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_ Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition,
Volume 1_. Edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and other editors of the Mark
Twain Project. University of California Press, 2010. Pp. 760. Hardcover.
$34.95. ISBN 978-0520267190.

Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
prices from the Twain Web Bookstore. Purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Barbara Schmidt

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 This review may not be published or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

Over the past few weeks the _Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and
Authoritative Edition, Volume 1_ has risen into the top ranks of the best
sellers lists of _The New York Times_ and online bookstores such as Amazon
and is on its way to becoming one of the most outstanding successes ever
published by University of California Press. The book has been reviewed
worldwide by some of the most prestigious publications as well as some of
the most obscure and has been the subject of online blogs.

Coming in at well over 700 pages, the volume is the first of three to be
released over the next five years. Much of the success for _Autobiography of
Mark Twain, Volume 1_ is due to the previous work of Lin Salamo, an editor
now retired from the Mark Twain Papers. Salamo's study of the manuscripts
provided a key to understanding Mark Twain's intent for their assemblage
after numerous former editors such as Albert Bigelow Paine (1924), Bernard
De Voto (1940), and Charles Neider (1959) had each rearranged and edited the
material to suit their purposes at the time.

_Volume 1_ lays the groundwork for understanding Mark Twain's early efforts
to produce an autobiography, his preliminary manuscripts, early attempts at
dictating his life's story, and his desire not to publish it in full until a
century after his death. End material provides a key to which segments in
_Volume 1_ have been never been published as well as segments that
previously appeared in earlier versions of the autobiography. Over 180 pages
are devoted to "Explanatory Notes" of the depth and breadth scholars have
come to expect from the editors of the Mark Twain Papers. People Mark Twain
wrote about or discussed are identified when possible; their dates of birth
and death are provided as well as thumbnail biographies of who they were and
how they fit into the history of the era. Topics and events Mark Twain
discussed get the same in-depth treatment. This editorial analysis is a key
to understanding numerous off-hand remarks, commentary, and newspaper
clippings he inserted into the work. In addition, when Mark Twain makes a
mistake of fact in name, date or otherwise (and he often does), an
explanatory note gives a correction. Mark Twain's mistakes are allowed to
stand--another key to insight into his thought processes while the reader is
advised of the inaccuracy of his statements. A genealogy chart of the
manuscripts is also provided for segments of the autobiography published in
the _North American Review_ in 1906-1907--the only version of the
autobiography published in Mark Twain's lifetime and sanctioned by him. Mark
Twain used the money from the _North American Review_ publication to build
his Stormfield home, which he originally called "Autobiography House."

Reading _Autobiography of Mark Twain_, in the order Mark Twain intended,
provides unprecedented access into the inner workings of his creativity. The
portions of his life's story written in his early attempts are full of
reverie and description such as his lengthy description of life on his Uncle
John Quarles's farm in a segment titled "My Autobiography [Random Extracts
from It]." He prefaced this segment by explaining that this method "suffers
the fate of its brethren--it is presently abandoned for some other and newer
interest" (p. 203). Mark Twain could not find the spontaneity to tell his
life's story the way he wanted to if he was limited to using a pen.

Mark Twain first experimented with dictating his autobiography in 1885 with
his lecture agent James Redpath serving as his stenographer. In Italy in
1904, he again took up dictating his life's history but his interest
evaporated after his wife's death in June 1904. These early attempts are
featured in a section titled "Preliminary Manuscripts and Dictations." In
January 1906, with the encouragement of his official biographer, Albert
Bigelow Paine, he took up the experiment again--a rambling, talking,
conversational experiment--discussing whatever came to mind each day, which
was often based on news reports and current events. By March 26, 1906 he was
satisfied with his progress and declared:

"I intend that this autobiography shall become a model for all future
autobiographies when it is published, after my death, and I also intend that
it shall be read and admired a good many centuries because of its form and
method--a form and method whereby the past and the present are constantly
brought face to face, resulting in contrasts which newly fire up the
interest all along like contact of flint with steel. Moreover, this
autobiography of mine does not select from my life its showy episodes, but
deals merely in the common experiences which go to make up the life of the
average human being ..." (p. 441).

Some segments of this new edition of the autobiography that have been
previously published are yet worthy of mention and will be a delight to
newcomers to Mark Twain studies. One of these includes the account of Mark
Twain's visit to the home of Civil War General Dan Sickles. Mark Twain did
not include this segment in the _North American Review_ publication but it
was included in Albert Bigelow Paine's 1924 edition. Regarding Sickles's

"You couldn't put out a hand anywhere without laying it upon a velvety,
exquisite tiger skin or leopard skin, and so on--oh, well, all the kinds of
skins were there; it was as if a menagerie had undressed in the place. Then
there was a most decided and rather unpleasant odor, which proceeded from
disinfectants and preservatives and things such as you have to sprinkle on
skins in order to discourage the moths--so it was not altogether a pleasant
place, on that account" (p. 289).

For choice previously unpublished material "[Something About Doctors]" heads
the list. This essay written in 1903 and designated for inclusion in the
autobiography takes to task doctors and especially Elmira doctor Theron A.
Wales and his attempts to treat Mark Twain's carbuncle:

"He began to treat it. And also began to talk. To let him tell it, the
carbuncle had always been the master of the human race until by God's mercy
he became a member of it. Then he sang the long list of his victories,
carbuncle by carbuncle, naming the proprietor in each case and the place on
him where the carbuncle roosted, and the illustrious methods whereby he had
conducted those carbuncles to a happy and spectacular finish. This was a
very dull man, by nature and acquirement, but he was an old friend of the
kinship, and I had to endure him, though I give you my word that as between
his society and the carbuncle's, I would have selected the carbuncle's every
time. ... He did not cure my carbuncle. He watched over it forty-five days
like a tender and ignorant carbuncle-angel, then I started across the
country with my family" (p. 189-90).

_Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1_ ends with the dictation for March
30, 1906. But the good news is that two more volumes are forthcoming and
they will contain a wealth of previously unpublished material. The book is
unique in several regards. The price of a volume of this size and magnitude
has placed it well within most book buyers' budgets. In addition, the book
is available free of charge online at the Mark Twain Project's website
<> in a text searchable version. Also online
at this site, (and not available in the print edition) are the textual
commentaries for each essay and day's dictations. These textual commentaries
 provide additional insight into Mark Twain's creative process and the
editing of his own work by indicating which words were struck out and which
were replaced by different words in the attempt to find just the "right"
word even as he was reading the typescripts of his own dictation. A separate
website for more information on the book itself has also been established by
the University of California Press at <>.

Congratulations are in order for editors Harriet Elinor Smith, Benjamin
Griffin, Victor Fisher, Michael B. Frank, Sharon K. Goetz, Leslie Diane
Myrick, and the University of California Press in making _Autobiography of
Mark Twain, Volume 1_ an unimpeachable success.