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Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens Hardcover – February 19, 1997

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1st edition (February 19, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068812769X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688127695
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,629,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In this latest biography of the writer Samuel Clemens, Inventing Mark Twain, Andrew Hoffman plumbs unique territory: the relationship between Clemens and his nom de plume and alter ego, Mark Twain. Twain was, in his writing and in his public appearances, affable, witty, satirical, and good-humored. Samuel Clemens, on the other hand, was moody, insecure, frequently depressed, and often riddled with anxiety. Although both personas belonged to one man, it became increasingly difficult for Clemens to assume his Twain character. Hoffman's engrossing exploration of Clemens's psyche reveals why.

Inventing Mark Twain describes a childhood shadowed by Clemens's father's business failures and the deaths of that father and two siblings before young Samuel reached the age of 12. As an adult, the writer was dogged by financial and personal problems--investments in failed ventures, the deaths of three children, and the loss of his beloved wife, Livy. In view of all these tragedies, it's a wonder Clemens could write as Mark Twain, let alone assume that persona. Hoffman carefully considers all these issues and comes up with the portrait of a complicated man--one who could vote for a pro-slavery presidential candidate in 1860, then create a deeply affecting friendship between Jim and Huck--the escaped slave and the young white boy who ride the river together in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

From Library Journal

As further proof that his subject remains inexhaustibly fascinating and complex, Hoffman, a visiting scholar at Brown University, offers compelling evidence?including hitherto unpublished material by Twain?that an early and acute sense of guilt and failure, as well as the well-known longing for fame and money, led Sam Clemens arduously, and over a long period of time, to construct the immensely engaging public image of Mark Twain. Thus, Hoffman's subject is not a conflicted personality (Sam Clemens vs. Mark Twain) but a Clemens so tormented by memories (the deaths of his father and sister) and fears (the threat of his own death) that he used his public persona to re-create one more to his own?and his public's?liking. Not afraid to suggest the stunning (for example, that Twain may have had some early homosexual experience), Hoffman uses his thesis to provide a lens through which to view the familiar facts and see a tragic new Sam Clemens. Highly recommended for all libraries.?Charles C. Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, Mo.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
Q: If you are writing a biography of a famous author, using recycled material, what can you add to make it sell anyway? A: Claim that the author was gay! (Some people say that you could add insight, but Mr. Hoffman disagrees). Hoffman bases his assumption of homosexuality on the following "evidence": 1. Mark Twain had very close male friends. 2. Mark Twain lived with his male friends. 3. Mark Twain went on road trips with his male friends. (Fraternity brothers beware, Hoffman is coming after you next!) This is just another example of people who don't want to do their research. I'm sure Hoffman looked a lot at the life of Samuel Clemens, but it seems he didn't do his background material. Many, many people from this era are assumed gay because of the extremely affectionate letters they wrote to their same-sex friends. Guess what? That's just the way they wrote. There are better biographies out there, and they're not too hard to find.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 17, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Hoffman offers an excellent, readable life of America's greatest writer. In its pages, Hoffman reveals the tragedy of Clemens' life; the family problems, the death of his brother, and the loss of his children. With this Hoffman shows a man living a life of great pain and sadness, one who faced a seemingly neverending series of personal crises.
Yet this is also the life of a great humorist, and Hoffman shows the reader the man who created Mark Twain, both Clemens' great savior and his unending curse. Hoffman does a great job of showing the links between Clemens' life and the works of Twain, how the pain and tragedy could produce some of the greatest literature in the English language. Though suffering somewhat from scholastic voguishness (his suggestion of Clemens' possible homosexual relationship in Nevada is rather strained), this is definitely a book that people should read to understand both a great American writer and a great American.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bill Fleck on January 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Mark Twain is an American treasure desparately in need of being rescued from the moth balls of high school English. In a new biography, INVENTING MARK TWAIN (William Morrow and Company, 1997; 572 pages), scholar Andrew Hoffman attempts to do just that, with somewhat mixed results.
The premise of Hoffman's biography is exciting: "Mark Twain," according to Hoffman, is not Samuel Clemens' alter-ego so much as he is his creation; a creation that, at times, becomes as much a monster as Victor Frankenstein's. Indeed, much of the tension in the book (as it must have been in Clemens' life) is derived from the battle between the maker and his famous but taxing "other self." In a sense, then, Clemens' life--as told by Hoffman--becomes a life-and-death struggle between the quiet homebody "Jekyll" and his boistrous, irreverent "Hyde." The best parts of the book deal with this struggle, including the recounting of Clemens' bankrupcy (and the necessity of reviving the "killed off" Mark Twain to deal with it).
Positive, too, are the appreciations Hoffman provides of Mark Twain's work, and the stories behind it (I was particularly tickled by the tales about how his books were sold by door-to-door solicitations), as well as the extensive research which includes publication of some of Clemens' private letters for the first time. For information value alone, the book is well worth the time.
A major problem with the work, however, is its lack of "dazzle." True, biographies generally aren't read for their literary value, but a subject such as Clemens almost requires a larger-than-life style, even when certain myths are debunked.
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