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May 23, 2010 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Mark Twain wrote an extensive memoir, but stipulated that it not be published until 100 years after his death. This November it will be published.
posted by borkencode (65 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

 
"He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He's also critical of [Theodore] Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there."

Sounds like someone peeked.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:14 PM on May 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hal Holbrook comes out of retirement for one last job...
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:17 PM on May 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


I don't generally gravitate toward autobiographies or memoirs, but I just might make an exception to this one.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:28 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


He probably would not have liked WW1.
posted by Daddy-O at 5:30 PM on May 23, 2010


Parts have already been published (and likely the best parts) but this is a pretty cool event that I'm really lucky to have lived to see.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:32 PM on May 23, 2010


I totally torrented this about a week after he died.
posted by mecran01 at 5:32 PM on May 23, 2010 [33 favorites]


However, Robert Hirst, who is leading the team at Berkeley editing the complete text, says that more than half of it has still never appeared in print. Only academics, biographers, and members of the public prepared to travel to the university's Bancroft research library have previously been able to read it in full.


That'd have been pretty cool to go and do...but no, now the bragging rights of having read Twain's autobiography in full will lose all the gusto. Any other memoirs sitting in special collections else where?
posted by Atreides at 5:32 PM on May 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


As I understood it, those last years were the most angry and bitter of his life. This should be pretty nasty.

Awesome!
posted by Xezlec at 5:33 PM on May 23, 2010 [6 favorites]




I totally torrented this about a week after he died.

Thus propagating the infamous "sawyer" virus.
posted by archivist at 5:33 PM on May 23, 2010


Imagine how he would marvel at civilization's progress.
posted by hal9k at 5:35 PM on May 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


I can't wait! I'm in that rare category of readers who prefers Twain's non-fiction to his fiction. His takedown of James Fenimore Cooper, for instance, is one of the most amazing pieces of "oh for fuck's sake"-brand criticism I have ever read.
Cooper’s art has some defects. In one place in ‘Deerslayer,’ and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.
posted by griphus at 5:35 PM on May 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


I have The Autobiography of Mark Twain on my bookshelf right now and has been for over 10 years. It is almost 500 pages long. So now I'm confused.

"His estate has allowed parts of it to be adapted for publication in three previous books described as "autobiographies"." (from the MFA). Maybe it is one of these.

I haven't read it in a while, but it is a good book - funny and I don't recall it being too vitriolic.
posted by jeoc at 5:37 PM on May 23, 2010


I'm sorry. I have to go there: What would he think of Lady Gaga?
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:40 PM on May 23, 2010


mccarty.tim: "I'm sorry. I have to go there: What would he think of Lady Gaga?"

Not sure about Lady Miss Gaga, but he's pretty keen on Eminem.
posted by griphus at 5:42 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Imagine how he would marvel at civilization's progress.

I know that was sarcasm, but now that I think about it, he actually might. From what I understand, the smog and pollution in big cities of his day was considerably worse than today. So was the divide between rich and poor. I mean, in his day, pure laissez-faire was pretty much the only game in town. Also, he was a guy who was fairly impressed by technology (even though at other times frustrated to no end by its misuse). I don't think his perspective on our world would be as instantly and universally negative as some here might hope. If you read his ranting, a lot of the problems he bitched about are, more or less, solved now.

Yeah, he'd still be annoyed by imperialism.
posted by Xezlec at 5:44 PM on May 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


I agree he would've liked the technology, but hated the politics. He might have enjoyed palling around with Kurt Vonnegut, if he could manage to avoid a huge epistolary feud.

As an enormous Twain junkie, I cannot wait for this book.

It will certainly be angry, bitter, and depressing. I'm most curious about whether it will contain anything really new in terms of life events. Scholars have combed his remnants with extreme thoroughness by now. There are probably horrible bitter invectives against people - thoughts he didn't want to reveal - but I wonder if there will be any new episodes brought to light. I kind of doubt it, since those kinds of things would likely have outed by now.
posted by Miko at 5:49 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


As I understood it, those last years were the most angry and bitter of his life. This should be pretty nasty.

Awesome!


....didn't work out that well for Vonnegut, or George Carlin IMO. Sometimes anger and bitterness just sounds like anger and bitterness.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:52 PM on May 23, 2010


I like to imagine he'd get future shock and become an imperialist neoconservative teabagger in an attempt to turn back the clock to 1880.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:53 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've read the unreleased portions.
On computers: prefers typewriter to word processor
On internet: doesn't 'get' Facebook
On telecommunications: loves his iPhone, but has an epic dislike of Steve Jobs
On Lady Gaga: massive fan
Also: actually a Reptoid
posted by Ritchie at 5:56 PM on May 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


This is fucking great. Thanks for posting it.
posted by nevercalm at 5:57 PM on May 23, 2010




Twain was so close to Lyon that she once bought him an electric vibrating sex toy.

Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian. Well, in this document he calls her a slut and says she tried to seduce him.


When I'm seventy I hope some slut tries to seduce me with a vibrating sex toy.
posted by digsrus at 6:25 PM on May 23, 2010 [21 favorites]


What this brings to mind for me is how in eras past, people actually thought about something beyond the next five minutes, beyond the quarterly earnings statement, beyond the year's top ten list. No matter what this actual piece of writing is like, or how it stacks up against everything else he ever did, it's just so admirable that folks like Clemens were thinking a hundred years down the road. I reckon this kind of thinking has all but vanished.

Then again, who knows? Maybe round the year, say, 2140 new generations will see videos from Lady Gaga that'd been kept under wraps for 100 years after her death. I mean, I don't personally think that anyone will remember LG by then, but... you never know. The future is fucking weird.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:28 PM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, what I wouldn't give for a 450 page ranting screed by Twain savaging me.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:30 PM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can't believe no one's linked to the Mark Twain Project yet. Here, let me do that. Also a University of California project. The letters section there is awesome. It's the cutting edge of digital humanities scholarship. They really need to build both the writings section, create the tantalizing images section, and include more facsimiles, but god, if all scholarship were like that, and open access...

An epistolary feud with Vonnegut? Sometimes, when I just start to fall asleep, I dream of that, and am jolted awake, with a smile.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:40 PM on May 23, 2010 [5 favorites]




Whenever the question of 'what would they think of now' I think of the Wim Wenders' film, Until the End of the World (great premise... execution... lacking), where (SPOILERS) William Hurt's mother, who'd gone blind as a young child in Europe, is able to see the world through Hurt's recordings of his own act of seeing and the brain activity that ensues. In the end, seeing how dark and sad the world has become since she last had sight kills her.

Things like that, like finding out Wyatt Earp died in the 20's, in a world filled with radio, automobiles, and giant cities, they depress the hell out of me. On the other hand, maybe Twain would have loved this. No shortage of targets to mock, at the very least.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:52 PM on May 23, 2010


Flapjax, 2040 seems like a guess that is either way too late or way too early for Gaga's death. Man up and say whether she'll die young (a casualty of fame, drugs and/or blue ice) or die of old age.

Incidentally, Halley's Comet is set to return in 2061, and last appeared in 1986.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:55 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian.

Really? How odd.

Also, this is cool. Thanks for posting.
posted by brundlefly at 7:04 PM on May 23, 2010


"P.S. I'm gay."
posted by Artw at 7:06 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man up and say whether she'll die young (a casualty of fame, drugs and/or blue ice) or die of old age.

Haha! Truth is, though, I don't give a rat's ass! And having no idea how old she is, my year 2140 estimate was really not meant to be taken too literally. But, FWIW, I hope it's old age that claims her, and not drugs or fame or whatever.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:07 PM on May 23, 2010


Things like that, like finding out Wyatt Earp died in the 20's, in a world filled with radio, automobiles, and giant cities, they depress the hell out of me.

I find it amazing, myself. We take for granted in thinking of historical figures as being static in the times and places where they became the famous or infamous. It makes one realize that history is something more than one paragraph about a shoot out in Tombstone, but contains real people who lived before and after one more date that a history test might have once demanded be remembered. Not to mention, there's no reason after all to think that Mr. Earp didn't find the world of his last years just as interesting as those of his earlier. ;)
posted by Atreides at 7:12 PM on May 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


I totally torrented this about a week after he died.

1 pwn3d 7w41n m3m01Rz b4 h1z de47h493. j00 n00bz 5h0uld uz3 n3w5gr0upz l1k3 m3h cuz i 50 1337.
posted by the aloha at 7:14 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mark Twain wrote an extensive memoir, but stipulated that it not be published until 100 years after his death.

Let me guess: he was bitter, vitriolic, and surprisingly prophetic, right?

(I'm waiting for Eliot's letters to Emily Hale to be unsealed in 2019.)
posted by octobersurprise at 7:25 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't wait. He would have loved the internet and blown a gasket over getting torrented. What a hilarious, angry, foolish, interesting person. I read all of his non-fiction over a few months beginning around spring 2002, and I have to tell you, reading that Twain in bulk is an experience that will charge you up and see the world as a terrible place that has an infinity of stories, many of them hilarious, laid out before you.

I read a bunch of contemporaries out of curiosity, and there's no question in my mind that Twain's writing dramatically affected the development of contemporary written English. I have long been curious how this is addressed in translation, if at all.
posted by mwhybark at 7:32 PM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can't wait, can't wait, can't wait.

