Claimant is a comedy of mistaken identities and multiple role switches. Its cast of characters include an American enamored of British hereditary aristocracy and a British earl entranced by American democracy. Characters Colonel Mulberry Sellers: An eccentric white-headed old man who becomes the rightful heir to the Earl of Rossmore after the death of his relative, Simon Lathers. According to his wife, Sellers is a "scheming, generous, good-hearted, moonshiny, hopeful, no-account failure" who is well beloved ...
The American Claimant is a comedy of mistaken identities and multiple role switches. Its cast of characters include an American enamored of British hereditary aristocracy and a British earl entranced by American democracy. Characters Colonel Mulberry Sellers: An eccentric white-headed old man who becomes the rightful heir to the Earl of Rossmore after the death of his relative, Simon Lathers. According to his wife, Sellers is a "scheming, generous, good-hearted, moonshiny, hopeful, no-account failure" who is well beloved for his generosity and approachability. Although many of his eccentric money-making schemes are failures, he occasionally "makes a strike," as he calls it, and makes quite a bit of money. One such strike is the exceedingly popular "Pigs in the Clover" toy which he invented and patented. According to the tin signs by his door, Sellers is an attorney at law and claim agent, a materializer, a hypnotizer, and a mind-cure dabbler. He has also been named "Perpetual Member of the Diplomatic Body representing the multifarious sovereignties and civilizations of the globe near the republican court of the United States of America." The explanatory note at the beginning of the novel indicates that Colonel Sellers is the same character as Eschol Sellers in the first edition of Twain's earlier novel Gilded Age(1873) and Beriah Sellers in later editions. The note also identifies Colonel Sellers as the same character as Mulberry Sellers in John T. Raymond's dramatization of Gilded Age. Washington Hawkins: The Congressional Delegate from Cherokee Strip who partners with Colonel Sellers in several of his schemes. Hawkins is described as a "stoutish, discouraged-looking man whose general aspect suggested that he was fifty years old, but whose hair swore to a hundred." At the beginning of the novel he has been living with his wife, Louise, and their children in the far west for the last fifteen years. Sally (Gwendolen) Sellers: Daughter of Colonel Mulberry Sellers and Polly Sellers. She attends Rowena-Ivanhoe College, "the selectest and most aristocratic seat of learning for young ladies" in the US. Like her father, Sally is given to Romantic aspirations and delusions of grandeur. She happily takes the name Gwendolen after her father becomes the rightful heir of the Earl of Rossmore. However, the narrative describes Sally as having a "double personality": She is both Sally Sellers, who is "practical and democratic," and Lady Gwendolen, who is "romantic and aristocratic." During the day she works hard designing and sewing dresses to help financially support her family, and in the evening she upholds the shadowy fantasy of the family's nobility. She falls in love with Howard Tracy (Viscount Berkeley) at first sight and later renounces her aspirations of aristocracy in order to be with him. Berkeley Rossmore (Howard Tracy): The only son and heir of the Earl of Rossmore. According to the narrative, his full name is the Honourable Kirkcudbright Llanover Marjoribanks Sellers Viscount-Berkeley, of Cholmondeley Castle, Warwickshire(which the narrative tells us is pronounced "K'koobry Thlanover Marshbanks Sellers Vycount Barkly, of Chumly Castle, Warrikshr). At the beginning of the novel, Berkeley announces his intention to go to America and "change places" with Simon Lathers, the man he considers the rightful heir. He wishes to "retire...from a false existence, a false position, and begin [his] life over again, begin it right--begin it on the level of mere manhood, unassisted by factitious aids, and succeed or fail by pure merit or the want of it. I will go to America, where all men are equal and all have an equal chance; I will live or die, sink or swim, win or lose as just a man-that alone, and not a single helping gaud or fiction back of it." Shortly after his arrival to the United States, the hotel in which he is staying catches fire, and during his escape, ...
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'The American Claimant' is a preposterous sitcom from the American master of preposterosity, Mark Twain.
Col. Mulberry Sellers, a nutbag, claims he is rightful heir to the seat of an English earl. He threatens to sue the present earl to regain his title and lands.
The earl's son, meanwhile, has 'modern' ideas about the stigma of inherited wealth and position, says he wants to throw it all up. The silly young man goes to America to renounce his title, give his inheritance to the American claimant and make his own way in the world.
The situation, already grossly unlikely, is then resolved by a grossly unlikely train of coincidences: The young earl falls in love with the American claimant's beautiful, featherbrained daughter. His father, the stern and stolid present earl, approves. The nutbag American claimant approves. The young couple marry and are deliriously happy. Then the nutbag claimant suddenly finds himself vastly and independently wealthy. Hence he loses all interest in the English title and lands. Like a 19th century Al Gore, he sets out instead to buy a controlling interest in global climates and in the ownership of Siberia, Greenland, Iceland, and all of the sunspots on Sol.
So it is that 'The American Claimant' is not for serious readers nor is it for sane people generally. It's a romp for pathologically simple-minded people who are able to suspend all disbelief and laugh at comedic elements in a set of characters and situations that bear no resemblance to real life.
It seems to this writer that in 'The American Claimant,' Mark Twain somehow lost control of his narrative (or his mind). He stepped over the line that separates parody from absurdity and for whatever reason could not pull back. The ending is more of a train wreck than a resolution.
Solomon sez: 'The American Claimant' is a stinker in which one finds a few amusing situations and some clever lines floating, like bits of crackers, adrift in a soup of drivel. Maybe for you but not for me.
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