Mark Twain posthumously releases autobiography

Adrienne Savoldi

It’s not enough that he wrote some of the greatest stories in American literature, but now Mark Twain is writing posthumously.

Twain’s autobiography has finally been released, 100 years after his death. While only the first volume was released, volumes two and three are on their way in the next four to five years. With the publication of his autobiography, readers are receiving insight into the mind of one of America’s most beloved authors.

According to the book’s introduction, Twain repeatedly attempted to dictate his autobiography between 1870 and 1905. Finally, in January 1906, Twain dictated daily to a stenographer, completing the work in 1909. However, he did not want it published until 100 years after his death, for fear of offending someone or one of his or her family members.

Also, some of the things he said would not have been appropriate in the early 1900s. Twain even said early on in the autobiography, “The editions should be issued 25 years apart. Many things that must be left out of the first will be proper for the second…into the fourth — or at least the fifth — the whole autobiography can go unexpurgated.”

While reading the autobiography, it makes perfect sense why Twain would have been taking a risk to publish this book during his lifetime or immediately after his death.

Take, for example, when Twain becomes an “honorary member” of young John D. Rockefeller’s Bible class. Twain writes Edward Foote, the chairman, that he must not come to the Bible class meeting because he and Rockefeller disagree on whether or not Joseph from the Old Testament really did help the starving Egyptians during a plague or not.

Of course, Christianity and religion were an important part of American culture and to denounce someone who played such a large role in the Bible could have been considered sacrilege.

Twain’s autobiography definitely reeks of humor, which is Twain’s trademark. However, it is many of Twain’s witty comments that probably kept him from publishing his autobiography during his lifetime.

Around 1880, Twain was encouraged by a man named James Paige to invest in a printing press, an endeavor that failed miserably, as Paige swindled Twain out of $150,000. While Twain said for the most part he and Paige meet with cordiality, Paige “knows perfectly well that if I had his nuts in a steel-trap I would shut out all human succor and watch that trap till he died.” Naturally, it’s not exactly the kindest thing to say in one’s autobiography.

One of my favorite parts came when Twain was given the opportunity to write the introduction to a book about Joan of Arc. Twain was obviously pleased with the introduction, but the editor made of lot of what Twain felt to be useless corrections.

Angered, Twain lists his reasons as to why he feels so. One of his most biting remarks: “To be intelligible, that whole paragraph must consist of a single sentence; in breaking it up into several, you have knocked the sense all out of it.”

My favorite part of the autobiography, however, was discovering who was the inspiration for some of the characters in his books. For one thing, the reader is introduced to the woman who inspired Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Polly and there is a mention about some of the people who inspired characters in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Also interesting was the fact that Twain discusses meeting several people who have gone down in history, including Lewis Carroll, General Ulysses S. Grant and Charles Dickens. There are not many people alive, if any at all, who can say they have met these people. To read Twain’s story regarding the meeting is like listening to someone today talk about meeting President Obama or Prince Charles.

This autobiography is interspersed at times with the biography written by Twain’s daughter Susy when she was 13 years old. Twain places an excerpt from Susy’s work and then gives more explanation in his autobiography. One thing I would never have expected from Twain is how lovingly he speaks of his family, especially his wife and daughters.

The length can be a bit daunting, but part of the reason the book appears so monstrous is because it includes an introduction, the “preliminary manuscripts and dictations,” explanatory notes, five appendixes, a note on the text, references and an index. However, all this was helpful, especially to someone who knows little about Twain.

The events of Twain’s life are not in chronological order by when it happened in his life, but rather by when he dictated them. This can be a bit confusing as one minute one of Twain’s family members will be dead and then they next minute they seem to be revitalized.

My biggest complaint about Twain, however, started back when I first read his short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” in middle school: He cannot seem to end a sentence.

Some of his sentences are a decent length but many are just exceptionally long, using a lot of conjunctions and commas. When I read a book, I usually put my bookmark at the end of the sentence I just finished, but Twain makes this hard, especially if I have to hurry up and pay attention in class.

All in all, I would never be so presumptuous as to think people would want to read my work a century after I am dead. However, it obviously seems to be working for Twain. In one of his early dictations, he mentions a banquet in which he is not the celebrated author. He said: “I was a Literary Person, but that was all — a buried one; buried alive.”

If only we all were so lucky to be buried alive and then live on after death.

You can contact Adrienne Savoldi at [email protected].