Mark Twain is one of my heroes; in fact, my computer desktop is his portrait with the following quote:

"The thug is aware that loudness convinces sixty persons where reasoning convinces but one"- Mark Twain, 1909
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:37 PM on May 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


I totally torrented this about a week after he died.

More like 36,524-day warez amirite
I am ashamed of myself
posted by killdevil at 7:49 PM on May 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh man. Oh man oh man. I am so buying this.
posted by Michael Roberts at 7:51 PM on May 23, 2010


I tend to think Mark Twain and H.G. Wells spend most of their time in Heaven in the part of Heaven where people who are only happy when they are pissed off live, slinging whiskey and making bets at to just when God is going to get tired of the whole thing and push the OFF switch.
posted by localroger at 8:09 PM on May 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm definitely looking forward to this. I've enjoyed a few of his books: Autobiog', Roughing It, Letters from the Earth...

For those of you not familiar with his humor, this sums it up nice for those of you in the tl;dr set:
In assisting in a fire in a boarding house

Roughing it was autobiographical, but maybe less candid
Chapter XXVI (26) in Vol 2 of Roughing It is one of my favorite bits of MT. The bit leading up to the punchline before "...a dawning civilization" had me chuckling for months after I first read it.
posted by Lukenlogs at 8:18 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


..publication is authorised by his estate, which in the absence of surviving descendants (a daughter, Clara, died in 1962, and a granddaughter Nina committed suicide in 1966) funds museums and libraries that preserve his legacy.
The Twain culture virus. Self-replicating.
posted by stbalbach at 8:34 PM on May 23, 2010


I have to second Lukenlogs in his recommendation of Letters from the Earth. The edition I own also contains "The Damned Human Race" among others; these writings actually pushed me from lukewarm agnosticism to full-fledged unbelief. Interestingly enough, Twain's only child who outlived him, Clara, would not let the text be published until 1960, for fear that it presented a distorted vision of her father's ideals.

As a college instructor of European history, I find Twain to be a fantastic author to use for primary source works, such as King Leopold's Soliloquy (1905), an attack on the murderous administration of the "Congo Free State," and his "Stirring Times in Austria" (1898) (part 2, part 3), a brilliant and hilarious account of the cacophonous nature of the parliament of the Austrian half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Finally, lest we forget, Twain was also a master of the bawdy:
Exhibit 1: "Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism" (1879)
Exhibit 2: "1601: Conversation as it was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors" (1880)
posted by dhens at 9:00 PM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Twain lived a long writing life and you can find the Twain you want by focusing on one period of his life. The bitter and sometimes magnificent cynicism of the last years is not the man in full, nor somehow definitive.

The last years are fun to discover exactly because they were suppressed by Twain's family and by total douchebag his literary executor Albert Bigelow Paine. But we have that Twain already. In the 1960s and 70s Letters From Earth and A Pen Warmed-Up in Hell and some other volumes brought forth the best of Twain's late, angry writings. Apparently the only new thing in the remaining papers will be long passages where he calls some poor woman a slut.
posted by LarryC at 9:55 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian.

I have to assume that what is meant here is, "Most people have never actually read Mr. Clemens' work and assume that since he was writing in the late 19th and early 20th century he must be a Victorian gentleman.

His autobiography might be interesting and some of his stories are OK, but his day to day business correspondence is where he really shines.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:12 PM on May 23, 2010


For the Metafilter techno-nerds who have never given Twain much thought, consider that Nikola Tesla thought he was the greatest writer that ever lived. And that's coming from Tesla who read all of Voltaire's works (there are very many.)
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:02 PM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


No, his mind is not for rent
To any god or government.
Always hopeful, yet discontent,
He knows changes aren't permanent.

Mean mean pride indeed :-)
posted by furtive at 11:13 PM on May 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Imagine how he would marvel at civilization's progress.

He may have gotten some idea of what to expect from Mr. Data & Miss Guinan.
posted by scalefree at 11:52 PM on May 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


He must have had a very high opinion of himself and the value of his views.

If he really was such a dry eyed pragmatist and cynic, he would have let his memoirs be published the day after his death.

Only a narcissist would require his memoirs to be held back for a century.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 1:04 AM on May 24, 2010


He may have been mindful that he would be survived by people he cared about, who might be hurt by what he had to say if he was being completely honest. It's equally valid to say only a narcissist would posthumously publish everything they thought or knew about everything without giving any consideration to who the publication might harm.

We'll know one way or the other soon enough.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:14 AM on May 24, 2010


What this brings to mind for me is how in eras past, people actually thought about something beyond the next five minutes, beyond the quarterly earnings statement, beyond the year's top ten list. No matter what this actual piece of writing is like, or how it stacks up against everything else he ever did, it's just so admirable that folks like Clemens were thinking a hundred years down the road. I reckon this kind of thinking has all but vanished.

