Fri, 29 May 1992 07:56:00 LCL
I had occasion to read the Sanborn book about a year and a half
ago. (Patrick Samway had asked me to review it for AMERICA.)
I could not determine what audience Sanborn was trying to reach.
The documentation was too poor for a scholarly volume; and the
writing was not appropriate for a popular biography. I had hoped
the book would either be a treasure like the Kaplan volume,
covering the years Kaplan left out, or a reworking of the scholarly
volume on the early years done so long ago. It was neither. Who
did Sanborn intend to reach? I could never tell.
She speculates about Twain's early sexual experiences; but as far
as I can tell, has no documentation to back up her guessing. Her
"find" may have been about the time elapsed between the finding of
the Nevada claim and the returning to work the claim. It is hard
to retrace her work using the book alone since the documentation is
Did I enjoy the book? Some parts of it were both fun and enlight-
ening. As a scholar, I wanted more: more documentation and more
careful explanation. As a casual reader, I wanted more of the fun,
more of the zest of a frontier Twain.
Why did Sanborn choose to treat the life up to Twain's marriage?
Her argument is that he changes considerably afterward. It is not
a strong argument. One could more easily say that the courtship
marks the era of great change with his trying to be more of an
orthodox Christian and the like.
Perhaps, since she followed the life almost to its halfway point,
she has plans to do what she did with the life of Robert E. Lee:
publish a complete biography in two volumes.
Perhaps, she ran out of time and energy at that point.
Are we better off with Sanborn's book than without it? Truthfully,
I don't know.