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Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography Paperback – December 15, 1991

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Henry Nash Smith Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain is sure to remain for a long time the standard book about an extraordinary, complex personality and a career that touched almost every aspect of American culture in the later nineteenth century.

John Kenneth Galbraith Even the best scholars, reading this book, will find themselves dangerously close to unqualified praise....Not only does Kaplan write economically and lucidly but he has a beautiful ear for Mark Twain's language, invention, and comedy.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Kaplan's book will undoubtedly be the portrait of Mark Twain for this generation.

Howard Mumford Jones The richest, most subtle, and best-sustained analysis of Mark Twain anywhere to be found....This is a great book, one of the greatest analyses of an American personality.

Maxwell Geismar Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain is bold and discerning in its treatment of the central conflicts of that primitive genius, Mark Twain. It is illuminating to me in the discussion of complex and puzzling aspects of a dark and doubled personality.

About the Author

Justin Kaplan is the author of Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, and of Walt Whitman: A Life, which won the American Book Award. He is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife, novelist Anne Bernays.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition (December 15, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671748076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671748074
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #564,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This scholarly and readable life of Twain begins with his thirties and carries the master humorist through the glorious successes and bitter tragedies that would haunt him. Well written and full of insightful analysis into his real character this book brings to life a persoanlity so large that it took a new era (Gilded Age) and two centuries to contain it! For his boyhood try Deep Waters- an equally good review of his wit and life.
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Format: Paperback
Kaplan's National Book Award and Pulitzer winner starts with Samuel Clemens' arrival in the East already quite famous due to the popularity of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." Almost immediately Clemens sets off to earn his living as a humorous lecturer. Kaplan shows us the many techniques he used such as the extended pause and how carefully he orchestrated his performances.

Clemens' first literary success was INNOCENTS ABROAD about his trip accompanying a group of pilgrims to the Holy Land. It was always one of his most successful books. It was also published by subscription, which means that it was sold pretty much door-to-door.

For me, one of the most entertaining parts of the book was Clemens' courtship of coal heiress Livy Langdon, whose brother, Charlie, had been one of the pilgrims on the INNOCENTS ABROAD trip. She rejected him, telling him she could never love him. He convinced her theirs could be a brother/sister relationship. Then he fell out of his carriage and she had to nurse him back to health.

Much of the book details Clemens' obsession with James W. Paige's typesetting machine, which eventually bankrupted him. According to Kaplan, Clemens always led a duel existence (hence the title), with Mark Twain, the famous writer and social critic, and Samuel Clemens, the incompetent entrepreneur, always at loggerheads.

Kaplan is almost offhandish when it comes to the early deaths of Clemens' daughters Susy and Jean. Clemens never recovered from Susy's death and Jean's preceded his own by just a few months.
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Format: Paperback
Mark Twain was an easy author to admire but a hard man to love. Justin Kaplan gets at both sides of this singular figure of American letters in this fast-moving if often hyper-analytical and maudlin biography.

To get the negative out of the way early, there's a lot more psychobabble here than I expected. Kaplan's book won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award after its 1966 publication, and maybe I approached it too much with that acclaim in mind. His wife Livy is described when we first meet her as Twain's "superego", and much of the rest of the man's life story is similarly fed through a Freudian prism. There's also a good deal more information about Twain's various failed business ventures and invention gambits than you'd expect, or I think, really need.

Another choice Kaplan made was one I came around to in time, which was to start the book in the middle of Twain's life. When we meet him, Samuel Clemens is coming off his first success, the short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County," and seeking his fortune on the East Coast, where writing talents had their best shot at fame and fortune. Ironically, Clemens found his by leaving the Coast, on a boat with a group of religious pilgrims which would form the basis of his breakthrough first book, "The Innocents Abroad." In the process, he formed the alter ego by which Clemens became famous, Mark Twain.

"He was, at the very least, already a double creature," Kaplan writes. "He wanted to belong, but he also wanted to laugh from the outside."

On the boat, for example, he coddled blue-nosed ladies and made shows of piety while jotting down notes for the book that would send them up for national ridicule.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's no wonder this book won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. This is a serious, entertaining and informative treatment of one of the greatest American writers, and, in terms of his life and attitude, one of the best representations of 19th century America. In detail that becomes adornment to its subject, the author proceeds to map out the course of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, as he progresses as a writer and as a person. Great insights are revealed of his social behavior and, inasmuch as possible and believable, his thoughts. This is a great book; a must for any serious reader.
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Format: Paperback
It's easy to see why this book won the Pulitzer Prize 40 years ago. It's an innovative, thoughtful look at the creative juices that inspired Mark Twain and then bedeviled him for the rest of his life. The book begins with Twain on the cusp of national fame in 1867, having published "The Jumping Frog" story in the West, and ready to seize the momentum that it created by moving to the East, the seat of culture, sophistication and wealth.

From there, it follows his rapid rise to become America's pre-eminent humorist and most popular stage lecturer in the next 5 years. Twain perfected the vernacular form of language in literature, and he reinvented the lecture circuit from high-minded, often religious or metaphysical presentations to humorous and mildly scandalous reviews. He also signed on with the "subscription" publishing method of house-to-house sales of books, rather than the more rarified form of selling books through stores in cities. Given his ability to speak to the common man, while showing a deeper side to the sophisticated reader, he was a cross-over star.

Along the way, Twain went from being a social outcast, a vagabond, a man running from the law more than once, into a wealthy and celebrated "genius" who was welcome at the table of presidents, literary giants and industrial leaders. And he feared not to criticize every one of them.

Yet, what the book brings out simultaneously is how conflicted Twain was about his success. He believed in the little guy and the regular guy, which he was. But he aspired to be an aristocrat, and he reveled in his own material success.
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