Monday, March 14, 2011

Twain's Autobiography

By Jack Simony

As I'm sure you know, Mark Twain insisted that his autobiography not be published in its complete and unadulterated form until a full century had passed since his death.  Said century has passed, and the first volume of his complete autobiography was released this past November.  Twain's daughter Clara had donated approximately 20,000 of Twain's papers to UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library.  It is the largest single collection of Twain's manuscripts, letters and other documents, and the editors and historians there have been painstakingly poring over the documents for over four decades to create the most accurate editions of Twains written works...including his autobiography.

Imagine their surprise when his autobiography became a runaway best seller over the holiday season.  Copies were hard to come by.  According to the LA Times, "editors realized that Twain's sly humor and skepticism about wealthy elites, U.S. Militarism, politicians and organized religion hold a seemingy timeless appeal."

Of course they do.  I'd be hard pressed to come up with a more fun read than Twain letting loose his true opinions on those subjects.  

Meanwhile, the University of California Press is, well, pressing hard for the remaining two volumes of the autobiography to be released earlier than originally scheduled.  But the scholars are holding firm: integrity over commercialism.  They'll use the windfall from book sales of Volume One to bolster staff, but they won't compromise on scholarly accuracy.  The process of sorting out what Twain himself called "a complete and purposed jumble" will take as long as it takes to be correct.  Twain didn't want his views publicized during his lifetime.  Nor did he want them incorrectly and inaccurately publicized a century later.

We'll all just have to wait a spell, I reckon.

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