Autobiography of Mark Twain - Vol. 1

Autobiography of Mark Twain - Vol. 1

Autobiography of Mark Twain - Vol. 1

Autobiography of Mark Twain - Vol. 1

Synopsis

"I've struck it!" Mark Twain wrote in a 1904 letter to a friend. "And I will give it away--to you. You will never know how much enjoyment you have lost until you get to dictating your autobiography." Thus, after dozens of false starts and hundreds of pages, Twain embarked on his "Final (and Right) Plan" for telling the story of his life. His innovative notion--to "talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment"--meant that his thoughts could range freely. The strict instruction that many of these texts remain unpublished for 100 years meant that when they came out, he would be "dead, and unaware, and indifferent," and that he was therefore free to speak his "whole frank mind." The year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Twain's death. In celebration of this important milestone and in honor of the cherished tradition of publishing Mark Twain's works, UC Press is proud to offer for the first time Mark Twain's uncensored autobiography in its entirety and exactly as he left it. This major literary event brings to readers, admirers, and scholars the first of three volumes and presents Mark Twain's authentic and unsuppressed voice, brimming with humor, ideas, and opinions, and speaking clearly from the grave as he intended.

Editors:

Harriet E. Smith, Benjamin Griffin, Victor Fischer, Michael B. Frank, Sharon K. Goetz, Leslie Myrick

Excerpt

Between 1870 and 1905 Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) tried repeatedly, and at long intervals, to write (or dictate) his autobiography, always shelving the manuscript before he had made much progress. By 1905 he had accumulated some thirty or forty of these false starts—manuscripts that were essentially experiments, drafts of episodes and chapters; many of these have survived in the Mark Twain Papers and two other libraries. To some of these manuscripts he went so far as to assign chapter numbers that placed them early or late in a narrative which he never filled in, let alone completed. None dealt with more than brief snatches of his life story.

He broke this pattern in January 1906 when he began almost daily dictations to a stenographer. He soon decided that these Autobiographical Dictations would form the bulk of what he would call the Autobiography of Mark Twain. Within a few months he reviewed his accumulation of false starts and decided which to incorporate into the newer dictation series and which to leave unpublished. By the time he had created more than two hundred and fifty of these almost daily dictations (and written a final chapter in December 1909, about the recent death of his daughter Jean), he had compiled more than half a million words. He declared the work done, but insisted that it should not be published in its entirety until a hundred years after his death, which occurred less than four months later, on 21 April 1910.

This belated success with a project that had resisted completion for thirty-five years can be traced to two new conditions. First, he had at last found a skilled stenographer who was also a responsive audience—Josephine S. Hobby —which encouraged him to embrace dictation as the method of composition, something he had experimented with as early as 1885. Second, and just as important, dictating the text made it easier to follow a style of composition he had been drifting toward for at least twenty years. As he put it in June 1906, he had finally seen that the “right way to do an Autobiography” was to “start it at no particular time of your life; wander at your free will all over your life; talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale, and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing that has intruded itself into your mind meantime.”

Combining dictation and discursiveness in this bold way was unexpectedly liberating, in large part because it produced not a conventional narrative marching inexorably toward the grave, but rather a series of spontaneous recollections and comments on the present as well as the past, arranged simply in the order of their creation. The problem of method had been solved. It was also liberating to insist on posthumous publication, but that idea had been around from

1. “The Latest Attempt,” one of the prefaces written to introduce the final form of the autobiography; see p. 220.

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