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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spontaneous Human Combustion in Literature: Mark Twain

Spontaneous human combustion was prolific throughout 19th-Century literature.  It made appearances in books and stories from major writers, including Dickens, Melville, and (arguably) America's greatest humorist, Mark Twain.

In Life on the Mississippi, Twain details the death of one Jimmy Finn, a drunken sot.  This excerpt is from the book, published in 1883 (now in the public domain):

Jimmy Finn was not burned in the calaboose, but died a natural death in a tan vat, of a combination of delirium tremens and spontaneous combustion.  When I say natural death, it was a natural death for Jimmy Finn.

Obviously humorous, this account still includes spontaneous human combustion almost as an afterthought. While Twain was not a noted phenomenalist, he was -- and he remains -- a great intellectual; it seems Twain, like many of his day, believed whole-heartedly in spontaneous human combustion and associated such a death with alcoholics.

© C Harris Lynn, 2010

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