A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court | Chapters 41–42 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 41: The Interdict

Hank Morgan's daughter gets worse again, and he and Sandy work together to save her. Hank speaks admiringly of Sandy. He admits he only married her because she kept hanging around him, but over time he has grown to love her. Sandy named their daughter Hello-Central because she thought it was the name of a long-lost love of Hank's, and he never told her the truth.

After much time, Hello-Central recovers, and Hank feels he has rejoined the world again: "You know that yourself, if you've watched your child through the Valley of the Shadow and seen it come back to life." Hank suddenly realizes there's been no word from the ship they sent for supplies. Worse still, there are no boats traveling at all, as if a plague has struck. Hank decides he must go back. When he does, he discovers the Church has declared the Interdict as a punishment. The Interdict was a tool the medieval Catholic Church used to control kings and populations. Declaring an Interdict allowed the Church to forbid certain people—or whole populations—from receiving the blessings of the church. This would be kept up until the church leaders believed the people had learned their lesson. All Hank's advances have been stopped. He must travel in disguise, and it takes him a long time to get to Camelot. When he does get there, the castle appears deserted.

Chapter 42: War!

Hank Morgan finds Clarence alone, and Clarence is delighted to see him. Clarence explains Sir Launcelot had wiped out several other knights in a business transaction, so they decided to ruin him by telling King Arthur about Launcelot and Queen Guenever's long-standing love affair. The court ruptured into two groups: a group siding with Launcelot and a group siding with Arthur. Guenever was sentenced to death by burning, and Launcelot rescued her. Arthur left Sir Mordred, his nephew, in charge while he pursued Launcelot, and Mordred tried to take over the kingdom, leading the Church to declare the Interdict. Arthur and Mordred met in battle, and Clarence shares a "war correspondent's report" with Hank describing how Arthur was killed. Guenever has become a nun, and the Church has declared the Interdict will last as long as Hank and Mordred are both alive.

Hank thinks they will be fine because they have their scientifically trained workers, but Clarence says most of them are still superstitious. They will be loyal to the knights. Clarence has hand-picked a group of 52 boys who have been trained by Hank most of their lives. He has set up a cave as a fortress against a siege. He has rigged it with electrified fences and Gatling guns and torpedoes. Inside it are controls to dynamite charges which will destroy any of their research facilities they do not want the Church to have access to. Hank approves of these plans, but he ups the ante. He decides to instigate the fight by declaring the country a republic and defying the Church.

Analysis

Twain was fond of a book called History of European Morals (1869) by W.E.H. Lecky. He used the book as a source for several of his novels, but particularly for this one. Lecky was harsh about the superstitions and obedience to the Church which characterized this period of medieval history. Twain had Hank Morgan adopt many of those same attitudes. Those superstitions and obedience get revenge on Hank's rapid progress in these chapters with the Interdict.

American mistrust of the Catholic Church has been present almost since the country's founding, and Twain's attitude is not an aberration. In 1960, over 70 years after this novel was written, John F. Kennedy went to great lengths to convince people to accept a Catholic president. Historically, the Catholic Church demanded unquestioning obedience of its followers, an attitude which would be hard to square with American ideas about freedom of thought. The Church has adapted its positions over the years, but that history rankles Twain, and in these chapters the Church is his ultimate antagonist.

Twain knows how to make things difficult for his protagonist, so he times this revolt by the Church just as Hank is adjusting to the 6th century. Hank claims he married Sandy for "customs of chivalry," but he has clearly fallen in love with her. He calls her "a prize" and says they had "the dearest and perfectest comradeship that ever was." He is also deeply attached to his child, although he admits he almost burst out laughing when he learned Sandy named the child "Hello-Central." She thinks it the name of a lost loved one of his, never realizing it was how he greeted his 19th-century girlfriend, a telephone operator.

As for the fate of the rest of the Arthurian crowd, Twain sticks closely to the Le Morte d'Arthur (c. 1470) and other traditional sources. He is not so much interested in the specific fates of King Arthur, Queen Guenever, and the rest as he cares about how those fates affect Hank. Still, he has laid the groundwork throughout the novel, foreshadowing these events with periodic reminders of Sir Launcelot and Guenever's affair. He also adds a new impetus to the revelation of Launcelot's affair: Launcelot bested Sir Mordred and the others in a stock deal. In other words, Hank could modernize the 6th century, but he couldn't protect it from human vanity, greed, or weakness—all of which existed in the 19th century, too.

Twain wanted Launcelot and Arthur to serve as examples of "good" Europeans, so he makes Mordred Arthur's nephew and skips the more scandalous possibilities. In many Arthurian traditions, Mordred is Arthur's unacknowledged son, sometimes the result of an illicit relationship between Arthur and his half-sister Morgan le Fay. Twain only needs Mordred as a flat character, a villain to cause problems while Hank is away. Perhaps this is why he spares Arthur's reputation and makes Mordred a scheming nephew rather than a justifiably angry son/nephew.

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