Who is Mark Twain?
55 Installments—Entirely free
Never-before-published essays by American legend Mark Twain.
“You had better shove this in the stove,” Mark Twain said at the top of an 1865 letter to his brother, “for I don’t want any absurd ‘literary remains’ and ‘unpublished letters of Mark Twain’ published after I am planted.” He was joking, of course. But when Mark Twain died in 1910, he left behind the largest collection of personal papers created by any nineteenth-century American author.
Here, for the first time in book form, are twenty-four remarkable pieces by the American master—pieces that have been hand picked by Robert Hirst, General Editor of The Mark Twain Project at UC Berkeley. In “Jane Austen,” Twain wonders if Austen’s goal is to “make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters?” “The Privilege of the Grave” offers a powerful statement about the freedom of speech while “Happy Memories of the Dental Chair” will make you appreciate modern dentistry. In “Frank Fuller and My First New York Lecture” Twain plasters the city with ads to promote his talk at the Cooper Union (he is terrified no one will attend). Later that day, Twain encounters two men gazing at one of his ads. One man says to the other: “Who is Mark Twain?” The other responds: “God knows—I don’t.”
Wickedly funny and disarmingly relevant, Who is Mark Twain? shines new light on one of America’s most beloved literary icons—a man who was well ahead of his time.
“My books are water; those of the great geniuses is wine. Everybody drinks water."
—Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Volume 3: 1883-1891
Q&A with the Editor
Robert Hirst is the General Editor of the Mark Twain Project at UC Berkeley. He hand picked the twenty-four pieces in Who is Mark Twain? from Twain’s voluminous archives.
Q: The blogger Ben Sutherland said Mark Twain’s spirit “lives as a garden gnome in Stephen Colbert's pants.” What do you make that?
A: Doesn't Sutherland have that backwards? Colbert is clearly the offspring of Mark Twain, not the other way around. Besides, when Mark Twain used "deadpan," he knew enough not to shout it at the top of his lungs. Huck says, for instance, "I reckon a body that ups and tells the truth when he is in a tight place, is taking considerable many resks, though I ain't had no experience…and yet here's a case where I'm blest if it don't look to me like the truth is better, and actuly safer, than a lie. I must lay it by in my mind, and think it over some time or other, it's so kind of strange and unregular. I never see nothing like it."...You have to take that in slowly to appreciate the point. No one is shouting.
Q: What would Twain have said about Barack Obama?
A: It's above my pay grade to try to figure out what Mark Twain would have said; I have enough difficulty figuring out exactly what he did say. But I suppose it's fair to guess that whatever he might have thought of Obama, the question of his "race" would not have entered in. He told a correspondent in 1909: "To my mind one color is just as respectable as another; there is nothing important, nothing essential, about a complexion. I mean, to me. But with the Deity it is different. He doesn't think much of white people, He prefers the colored. Andrea del Sarto's pink-&-lily Madonnas revolt Him, my child. That is, they would, but He never looks at them."
Q: How was Twain ahead of his time?
A: Certainly in the matter of race he was, beyond any question, ahead of his time. "I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being—that is enough for me; he can't be any worse." But if you mean in his literary work, I think it's fair to say that he experimented more or less constantly with literary forms that went beyond the conventions of his day. That is surely the case with Huckleberry Finn, but it's also true with several of the pieces in Who Is Mark Twain?—stories like "The Undertaker's Tale," and "The Snow-Shovelers." He was the kind of writer who tried hard never to look back on what he had done. He never revised books after they were published—only before. Once they were in print, he was eager to move on to the next challenge.
Q: Why hasn’t this work been published before?
A: Mark Twain wrote and published an enormous number of words, and at his death he left unpublished an equally large body of material, including literary manuscripts like those in Who Is Mark Twain? and thousands of letters, notebooks, his autobiography, and so forth. Even though the Mark Twain Project has been editing and publishing these materials since 1967, we are far from done, and these twenty four pieces just haven't yet reached the top of our schedule. So we're grateful to HarperStudio for giving us the chance to publish them now.
Extended Copyright Information
Copyright 2009 by Harper Collins. All rights reserved.
Transcription, reconstruction, and emendation of the texts copyright © 2001 and 2009 by The Regents of the University of California. First published in 2001 by University of California Press under a license from the Mark Twain Foundation.
This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or hereafter invented, without written permission from the publisher.
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Born Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain (1835-1910) was and is an American legend. A prolific journalist, essayist, and writer of short stories and novels, Twain had a unique gift for capturing and often laughing at the young American nation he knew. Growing up in Missouri, Twain spent his early years on the Mississippi River, which would figure prominently in the world of his later fiction. Twain worked as a riverboat pilot as a young man, but headed west when the Civil War broke out. His trip across the country and eventual years in Nevada and California became fodder for some of Twain's best works. Settling eventually in Connecticut, Twain enjoyed many fruitful years of writing, travel, and family life until he left the world, as he had vowed, with the return of Halley's Comet in 1910. Perhaps best known for his novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huck Finn, Twain is the author of many other works, including Life on the Mississippi, Letters From the Earth, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and Innocents Abroad.Back to top
Opening Lines (Experimental)
WHO IS MARK TWAIN?
Whenever I am about to publish a book, I feel an impatient desire to know what kind of a book it is. Of course I can find this out only by waiting until the critics shall have printed their reviews. I _do_ know, beforehand, what the verdict of the general public will be, because ...
Copyright 2009 by Harper Collins.
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Reviewed by alice3372 on Feb 9, 2012
i like it this is very nice book
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Reviewed by Elfmagic on Jul 10, 2011
An honorable man.
An author who calls a spade a spade. He sees through situations and gets right to the nub of it. :)
Reviewed by sahayra on Jul 30, 2010
Diverse selection of Twain's work
I haven’t read that much of his work besides what was required of me in school, but I enjoyed this small anthology of Twain’s previously unpublished works. There’s a good variety of essays and short fiction on diverse subjects.
Some of the essays were over my head, but entertaining nonetheless. If you can get past the first short story then you’ll be golden, it gets better after that.
Reviewed by tazzy2 on Mar 6, 2010
Reviewed by dreamdust on Dec 21, 2009
So glad I read this!
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Ratings for 'Who is Mark Twain?' by Twain, Mark