Tuesday, November 09, 2010
The Autobiography of Mark Twain
Though I am currently broke, busted and disgusted, I bought a hardback book at the Opera Plaza Books, Inc. yesterday, and it's one of the happier purchases imaginable. How often do you get to buy a mint condition, first edition of a Mark Twain volume for $35 that's beautifully printed, edited and new?
Mark Twain made a number of stabs at writing an autobiography over the course of his life, but he hated the entire genre of cradle-to-grave narrative and would stop after brief attempts. In 1906, he finally found two perfect collaborators, the biographer Albert Bigelow Paine and the stenographer Josephine Hobby. For two hours every morning from his New York City bed, off and on for the next three years, Twain would tell autobiographical stories that wandered in time and theme. In order to be able to freely slander contemporaries and talk openly about Christian crazies and American imperialism, Twain insisted that the texts not be published for 100 years from his death, which was 1910. Guess which year we're in now.
The current volume is the first of three to be published within the next five years by the University of California Press, and UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library is the center of research that's been going on among a small army of Twain scholars for the last 40 years. Best of all, they have set up an exemplary website called The Mark Twain Project that intends to publish everything Twain ever wrote, with scholarly variants, rare letters, and searchable databases that were once the exclusive province of academia but are now free to anyone in the world. Click here to check it out.