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fascinating and complex, Hoffman, a visiting scholar at Brown University, offers compelling evidence?including hitherto unpublished material by Twain?that an early and acute sense of guilt and failure, as well as the well-known longing for fame and money, led Sam Clemens arduously, and over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.
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