Review: Autobiography of Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s Autobiography was conceived as a bit of a publishing stunt, with its publication delayed until 100 years after his death.  The manuscript (in a couple versions) has been available to scholars for some time, but it’s being released to the public now.  The packaging is a three volume set with each heavily annotated with Twain scholarship.

From what I can tell the scholarship is exemplary.  Each detail and anecdote is researched and cross-referenced.  Each of the several earlier edited versions that were published are noted, and material that was compiled during the creation of the Autobiography attached and put in context.  If you are a Mark Twain scholar, this is a great collection of information.  I confess that it was too dry for me.

The Autobiography itself is very unorthodox and enjoyable.  Mark Twain decided that the best way to build such a thing was to dictate it from his bed in daily bursts.  Rather than a chronological remembrance of his life with reflections interspersed, he presents a rambling daily discussion on either his life history, or something his daughter wrote about him in her biography, or whatever else strikes his fancy.

The whole thing is basically a collection of Mark Twain blog posts from the last few years of his life.  It is completely charming.  There are certainly dry parts. I find that Suzy’s biography wears thin, and he includes whole newspaper articles in there so he can go off on a rant.  Still, the posts – er, entries – themselves are intelligent, insightful, and entertaining.  It is a series of blasts from one of our most cantankerous and compassionate men of letters wandering where his fancy takes him, bounded very loosely by the cord of autobiography.

It Twain were alive today, he’d be blogging and I would be following him.

Strongly recommended; I’d skim the scholarly stuff unless you’re a scholar.

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