Mark Twain Tells All in November
I have to admit that although I enjoy Mark Twain’s pithy quotes, I’ve never read much of his fiction. I enjoy the man but his novels have never appealed to me. Even so, I was unbelievably excited when I found out that his massive 500,000 word uncensored autobiography is due to be published for the first time in November of this year.
His views were considered so controversial that he requested–nay, demanded–they be withheld for a century after his death, for fear that his reputation and the reputation of his heirs might be damaged. A hundred years is a long time to withhold material; with the hype surrounding this publication, I expect that there will be some surprising revelations about the man behind the books.
“Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian. Well, in this document he calls [his fired secretary] a slut and says she tried to seduce him. It’s completely at odds with the impression most people have of him,” says the historian Laura Trombley, who this year published a book about Lyon called Mark Twain’s Other Woman.
“There is a perception that Twain spent his final years basking in the adoration of fans. The autobiography will perhaps show that it wasn’t such a happy time. He spent six months of the last year of his life writing a manuscript full of vitriol, saying things that he’d never said about anyone in print before. It really is 400 pages of bile.”
Scandal? Bile? It sounds like a hit.
Editions of his autobiography have been published before, but never in full. Editors pruned away topics that might be offensive, such as politics, sex, and his opinions of his contemporaries. The unedited edition is due to be published in three volumes, with the first volume only containing about 5% omitted material. The second and third editions are said to contain much more. Beyond the sharp commentary, the book is said to contain also the humor we have come to expect from Twain. Robert Hirst, curator and general editor of the Mark Twain Papers and Project at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, where Twain’s papers are housed, said: “I’ve read this manuscript a million times, and it still makes me laugh. This is a guy who made literature out of talk, and the autobiography is the culmination, the pinnacle of that impulse.”