The Autobiography of Mark Twain

By Holahan, David | The Christian Science Monitor, November 12, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Autobiography of Mark Twain


Holahan, David, The Christian Science Monitor


It's worth wading through this massive tome to mine its nuggets of unalloyed Twain.

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, is a weighty piece of

literature: five pounds if it's an ounce, and 736 pages long. But

please don't blame Mr. Mark Twain. The first 58 pages are hijacked

by an editor, and the last 267 pages are squandered on appendixes,

notes, references, indexes, lost laundry tickets, and recipes for

chicken con carne. Those last two might not be all together accurate,

but let it go. I defy anyone to disprove me by wading through this

semantic morass.

Surrounded though he is by six editors, Twain still manages to get a

few words in edgewise. At one point he describes his feeling about

being edited for the first time in 32 years: "The idea! That this

long-eared animal - this literary kangaroo - this bastard of the

Muses - this illiterate hostler, with his skull full of axle- grease

- this.... But I stopped there, for this was not the right

Christian spirit."

It is well that Twain did not live to be 175 and witness the

publication of his posthumous, unexpurgated autobiography. It would

have laid him low, to be sure. Parts of it repeat passages from

editions of his previously published autobiography: an account of his

first public lecture, for example. There are new segments here, of

course, but they hardly seem scandalous or scathing enough to have

been kept from the public for a century after his death. Perhaps

Volumes 2 and 3 will contain more of the rockets' red glare.

The truth is that the juicy, uncensored stuff has been leaking out

for decades, such as in "Letters for the Earth," prepared for

publication in 1937 but not released until 1962. In it, Twain, a

nominal Christian for most of his life, fulminates against the

Almighty in the most sacrilegious fashion imaginable. Nothing in the

current volume comes close.

Having said all that, it is worth dodging the phalanx of editors to

get at Twain's prose and off-the-cuff observations. Some of these

pieces were dictated late in his life. He is a marvel of observation

and verbal assassination. This is how he sneaks up on a newspaper

editor: "[He was] a man of sterling character and equipped with the

right heart, also an historian where facts were not essential." He

nails Teddy Roosevelt: "He flies from one thing to another with

incredible dispatch - throws a somersault and is straightaway back

again where he was last week. He will then throw some more

somersaults and nobody can foretell where he is finally going to land

after the series." His description of Londoners throwing pennies

from tenement windows to bedraggled street singers below is

delightful.

Such reports remind the reader that Twain began his literary career

as a journalist and before that he was a miner and before that a

deserter from the Confederacy. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Autobiography of Mark Twain
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.