Mark Twain's Which Was the Dream? And Other Symbolic Writings of the Later Years

Mark Twain's Which Was the Dream? And Other Symbolic Writings of the Later Years

Mark Twain's Which Was the Dream? And Other Symbolic Writings of the Later Years

Mark Twain's Which Was the Dream? And Other Symbolic Writings of the Later Years

Synopsis

All of these selections in this volume were comosed between 1896 and 1905. Mark Twain wrote them after the disasters of the early and middle nineties that had included the decline into bankruptcy of his publishing business, the failure of the typsetting machine in which he invested heavily, and the death of his daughter Susy. Their principal fable is that of a man who has been long favored by luck while pursuing a dream of success that has seemed about to turn into reality. Sudden reverses occur and he experiences a nightmarish time of failure. He clutches at what may be a saving thought: perhaps he is indeed living in a nightmare from which he will awaken to his former felicity. But there is also the possibility that what seems a dream of disaster may be the actuality of his life. The question is the one asked by the titles that he gave to two of his manuscripts: "Which Was the Dream?" and "Which Was It?" He posed a similar question in 1893: "I dreamed I was born, and grew up, and was a pilot on the Mississippi, and a miner and journalist...and had a wife and children...and this dream goes on and on and "on," and sometimes seems so real that I almost believe it is real. I wonder if it is?" Behind this naive query was his strong interest in conscious and unconscious levels of mental experience, which were then being explored by the new psychology."

Excerpt

These selected later writings of Samuel L. Clemens—Mark Twain—are here published for the first time, with but two exceptions: “The Great Dark” appeared in Letters from the Earth, as edited by Bernard DeVoto; and a 5,000-word excerpt from “Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes” was published by Albert Bigelow Paine in his biography.

THE BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND

All of the selections in this volume were composed between 1896 and 1905. Mark Twain wrote them after the disasters of the early and middle nineties that had included the decline into bankruptcy of his publishing business, the failure of a typesetting machine in which he had invested heavily, and the death of his daughter Susy. Their principal fable is that of a man who has been long favored by luck while pursuing a dream of success that has seemed about to turn into reality. Sudden reverses occur and he experiences a nightmarish time of failure. He clutches at what may be a saving

Letters from the Earth (New York: Harper & Row, 1962)—hereafter designated as LE, pp. 235–286. An excerpt from “The Great Dark” was published in Bernard DeVoto, Mark Twain at Work (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1942), pp. 133–140. The present edition provides substantively different readings of several passages in the text; these are discussed in the notes on “The Great Dark.” A major variant, “The Mad Passenger,” which DeVoto did not publish, is included in the Appendix.

Mark Twain: A Biography (New York: Gabriel Wells, 1923—hereafter MTB), 4 vols., IV, 1663–1670.

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