Then again, it was around this time that Britain leased the island of Hong Kong from China for 100 years. Who cares after that. right? We'll all be dead!
posted by msalt at 1:31 AM on May 24, 2010


My partner and I heard about this yesterday and spent minutes saying OMFG YES YES YES. And UC Berkeley represent!

If you like Twain's nonfiction (including his Ben Franklin and Cooper critiques) and you like travel, Innocents Abroad is great. Every time any body of water comes up, he finds an excuse to talk about how awesome Lake Tahoe is for a paragraph or two.
posted by brainwane at 3:10 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Weird coincidence: I'm just on my second attempt at reading Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe, the memoirs of Chateaubriand. It wasn't supposed to be published during his lifetime, but he had to compromise due to lack of money. As Wikipedia has it:
Chateaubriand had originally intended to have the work published at least fifty years after his death, but his financial troubles forced him, in his words, "to mortgage his tomb."

Is it wrong that I find the mechanics of arranging something like this almost more fascinating than the work itself?
posted by smcg at 3:47 AM on May 24, 2010


If...you like travel, Innocents Abroad is great.

Fantastic. I'm repairing a copy of this right now. Maybe I'll take a little longer with it...
posted by ikahime at 7:35 AM on May 24, 2010


Innocents Abroad is a riotous book.
posted by Miko at 8:41 AM on May 24, 2010


So will he reveal the location where he dumped the bodies?
posted by wcfields at 9:59 AM on May 24, 2010


"He must have had a very high opinion of himself and the value of his views.

If he really was such a dry eyed pragmatist and cynic, he would have let his memoirs be published the day after his death.

Only a narcissist would require his memoirs to be held back for a century.
"

I think it was probably the opposite - Clemens wanted the memoirs to be released a century after his death because no one could possibly care about him at that point. As a writer he had to be a little narcissistic, it's true (people write books because they want other people to read them), but I bet he didn't expect to be famous a hundred years into the future.

The plan was probably for the memoirs to be released as a curiosity, maybe read by a few eccentric souls who are intrigued by ancient history, and that would be that. His legacy in the distant age of 2010 would so small that it wouldn't matter what he revealed, so he could be totally honest.

If Clemens was somehow alive today I think the most astonishing and delightful revelation for him would be his continuing popularity. Imagine that! After one hundred years packed full of events and other writers people are still passionate about the things he wrote. That would be very pleasing.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:28 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Only a narcissist would require his memoirs to be held back for a century.

A bit of narcissism is understandable, Twain was literally one of the most famous people on the planet.

Not to mention one of the most awesome people on the planet.
posted by the bricabrac man at 1:33 PM on May 24, 2010


Incidentally, Halley's Comet is set to return in 2061, and last appeared in 1986.

Given Twain's connection with the comet, I'm surprised he didn't stipulate his memoirs be published in 1986. At the very least it would've been more interesting than the comet-watching turned out to be.
posted by Spatch at 1:34 PM on May 24, 2010


That's going to be a bestseller.
posted by SMITHMag at 1:43 PM on May 24, 2010


Only a narcissist would require his memoirs to be held back for a century.

Given copyright law - a way for his heirs to get a cashflow.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:57 PM on May 24, 2010


Given copyright law - a way for his heirs to get a cashflow.

I wouldn't put it past him; he was really concerned with copyright and did a lot of agitating to continue extending copyright longer and longer past publication date. But I'm not sure he was thinking much about his heirs.
posted by Miko at 4:53 PM on May 24, 2010


If I know anything about anything, there are so, SO many people in this thread who, like me, cannot visualize Mark Twain as anything other than the Star Trek: The Next Generation version of him.
posted by tehloki at 9:03 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


According to the Mark Twain project at Berkeley, The Autobiography of Mark Twain does not contain any references to sex toys or vibrators of any kind.

Apparently the "Ashcroft-Lyon MS.", which will be appended to Vol 3. of the Autobiography, does, though the device resides in that murky area that was the subject of a very interesting book.
posted by chavenet at 9:03 AM on May 26, 2010


I have The Autobiography of Mark Twain on my bookshelf right now and has been for over 10 years. It is almost 500 pages long. So now I'm confused.

"His estate has allowed parts of it to be adapted for publication in three previous books described as "autobiographies"." (from the MFA). Maybe it is one of these.


From the beginning of the article:
The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.
And:
Robert Hirst, who is leading the team at Berkeley editing the complete text, says that more than half of it has still never appeared in print. Only academics, biographers, and members of the public prepared to travel to the university's Bancroft research library have previously been able to read it in full.
The whole thing will be a trilogy of a half a million words, so you probably have one of the early partial autobios. And because this is going to be edited from his 5,000 pages of memoirs, I look forward to future "revised editions" of the memoirs, and eventually the collector's edition that includes the whole bloody thing without edits.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:16 PM on May 27, 2010


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