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Lawrence Howe <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 15 Apr 1998 11:42:45 -0500
text/plain (187 lines)
Dear Forum--

I enclose my review of Mark Twain, _The Diaries of Adam and Eve-, ed. Don
E. Roberts.

Twain, Mark. _The Diaries of Adam and Eve: Translated by Mark Twain._ Ed.
Don E. Roberts.   Ill.  Michael Mojher.  San Francisco: Fair Oaks Press,
1997.  Pp. 127. 5-3/4" x 8-3/4".  Notes.  Cloth. $18.95.  ISBN

Available from the publisher: Fair Oaks Press, Box 192871, Rincon Station,
San Francisco, CA 94119-2871.

Reviewed by Larry Howe <[log in to unmask]>

Over the course of a dozen years, from 1893-1905, Mark Twain wrote various
pieces in the voices of Adam and Eve.  Twain s interest in this material
has a long background, present in some of his earliest work.   In
_Innocents Abroad_ he visits a site identified as Adam s grave, prompting
fond thoughts of his departed ancestor.   In another instance he confesses
his envy for Adam who never had to worry about plagiarism.  And in
_Huckleberry Finn_ he conjures up Edenic bliss in Huck s escape to
Jackson s Island.  Twain s return to Adam and Eve in 1893 was triggered by
his writing calendar maxims for _Pudd nhead Wilson_, in which the Edenic
couple appear.  Upon completing that novel, he began _Extracts from Adam s
Diary_, and followed that with _Eve s Diary_.   In these later texts he has
come a long way from those earlier references and allusions; here Twain
dares to invent authority for the two figures who bear mythological
responsibility for the condition of Western civilization.

Now Don E. Roberts has collected these writings in one counterpointed
narrative.  Although the original appearance of this material didn t
attract much positive attention, this edition is proof that another look is
more than warranted.   For many readers familiar only with Twain s tales
about mischievous boys or cranky vernacular characters, this work--one of
the great love stories of all time--will come as a real surprise.   Whether
you re interested in Twain or not, if your heart hasn t atrophied, you will
love _The Diaries of Adam and Eve._   As well you should, because, aside
from its greatness as a love story, it s also a labor of love both for
Twain and for Roberts.  Roberts s profound love of the art of the book is
evident in every detail--from the illustrated dust jacket, which features a
rare 1902 Thomas Marr photograph of Twain at Quarry Farm on the back; to
the Smythe sewn binding in gold-stamped Kennett cloth; to the high-quality
printing on acid free paper; to the eight beautiful illustrations
commissioned specifically for this volume.  The 1000 numbered copies in
this limited edition will be collector s items for all who value finely
crafted books and especially the works of Mark Twain.

Most of all, Roberts demonstrates his keen appreciation for the text
itself.  Twain had proposed to his publisher that  _Extracts from Adam s
Diary_ (1904) and _Eve s Diary_ (1906) should be published together.  He
reasoned that  [t]hey score points against each other-- so, if not bound
together, some of the points would not be perceived.   But not until the
publication of the Oxford Mark Twain edition in 1996 did the two appear in
one volume.  Roberts has taken this intention two steps further.  First, he
has collated the entries in these two central texts in Twain s Eden cycle,
creating a patterned exchange between the principals.  Second, he has
rounded out this exchange with passages from the more obscure  Eve Speaks,
 That Day in Eden,   Adam s Soliloquy,  and the  Autobiography of Eve.
This bold move makes clear that this is not a scholarly edition; no doubt,
Roberts s editorial liberties may irk some Twain purists.  Even aside from
the dovetailing of the entries in the respective diaries, textual scholars
would, no doubt, argue that the inclusions of other compositions in which
Twain projected Adam s or Eve s voice is akin to linking _Tom Sawyer
Abroad_ or _Tom Sawyer, Detective_ with _Huckleberry Finn_.  But even if
Roberts s composite edition violates scholarly protocols, his manifest
sensitivity for the Adam and Eve material yields the sort of book that
makes for deeply satisfying reading.  The chronological arrangements of the
first couple s separate observations highlight both the characteristic
humor and the surprising tenderness with which Twain viewed the innocence
of their Edenic courtship, their mutual support during the fall, and the
triumph of their love through a lifetime of labor and pain.  Arguably, the
juxtaposed reflections in this edition--graphically distinguished by roman
type for Eve, and italic for Adam--go a long way to achieve what Twain had
in mind.

