Are you planning to read the new Mark Twain autobiography?

You have to admire a guy who puts his autobiography on ice for 100 years before it can be published. But it appears to be much more complicated than just a chronological narrative - it’s more like ramblings combined together with speeches and so on, and multiple plans on his part for how it should be published. There’s a whole editorial board involved, and it looks like three volumes.

Amazon’s publishing Volume 1 on Nov. 15, but it also appears to be available for free on the Twain foundation’s website.

Correction: Amazon is selling it beginning November 15th.

I’d like to know more about it before I buy it but it sounds intriguing.

… I am now.


In case anybody else has hard to shop for relatives I mention I’m giving copies of it for Christmas- it’s inexpensive and a great new thing.

I have a feeling it will be tame by our standards, though the excerpts I’ve read did involve (and I’m serious) smiling at a guy when both and the guy, a broker who was smiling back at him, knew how much Twain wanted to crush the broker’s “nuts” in a vise- I didn’t realize “nuts” as euphemism was that old.

I think the main thing he was interested in keeping hidden was his militant atheism. He made no secret of being a non-believer in his writings but they greatly embarrassed his daughters, and I think this was to shield them. His daughter Clara was the creator of the “avuncular curmudgeon in a white suit” image of Twain which was a gross simplification, and he was also extremely angry about racism and many other aspects of U.S. society that today would seem “no big thing” to denounce vociferously but even in the 1950s wouldn’t have flown in the South. Plus while America had a history of free thinkers but Twain was not just agnostic but virulently anti religion, so I expect that to be where some comes in.

That said the format of it does worry me- I hope it’s not too Faulknerian. I agree that it’s amazing a man who’s been dead a century can generate such buzz.

I wonder at what stage of his life Twain wrote this? Maybe it was a lifelong project (like a diary). It would be more accurate if it was a life long writing.

Twain was so angry and bitter towards the end. We read parts of Letters from Hell in school. Life had taken its toll on the guy. He had some tough tragedy’s.

I think it was. Twain was famous for writing a few chapters of a novel or the outline of a story, sticking it in a drawer and forgetting about it, then picking it back up 10 or 20 years later. He frequently went through his old treatments and unfinished writings when he had writer’s block. Had he finished all of the projects he started with the further adventures of Huck & Tom there’d have been more sequels to those two books than to Friday 13th as he had them going west, going to Europe, at sea, in the war, etc…

His writing was also carefully edited by his wife Livy, based on the time it was published. He himself could be much more … um… vulgar. So, yes, my wife and I will read it with great interest.

Correct me if I am wrong, but scholars have gone through his autobiography for years, right? The 100 year moratorium was just on a wide release?

Here is the wiki page. It was written and dictated in the last few years of his life.

They say 15th November but they already shipped it to me last Monday. I received it last Thursday (21st October). I used priority shipping. Yes, I wanted it that bad. :slight_smile:

It’s huge with small-ish type. I haven’t had the chance to really read it yet but the the autobiography proper doesn’t really begin until page 100-something and ends on page 400-something. The total page count is 760.

But like I said, I haven’t read it yet so I can’t really comment on it.

First I have heard of it!
Sort of cool to think his “new autobiography” is just now being printed - can imagine it being quite a time capsule of insight.

Same here. I have not done more than browse a bit.

It arrived on Wednesday or Thursday but I had to go out of town early Friday, and the huge hardcover book was not going to go into my carry-on.

While it is divided into several sections, it is a conversational/stream-of-consciousness-style. Obviously this is the less-edited version of his life, and that’s the tone: more expansive, but no less incisive.
Even just reading the small bits so far (Twain’s relationship with General Grant), it almost feels as though I am hanging out with him on the porch, having a whiskey.

The first volume is out, published by Clemens’ demand 100 years after his death.
Regarding a guy named Paige, who suckered a huge amount of money from Clemens to build a type setting machine:

“Paige and I always meet on effusively affectionate terms; and yet he knows perfectly well that if I had his nuts in a steel trap I would shut out all human succor and watch that trap until he died.”

Memo to self: Do not get Mark Twain pissed off at me.

Merged into existing thread.


How did he come to be pals with Grant? I know he had an epiphany when he met a Black woman, a servant then instead of a slave, whose son had been in the military unit that freed her.

Slatehad a nice piece on the “new” Mark Twain bio which argues that the whole thing is something of a marketing gimmick:

No idea when I am going to get to it, but will have it on my pile.

Having read Letters from the Earth, which was published in the 1950’s for the first time, I believe, having been suppressed due to its controversial nature, I won’t be surprised by his vulgarity or tone…

If you haven’t read Letters, I can’t recommend it enough.

I don’t think I’m going to be in a big hurry to get it.

I remember a big fuss being made when a couple of Philip Dick books were re-issued in “uncensored” form. After wading through an additional 200 pages of meandering dross I thought –

“Oh. You mean un-edited.”

BUMP because I’ve been reading it.

Frankly it’s largely skippable and I really think the army of Twain scholars and editors could have created an immensely more enjoyable product. It starts with a 250(!) page introduction? Really? REALLY? You actually think people buying the greatly hyped AutoBio of Mark Twain want THAT much detail on the archiving and editing do you?

All the character sketches/anecdotes of people who were moderately famous in 1890 but are unknown and not particularly interesting today (H.H. Rogers, Olivia Logan, and others) and the very long newspaper pieces (the “Forty Three Days in an Open Boat” piece- in real time- for instance) could be condensed or dispensed with altogether. I’d much rather they concentrated on the actual AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL stuff- the tales of his childhood and of his road to fame and his experiences on the lecture tour etc…

I wish they should cull the best parts of the three volume series into one which would probably be immensely readable. Then publish the 3 volume series for really die hard Clemensians who actually want every detail imaginable about the publishing of Grant’s autobiography (it’s an interesting story but goes on and an on and on) or the legal battles of H.H. Rogers or the minutiae of 19th century publishing contracts. By far the best parts are his recalling his childhood, the inspirations for his characters (like Uncle Daniel who became Jim, his cousin James Lampton who became Colonel Sellers, etc.) and his social criticisms, though few of these haven’t been published before.

Anyone else reading it? (Actually I’m listening to it in my car more than reading it as I got the audio version for Xmas, though I did get the Kindle version.)