November 30, 2010
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, was born in Florida, Missouri, o175 years ago today. Author of such literary classics as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Twain‘s famous wit makes him just as relevant today as he was a century ago.
“I remember reading The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County as a 7th grader,” says curator Frank Goodyear of the National Portrait Gallery. Though many may have been introduced to Twain through their school’s curriculum, his works persist because of their strong voice and whimsical sense of story. Twain is “pioneering because he brought dialects into literature,” Goodyear continued. He had a “keen interest in human foibles” and was able to “see through to the real shortcomings, anxieties and hypocrisy” that make his characters so believable.
This intimacy created with his readers might explain the runaway success of his newly released and unexpurgated autobiography (versions of which have been published before in 1924, 1940 and 1959), but this one was released in its entirety 100 years after his death, as Twain requested.
Twain himself spoke in great detail about death:
“I think we never become really and genuinely our entire and honest selves until we are dead–and not then until we have been dead years and years. People ought to start dead, and they would be honest so much earlier.” – As quoted in Mark Twain in Eruption by Bernard DeVoto
And of his own death:
“It has been reported that I was seriously ill—it was another man; dying—it was another man; dead—the other man again. . . As far as I can see, nothing remains to be reported, except that I have become a foreigner. When you hear it, don’t you believe it. And don’t take the trouble to deny it. Merely just raise the American flag on our house in Hartford and let it talk.” – Letter to Frank E. Bliss, 11/4/1897
Perhaps with this autobiography, new facets of the seemingly transparent, yet very complex writer can come to light. “He’s human and his characters are human,” says Goodyear. “He’s genuine and authentic. . . everyone loves Mark Twain.”
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