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Mon, 26 Jul 2010 21:34:47 -0400
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Loving, Jerome. _Mark Twain: The Adventures of Samuel L. Clemens_.
University of California Press, 2010. Hardcover. Pp. 548. ISBN:
978-0-520-25257-8. $34.95.

Many books reviewed on the Forum are available at discounted prices from the
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benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Janice McIntire-Strasburg
Saint Louis University

Copyright  2010 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

The perennial popularity of Mark Twain as an author and the continuing
fascination with Samuel Clemens, the man, by both scholars and fans fuels a
burgeoning industry of academic and popular books about Clemens/Twain in the
form of biographies, autobiographies, and scholarly critiques. The approach
(and now arrival) of the 100th anniversary or his death in 1910 alone has
sparked no less that ten new biographies and reissues of older
ones--including the paperback reissue of _Mark Twain's Own Autobiography_ by
Michael Kiskis, Ron Powers's _Mark Twain: A Life_, Roy Morris's _Lighting
Out for the Territory: How Mark Twain Headed West and Became Mark Twain_,
and _The Singular Mark Twain_ by Fred Kaplan to name a few. Given the
mounting pile of pages devoted to one of America's favorite authors, both
scholars and laymen must categorize the biographies creating niches that
allow readers to choose based upon what interests them most. As one example,
Justin Kaplan's historical approach to Clemens' life has been extremely
useful to scholars in placing Twain's texts into the spirit of the times in
which Clemens lived; however, for the Twain enthusiast it might be
considered a bit dry. Ron Powers' biography, on the other hand, while still
containing a great deal of information useful to scholars, is written in a
highly readable style that can attract both groups of readers.

Jerome Loving's _Mark Twain: The Adventures of Samuel L. Clemens_ likewise
will offer fans interesting glimpses into Clemens' life in short, vignette
chapters that seem perfectly designed for bedtime reading. Loving,
Distinguished Professor of English at Texas A & M, has written three
previous biographies: _Emily Dickinson: The Poet on the Second Floor_
(1986), _Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself_ (1999), and _The Last Titan: A
Life of Theodore Dreiser_ (2005).

_Mark Twain: The Adventures of Samuel L. Clemens_ contains a chronology of
Clemens's life and works; a prologue; fifty-two short chapters arranged
chronologically; two appendices--a genealogy of the Clemens family and a
list of books published by Charles L. Webster & Company; notes; an epilogue;
and an index that can be extremely helpful to those interested in particular
parts of Clemens's life or people he knew. The chapters are further divided
into four sections: "Humorist in the West," "Writer in the East," "The
Artist and the Businessman," and "The Mysterious Stranger." Loving states in
his prologue that he intends the book to explore "Twain's interactions with
such writers as James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt
Whitman" and "reexamine the life of this 'family man' to reveal the father
of three daughters as not only overly protective but also possibly
manipulative" with the unintended consequence of "finishing a trilogy of
such major writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries" (p. 7).

The first section traces Clemens' early life--the move from Florida,
Missouri to Hannibal; his youthful illnesses; his father's failures and
obsessions; and his mother's sense of humor. While much of the information
is not new to Mark Twain scholars, Loving draws some interesting parallels
to other authors (for example, the fact that Benjamin Franklin wrote the
Silence Dogood letters at almost the same age as Clemens's early newspaper
stories written under his Snodgrass pseudonym). This section ends with
Clemens's move East from Nevada. Section Two covers the earliest of
Clemens's published work, his marriage to Livy, and ends with the
publication of _A Tramp Abroad_. Section Three carries the reader through
Clemens's financial troubles and into his friendship with Henry Huddleston
Rogers. The last section, "The Mysterious Stranger," deals with the last
part of his life, from about the turn of the century to his death in 1910.
This section discusses his late, unpublished writing, the deaths of family
members, and Clemens's own final days.

Each short chapters focuses on one part of Clemens' life, though they also
often contain asides that add more contemporary material of interest. In
Chapter 22, "Home in Hartford," Loving states:

Anyone who visits Hannibal will find a Mark Twain imitator or two either
performing at bed-and-breakfasts or simply crossing the streets of a town
whose economic life now depends almost solely on the memory of Mark Twain's
boyhood and its dramatization in _Tom Sawyer_ and _Huckleberry Finn_.
Otherwise one may listen to a recording of Hal Holbrook performing in _Mark
Twain Tonight_ or, at this writing, even _see_ the actor, now well over the
age of Twain at his death, impersonate him. We have, however, something
almost as close to the real thing as the Whitman recording: we can almost
hear Mark Twain's 'voice' in a recording Will Gillette made before that
speech class in the 1930s (p. 180).

Loving then goes on to add a short footnoted discussion of Gillette himself.
Such asides offer enthusiasts a glimpse of the ways in which "Mark Twain" is
still alive and well in portions of America even 100 years after his death.

While the text itself is amply footnoted throughout, it often contains
material which may prove controversial. For example, Chapter 24, "A Book
about England," chronicles the English book (which Clemens never wrote) and
his first solo trip to England without Livy. On that trip, he hired Charles
Warren Stoddard as his secretary--to collect newspaper reports of the
Tichborne Claimant and according to Clemens, "to sit up nights with me &
dissipate" (p. 198). Clemens, Stoddard, and George Dolby often made a party
of three on these occasions. Loving then speculates:

Since Dolby probably wasn't always present during their drinking sessions,
we might wonder whether Stoddard, when intoxicated, didn't broach an
intimacy with his friend, perhaps confessing or hinting at his sexual
attraction to men. Although Twain may have suspected that Stoddard was a
homosexual, he was probably tolerant, perhaps because he, too, may have had
a personal history of unconventional sexual behavior, albeit heterosexual,
in Nevada and Hawaii (p. 199),

Loving offers no source citation for his theory. However, the number of
"probablies" and "perhapses" and "may haves" in this short passage is
representative of several such passages in the book, which will supply
fodder for scholars' arguments in future books about Mark Twain, his works,
and his life.

Clemens's final days receive shorter treatment than his early life. Loving
draws from William Gibson's excellent _Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger
Manuscripts_ (1969), and makes copious use of Clemens's letters from various
sources. Summaries of Mark Twain's most famous works such as _Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn_ and _A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court_ as well
as his short stories and less famous texts, give Mark Twain scholars and
those new to his corpus a framework from which to view the more speculative
aspects of Loving's arguments. Loving's _Mark Twain: The Adventures of
Samuel L. Clemens_ adds to both our knowledge of the man and our ability to
read his work with a clearer picture of both the times during which he wrote
and the life that he lived.