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Sun, 25 Jul 2010 21:58:27 -0700
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A friend sent this to me.  It is always interesting to see where Mark Twain
pops up.
Arianne Laidlaw

*Subscribe to Granta today* <>
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   - 15 July 2010

 A Voice from the Vault

   - comments (1)<>

 Granta *111: Going Back* <>*, published
in the UK today, contains the first extract of Mark Twain’s forthcoming
autobiography, which he forbade anyone to publish for a hundred years after
his death. Benjamin Griffin, associate editor at the Mark Twain Project,
reflects here on work once considered un-editable, and some advice the team
has had from the great man himself...*

Fixing the ‘final form’ of a long-dead author’s intentions is a tricky
business at the best of times; but in the case of the *Autobiography of Mark
Twain*, we’re dealing with a text which has actually been declared
un-editable by one critic. I like to think the Mark Twain Project edition
has shown it isn’t so; but there was *some* justification behind that
sceptic’s panic.

Samuel Clemens composed things he said were ‘for the autobiography’,
fitfully, over a period of more than thirty years before hitting on ‘The
Final (& Right) Plan.’ So there is this large body of material that didn’t
make it into his ‘final plan’. The editors here at the Project had the
option of excluding these rejected first shots altogether, in the name of
final authorial intention. But among these pieces are some of Clemens’s most
striking writings on his youth; moreover, what Clemens ended up rejecting
sheds light on the evolution of his ‘Final’ plan. And so we decided to
print, preliminarily, everything that Clemens had intended, *at some time*,
for his autobiography.

That ‘Final’ autobiography has never before been printed in anything like
its true form – past editors having abridged and reshuffled it to suit their
own whims. Clemens’s approach – quite modernist, considering he was born in
1835 – is a ‘stream-of-consciousness’ method, in which you

wander at your free will all over your life; talk only about the thing which
interests you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to
pale, and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing that has
intruded itself into your mind meantime… In this way you have the vivid
things of the present to make a contrast with memories of like things in the
past, and these contrasts have a charm which is all their own.

To encourage spontaneity and caprice, Clemens dictated rather than wrote the
bulk of the *Autobiography*. A stenographer took down his words in
shorthand, which she later expanded and typed out.

That fact alone, of this oral stage of transmission, poses a challenge
literary editors haven’t often tackled. The shorthand record (it is lost)
gave Clemens’s words only as very abbreviated signs, and sometimes the
stenographer’s subsequent re-expansions were understandably mistaken. For
example, she produced ‘occasion’ where Clemens said ‘contagion’; ‘boring’
instead of ‘bearing’; and (endearingly?) ‘cocoa’ where he said ‘coca.’
Clemens later corrected these mis-expansions – but how many did he miss?

He marked the typed text, revising it sometimes quite heavily, and it was
typed again from the corrected pages; and these he revised still further.
It’s here that another big question arises. While working on the book,
Clemens was serializing excerpts in the *North American Review*.
Consequently, his revisions may stem from more than one motive. Some look
like aesthetic improvements; others are ‘softenings’, intended to disguise
the names of living persons, blunt the edge of the satire, or expunge risqué

We decided, after vigorous debate, to accept Clemens’s revisions where we
deem them simple aesthetic changes, but to reject softenings on the grounds
that they were intended only for that time and audience. Alas, the line
between the two is not so easily drawn. If Clemens expunges a reference to
an acquaintance as having an absurdly long beard, is he trying to spare the
subject’s feelings, or has he merely decided the detail is unwanted?

It’s the purpose of a critical edition not simply to offer the best text, by
choosing among variant readings, but also to feature the *other* readings so
that alternate ways of constructing the text are made available. The list of
variant readings in this edition includes not only major variations in
wording, but also every variation of spelling, punctuation, italicization
and so forth. With Clemens, stenographers, editors and typesetters all
introducing variation at multiple stages into a text of roughly 750,000
words, the list of variants is huge – too big, in fact, to print. It’s the
Internet that met this challenge: Mark Twain Project
Online<>is where the list of variants
will be accessible.

I can’t refrain from describing one of the most intractable editorial tasks
I ever came across. In the piece called “Private History of a Manuscript
That Came to Grief,” Clemens wishes to present a manuscript of his own that
got incompetently revised by an editor (one of the recurring motifs of the *
Autobiography* is that you can’t trust an editor). So, Clemens wants to
reproduce the manuscript showing not only his original but also the editor’s
revisions. *Except*, he has had the whole affair re-copied by a typist,
showing the editor’s editing, *but making his own revisions*. So we had to
edit Clemens’s editing of the editor’s editing…

Well, I can feel the wind of the wing of madness tousling my hair, just
remembering it, but I know I’ll go back again and again to the epigram
Clemens directed at his interfering editor, from which we all have derived
much benefit:

‘You ought never to edit except when awake.’


*The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I, will be published by the
University of California Press this autumn.** See also – two pages from the
manuscript of the autobiography <>,
with an explanation of their importance from Robert H. Hirst, general editor
of the Mark Twain Project.*

*Visit our current issue page <> to buy
your copy of ‘Going Back’ now. You can also browse slideshows of cover
art<>there, and
read about our launch
at the British Library<>where
Salman Rushdie, A.L. Kennedy, Richard Russo and Elizabeth McCracken
talked about* Granta * and how the magazine has helped their work.*


*Granta* 111: Going Back <>

Arianne Laidlaw A '58