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Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri, in 1835, and died at Redding, Connecticut in 1910. In his person and in his pursuits he was a man of extraordinary contrasts. Although he left school at twelve when his father died, he was eventually awarded honorary degrees from Yale University, the University of Missouri, and Oxford University. His career encompassed such varied occupations as printer, Mississippi riverboat pilot, journalist, travel writer, and publisher. He made fortunes from his writing but toward the end of his life he had to resort to lecture tours to pay his debts. He was hot-tempered, profane, and sentimentaland also pessimistic, cynical, and tortured by self-doubt. His nostalgia helped produce some of his best books. He lives in American letters as a great artist, the writer whom William Dean Howells called “the Lincoln of our literature.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910) was an American humorist, satirist, social critic, lecturer and novelist. He is mostly remembered for his classic novels The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
This LoA volume includes two of Mark Twain's best known travel books, plus several shorter travel texts. Mark Twain developed a special kind of travel writing, mixing 'real' reports on actual sounds and sights with satirical and anecdotal inserts and a dosis of autobiography. He also liked to insert material from others, like excerpts of other books, or like poems. He traveled extensively in Europe, and then he did a world tour, which included speaking engagements. The man was famous, which has some influence on his experiences.
A Tramp Abroad: Mark Twain's account of his 1878 European tour is a delightful mixture of real information and twainish nonsense, e.g. a totally out of place chapter on the language of the jay. On the information side, even a local guy like me can still pick up one or the other info of touristic value, after more than 100 years. In case that you didn't know: Germany is full of places worth a visit. As is France, Switzerland, Italy.
Twainish nonsense has been the ancestor of much great modern comedy. Do you remember Monty Python's school of debate? 'That is not an argument.' 'Yes it is.' 'No it isn't.' 'Yes it is.' 'No it isn't .' Ad infinitum. And it is straight from MT's Baden-Baden bath chapter. How much must I pay for the drink? As you please. How much? As you please. How much? As you please. And if they haven't dehydrated, they are still squabbling. On the other hand, the master was at times quite able to ride a joke to death. He makes up a vastly exaggerated mountaineering expedition in Zermatt, but deflates his funny idea by over stretching it.
The other book included here is 'Following the Equator' from the mid 1890s.Read more ›
It feels odd to comment with only modest enthusiasm about writing by a humorist and author, not to say "character," whom I much admire. I do so only to offer the thought that this is a collection of writing from Twain's travels that most likely will be appreciated by admirers of Twain, but might strike others as tedious. Yes, there are many instances of Twain's wit and sharp powers of observation, both of individuals and social circumstances, e.g. whether on ships in transit or in places distinct as Australia, India, and Burma (slight attention to China and Japan). If you can't get enough of Mark Twain, you probably will enjoy this collection, as I mostly did. But there often is a labored, world-weary tone about it. My understanding is that Twain wrote these travelogues essentially to make some money (no shame in that) during a time of great personal stress and loss, and perhaps that affects the tone. Still many insights to be appreciated, and interesting simply as traveler's reflections of the times and places that he visits. But if you are looking for the mood of "Innocents Abroad", the literary excellence and social critique of "Huckleberry Finn", or the light humor of some of his shorter works, probably this collection won't be that rewarding.
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