Thanks for the review. I especially like the final paragraph and the
line that Kaplan has seemingly "bought into no previous conception of
Mark Twain." Well, at least he seems to give little credit to all the
literary purchases he made for his own biographical conceptions.
From: ryr [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Monday, December 01, 2003 11:14 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: A definitive biography of Mark Twain, even a
I found this in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, but
couldn't get the URL to post. But I was able to do so from the
Phil. Inquirer. Thought it might be of interest to the list.
Philadelphia Inquirer | 11/16/2003 | A definitive biography of Mark
even after all these years | Posted on Sun, Nov. 16, 2003
The Singular Mark Twain
By Fred Kaplan
Doubleday. 500 pp. $35
Reviewed by Allen Barra
Biographies of American literary greats come and go these days with
depressing regularity, distinguished from their classic predecessors of
'40s, '50s and '60s by little more than their thickness and their
overreliance on now-dated (and usually French-inspired) literary trends.
Singular Mark Twain by Fred Kaplan - biographer of Dickens, Henry James
Gore Vidal - is a refreshing exception; it is almost unprecedented for a
truly definitive biography of a writer of Mark Twain's stature to appear
after so many years, but here it is, supplanting Mr. Clemens and Mark
the 1966 biography by Justin Kaplan (apparently no relation).
But, then, there really are no other American writers of Mark Twain's
stature. In Kaplan's words, "Like no other nineteenth-century American
literary figure in that his name alone brings to mind images and issues
are at the heart of American cultural history, that are central to a
definition of America in the nineteenth century as well as today." Or
another way, he's the only American author whose books, more than a
after they were written, can still be found in the children's sections
our libraries while simultaneously stirring angry debate at the college
The Singular Mark Twain is full of new material on the subjects of
finances (a tangled mess to the very end), his early travels (Hawaii was
favorite: "No other land could so longingly and so beseechingly haunt
and his overseas reputation (Freud, among many other prominent
intellectuals, was a great admirer). Kaplan's major contribution may
ultimately be in what he has taken out of the Twain mythography.
No longer will Twain be referred to - at least not correctly - as an
inspired primitive; he was remarkably well self-schooled in the classics
from Virgil to Jane Austen (whom he detested). Gone is the image of Mark
Twain the happy, rustic traveler; he loathed Paris, and despite
travels in Europe and the Middle East, he remained as staunchly American
his tastes as Dickens was English. And followers of the anti-Christ
lose one of their major propagandists: "His satire was directed not at
Christianity but at human folly, hypocrisy, and selfishness."
Most of all, gone forever is the popular notion that Samuel Clemens and
Twain were two distinct facets of one personality. Though "biographers
psychological critics have found significance in a man who, in creating
alternative self calls himself 'Twain,' " Clemens/Twain increasingly
a single figure until "the writer and the man became inseparable... .
his lifetime, they were essentially inseparable anyway."
Kaplan seems to have bought into no previous conception of Mark Twain,
including Twain's own. "A creative revisionist," says Kaplan of his
subject's own myth-mongering. The result is the clearest, most
portrait yet of the man whom William Dean Howells called "the Lincoln of