Mark Twain autobiography, 100 years old, debuts Saturday

Reply Sat 16 Oct, 2010 12:20 pm
October 13, 2010
Mark Twain autobiography, 100 years old, debuts Saturday
By John Holland | Modesto Bee

ANGELS CAMP, Calif. — Mark Twain had a dying wish — that the public not see his complete autobiography for 100 years.

Time's up.

The first volume of the book will be released Saturday in Angels Camp, a tiny town that played a big part in Twain's emergence as a writer. The unveiling by the University of California Press has drawn international attention.

People involved with the book said Twain ordered the century long hold so as not to offend anyone living at the time of his death on April 21, 1910.

"This is his uncensored work that he wanted to hold back for 100 years," said Bob Rogers, an organizer of the Mark Twain Motherlode Festival, where the unveiling will take place. "He really didn't want his family embarrassed or his friends embarrassed."

Twain seemed to rarely shy from speaking his mind during a life that took him from Mississippi River steamboats to Mother Lode goldfields to the South Seas. But in the autobiography, dictated to his secretary starting in 1906, he was an especially fierce critic of the nation's political and religious culture.

In an excerpt from UC Press, Twain complained that financier Jay Gould "rotted the commercial morals of this nation and left them stinking when he died."

He believed the Christian faith of Americans had declined into "nothing but a shell, a sham, a hypocrisy."

Twain criticized U.S. intervention abroad, referring to its soldiers as "uniformed assassins" for their suppression of a native revolt in the Philippines.

'Quintessential American'

Gregg Camfield, a University of California at Merced literature professor and Twain scholar, said the author feared the United States was headed toward monarchy.

"People talk about Mark Twain being the quintessential American," Camfield said. "You will see that he is like most Americans, because he can be critical of America, too."

Parts of the autobiography have been published in various forms over the years, but this is the first time the public will see Twain's life story organized into a book.

Lead editor Harriet Elinor Smith and her colleagues combed through the vast collection of Twain papers at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library. The second and third volumes are expected within five years.

Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Missouri in 1835. His early travels included a winter 1864-65 stay near Angels Camp, where he heard a tavern tale that inspired him to write "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." This short story brought his first literary fame.

Twain went on to turn out a prodigious number of works — novels, short stories, newspaper pieces, travelogues — and drew crowds on the lecture circuit. This year is the 125th anniversary of his most famous book, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Camfield, who will take part in Saturday's event, read Twain's autobiographical material for his doctoral dissertation in 1989. He is among the chosen few who got an early look at the new book.

Camfield said Twain could express himself freely by dictating rather than writing his autobiography. And it shows that the author was not depressed late in life, contrary to the impression left by a 2002 Ken Burns documentary, he said.

"It reads so beautifully," Camfield said. "He was a master storyteller, and he was at the peak of his art."

The release of the book has been reported in The New York Times, the Independent of London and other media. Mass marketing will start next month, but the organizers of Saturday's festival will have about 70 copies for sale Saturday.

"They're at an undisclosed, secure place in Calaveras County," Executive Director Caroline Schirato said.

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/10/13/101991/mark-twain-biography-100-years.html?storylink=MI_emailed#ixzz12XzFByho
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Reply Sat 16 Oct, 2010 12:24 pm
Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1
by Mark Twain

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In explaining his dissatisfaction with his early attempts to write his life story, Mark Twain blamed the narrowness of the conventional cradle-to-grave format: “The side-excursions are the life of our life-voyage, and should be, also, of its history.” This volume—the first of three—makes public autobiographical dictations in which Twain unpredictably pursues the many side-excursions of his remarkably creative life. Embedded in a substantial editorial apparatus, these free-spirited forays expose private aspects of character that the author did not want in print until he had been dead at least a century. Readers see, for instance, a misanthropic Twain consigning man to a status below that of the grubs and worms, as well as a tenderhearted Twain still grieving a year after his wife’s death. But on some side-excursions, Twain flashes the irreverent wit that made him famous: Who will not delight in Twain’s account of how, as a boy, he gleefully dons the bright parade banner of the local Temperance Lodge, only to shuck his banner upon finding a cigar stub he can light up? But perhaps the most important side-excursions are those retracing the imaginative prospecting of a miner for literary gold, efforts that resulted in such works as Roughing It and Innocents Abroad. A treasure trove for serious Twain readers.

By Bryce Christensen
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Reply Sat 16 Oct, 2010 12:37 pm
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Reply Sat 16 Oct, 2010 12:40 pm
Reports of his demise is not greatly exaggerated.
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Reply Sat 16 Oct, 2010 01:14 pm
I was surprised that he wrote his autobiography as Mark Twain instead of his real name, Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

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Reply Sat 16 Oct, 2010 01:16 pm
I want it.
Reply Sat 16 Oct, 2010 01:23 pm
I hope you enjoy it, Roger. I knew you and a lot of A2Kers would want this book. Don't forget it's only the first of three volumes.

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