Monday, July 12, 2010

Mark Twain's Death Acknowledged by Autobiography Publication

This weekend a posthumous publication arose that was actually sactioned by the author *gasp* prior to his death: Mark Twain.

The famed American author--born Samuel L. Clemens--died a century ago, and his autobiography--aptly titled The Autobiography of Mark Twain--will be published in November to celebrate the author and his literary contributions. The first of its three volumes will be published by The University of California Press.
Apparently, this is not the first time parts of Twain's autobiography was published, however, though it has never been offered in its entirity to the public. Instead, Twain had instructed editors of the first few editions to cut out "all sound and sane expressions of opinion."
The New York Times reports further:

Wry and cranky, droll and cantankerous — that’s the Mark Twain we think we know, thanks to reading “Huck Finn” and “Tom Sawyer” in high school. But in his unexpurgated autobiography, whose first volume is about to be published a century after his death, a very different Twain emerges, more pointedly political and willing to play the role of the angry prophet.

Whether anguishing over American military interventions abroad or delivering jabs at Wall Street tycoons, this Twain is strikingly contemporary. Though the autobiography also contains its share of homespun tales, some of its observations about American life are so acerbic — at one point Twain refers to American soldiers as “uniformed assassins” — that his heirs and editors, as well as the writer himself, feared they would damage his reputation if not withheld.

“From the first, second, third and fourth editions all sound and sane expressions of opinion must be left out,” Twain instructed them in 1906. “There may be a market for that kind of wares a century from now. There is no hurry. Wait and see.”

Twain’s decree will be put to the test when the University of California Press publishes the first of three volumes of the 500,000-word“Autobiography of Mark Twain” in November. Twain dictated most of it to a stenographer in the four years before his death at 74 on April 21, 1910. He argued that speaking his recollections and opinions, rather than writing them down, allowed him to adopt a more natural, colloquial and frank tone, and Twain scholars who have seen the manuscript agree.

In popular culture today, Twain is “Colonel Sanders without the chicken, the avuncular man who told stories,” Ron Powers, the author of “Mark Twain: A Life,” said in a phone interview. “He’s been scrubbed and sanitized, and his passion has been kind of forgotten in all these long decades. But here he is talking to us, without any filtering at all, and what comes through that we have lost is precisely this fierce, unceasing passion.”

Next week the British literary magazine Granta will publish an excerpt from the autobiography, called “The Farm.” In it Twain recalls childhood visits to his uncle’s Missouri farm, reflects on slavery and the slave who served as the model for Jim in “Huckleberry Finn,” and offers an almost Proustian meditation on memory and remembrance, with watermelon and maple sap in place of Proust’s madeleine.

“I can see the farm yet, with perfect clearness,” he writes. “I can see all its belongings, all its details.” Of slavery, he notes that “color and condition interposed a subtle line” between him and his black playmates, but confesses: “In my schoolboy days, I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware there was anything wrong about it.”

Read the rest of the fascinating and thorough article HERE

As a Twain-lover myself--I was OBSESSED with the film "Mark Twain and Me" as a kid too--I'm quite excited for this release. I'm not sure if I'd be able to read an entire three-volume autobiography, especially when the first volume is 500,000 words in itself, but I will most definitely be taking a peek of some sort.
And you can be sure I'll be on the lookout to track down the Granata piece online!

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