From the outset, one is struck by the differing proportions of their
entries.  Eve is the more voluble, exhibiting a deeper sense of
self-consciousness, esthetic appreciation, and scientific inquisitiveness
than Adam does.  She fancies herself an  experiment,  coins arbitrary words
for things with a refreshing confidence about their appropriateness, and
derives axioms based on her experience.  For example, after discovering the
properties of fire, she invents the maxim,  The burnt experiment shuns the
fire  (41).  Adam, on the other hand, is tersely observant, even
curmudgeonly in his resentment for Eve s intrusion on his privacy:


_Cloudy today, wind in the east; think we shall have rain ..._    We?
_Where did I get that word? ... I remember now--the new creature uses it._


_My life is not as happy as it was._


_The new creature eats too much fruit.  We are going to run short most
likely.   We  again-- that is_ its _word; mine, too, now, from hearing it
so much.   Good deal of fog this morning.  I do not go out in the fog
myself.   The new creature does.  It goes out in all weathers.  And talks.
It used to be so pleasant and quiet here._                        (23)

Twain has given Genesis a wry spin: not only has he reoriented the gender
hierarchy of Western culture by giving Eve the first voice, but he has also
given Adam and Eve personalities and personal authority to tell their own
versions of biblical events and pre-historic dailiy life.  We come to
appreciate them because of the humanity they project in their growing
consciousnesses and the progress they make as they mature together.

Adam gradually loses his aversion to his know-it-all helpmeet, who does her
best to protect his ego from the superiority of her intelligence, and comes
to realize that she fulfills his life in ways that he d never imagined in
those early days they shared.

     Year Twelve

_After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the
beginning; it is better to live outside the garden with her than inside it
without her.  At first I thought she talked too much, but now I should be
sorry to have that voice fall silent and pass out of my life._

Eve s love for Adam never wavers.   But her love does expand as their
family grows--their brood includes not just Cain and Abel, but innumerable
offspring0 including Gladys and Edwina.   In her role as first mother, Eve
demonstrates unqualified love for her children, admiring each for the
talents they exhibit.   Within the framework of this love, Twain reinvents
the notion of the fortunate fall.  Both Adam and Eve come to realize that
losing Eden-- their property,  as Adam calls it-- was not such a great loss
in light of what they gained.   Still, the tragic quality of their
experience manifests itself when Eve touchingly documents her agonizing
loss of Abel, which makes death--heretofore only an undefined word--real in
her experience.   From the morning that they discover Abel drenched in
blood, she ministers to him, convinced that he is merely sleeping off the
effects of his wound and his propensity for working too hard.   Not until
the next day, does she realize the full meaning of mortality:

     We cannot wake him!  With my arms clinging about him, I have looked
into his eyes, through the veil of my tears, and begged for one little
word, and he will not answer.  Oh, is it that long sleep--is it death?  And
will he wake no more?                   (105)

One week later, Eve s sadness turns into a bitter critique of the
conditions and consequences of their lives:

        We could not know it was wrong to disobey the command, for the words
were strange to us and we did not understand them.  We did not know right
from wrong--how should we know? ...  If we had been given the Moral Sense
first--ah, that would have been fairer, would ave been kinder.  Then we
should be to blame if we disobeyed. ...
        Adam says my brain is turned by my troubles and that I am become
I am as I am; I did not make myself.

In Eve, Twain discovers a persona in which to express his skepticism about
religion.  Confronted with the profound sadness of losing a child, an
experience that Twain endured three times himself, Eve articulates the pain
and anger generated by unfathomable consequences.

Adam, too, suffers his own sadness when Eve dies.  His closing line of the
Eden cycle speaks volumes about Twain s view of his own marriage:

        _Wherever she was;_ there _was Eden._   (109)

In this affecting book, Twain manages to indulge sentiment--personal and
cultural--without succumbing to what Huck Finn calls  soulbutter and
hogwash.   Twain, with help from Don Roberts, has given it to us.  Give it
to someone you love.