Mark Twain's Book of Animals

Mark Twain's Book of Animals

Mark Twain's Book of Animals

Mark Twain's Book of Animals

Synopsis

Longtime admirers of Mark Twain are aware of how integral animals were to his work as a writer, from his first stories through his final years, including many pieces that were left unpublished at his death. This beautiful volume, illustrated with 30 new images by master engraver Barry Moser, gathers writings from the full span of Mark Twain's career and elucidates his special attachment to and regard for animals. What may surprise even longtime readers and fans is that Twain was an early and ardent animal welfare advocate, the most prominent American of his day to take up that cause. Edited and selected by Shelley Fisher Fishkin, who has also supplied an introduction and afterword, Mark Twain's Book of Animals includes stories that are familiar along with those that are appearing in print for the first time.

Excerpt

Animals were integral to Mark Twain’s work as a writer from the first story that earned him national renown to pieces he wrote during his final years that remained unpublished at his death. Twain is famous for having crafted amusing and mordant quips about animals, as well as for having brought to life a cavalcade of animals who are distinctive, quirky, vividly drawn, and memorable. He is less known for being the most prominent American of his day to throw his weight firmly behind the movement for animal welfare.

Mark Twain’s Book of Animals brings together in one volume writings that span more than fifty years, nearly the full range of Twain’s career. It includes familiar stories as well as pieces that have never appeared in print before. We encounter Twain at his silliest and at his most philosophical, at his most sentimental and most sardonic, Twain having fun and Twain seething in anger. We read texts that are playful and texts that are dark, texts that are appealing and texts that are repulsive. We get glimpses of Twain as a child and as a parent, artist, thinker, and activist. Twain’s writings on animals, in short, are as complex and variegated as the author himself.

Mark Twain came of age as a writer at a time when Western culture was struggling to assimilate and grasp the significance of the links that Charles Darwin posited between humans and other animals. Twain himself often weighed in on this reexamination of humankind’s place in creation, even limning a delightful post-Darwinian Eden in which Adam hypothesizes that the newest small animal in the neighborhood (we recognize it as his baby son) must be a new kind of fish. Adam decides that it must be some other kind of animal only after he throws it in the water and it sinks. But the question that stumps Twain’s Adam seriously troubled Twain and his peers, as well: what kind of animal was man after all? and what obligations—if any— did he owe the other creatures with whom he shared the earth?

These questions percolated throughout the last third of the nineteenth century, and they surface again and again in the work of Mark Twain, where a broad range of animals take center stage with the human animals who populate the planet alongside them. a long-jumping frog, a churchgoing poodle . . .

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