Friday, 12 October 2018

Read in 2018 - 15: Mark Twain

Mark Twain
by Thomas Ayck


From time to time, people ask – themselves or others – questions such as „If you could choose one person, past or present, to spend an evening with, who would it be?“

For many years now, I have two favourites, male and female. My female favourite is Queen Nefertiti, and my male favourite Mark Twain.



What did I know about Mark Twain? Not all that much, admittedly. I knew his real name (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) and that he began his writing career as a journalist. Of course I came across him first when I was a little girl – who has not read and enjoyed Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn? Much later, I learned that he had written loads more, and had a rather quirky and intelligent sense of humour not appreciated by everybody.


When I was given my kindle about 5 years ago, I went on a downloading spree of free ebooks from Amazon, many of them classical works or by long-forgotten authors. There were several books by Mark Twain among them, and I have read and reviewed some of them on my blog; here, here and here.



This year, a friend gave me not one, not two, but THREE Mark Twain biographies for my birthday! One of them is his autobiography, I am saving that for last. The first one I finished weeks ago but got round to writing and posting my review only now.




It is a slim paperpack, but crammed full of information about Mr. Clemens, his life and his work. The choice of photos and illustrations is good company for the words. The author does not put a halo above his subject’s head, but paints the picture of a man who had his strengths and weaknesses like everybody else.



I learned a lot of this book. For instance, I did not know that he was such a loving and faithful husband and devoted father, or that he was as good as bankrupt because he enthusiastically put all his money into dubious inventions. He worked hard and left quite a lot of his writing unpublished. Friendships were maintained for decades, but he could also be completely unforgiving when offended (real or imagined).

His family life was happy and close, even though his wife was sickly all her life. Their first child died at the age of 2. Three of four children and his wife died within a few years of each other; only one daughter survived him; Clara lived until 1962. He met these heavy blows with increasing sarcasm and irony, but wrote about them in his autobiography (which I have yet to read) in a very dignified manner.

For the last few years of his life, he hardly left his bed anymore, but worked on various writing projects until his death at the age of 74.



Wikipedia says: “Twain was born shortly after an appearance of Halley's Comet, and he predicted that he would "go out with it" as well; he died the day after the comet returned. He was lauded as the "greatest humorist this country has produced", and William Faulkner called him "the father of American literature".

12 comments:

  1. Mark Twain was definitely one of the lions of American literature. I adore his sense of humor and wit.

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    1. One more thing where we agree, Jennifer!

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  2. Twain was mandatory reading for us school kids back in the 70s and 80s. (I don't know if he's as widely read now.)

    I came to a greater appreciation of Twain as an adult. His humorous essay on the difficulties of the German language particularly hit home when I was attempting to study German at uni.

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    1. Thank you for telling me of this essay, it sounds like something I'd enjoy, and will go looking for it.

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  3. Oh my goodness, I LOVE Mark Twain! Did you know this about me?
    I think I have told you that the first time I ever read "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" I was just a kid but when I read the chapter "You Can't Pray A Lie"...I was blown away by how he wrote it, I went back and re read it and wondered how anyone could write like that! By the way, the book title is meant to be like that...without the word "the" in the front of it, did you know? He meant it that way, meaning that Huck was not grand enough for the word "the"!
    I had a collection of his books when I was a teenager and read them all many times. We lost them in a move and you know I still mourn that loss.

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    1. You may have mentioned your love of Mark Twain's writing before, when commenting on my earlier reviews or so. We often like tge same things, don't we!
      I have moved a few times in my life but have fortunately never lost anything. We always did all the moving ourselves with the help,pf friends and family, no professional moving company involved. Your books must be somewhere - someone else enjoying them now.

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  4. I loved Tom Sawyer as a kid and I was so pleased when both my kids read and enjoyed it as well. I live in Connecticut, USA and I grew up just a couple of towns over from Hartford where Mark Twain lived. You can tour his house there and I did years ago when I was in high school. I should go again and do a blog post about it.

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    1. Hello Jennifer! Is this your first comment on my blog? Anyway, welcome!
      It is interesting to see the place where someone we admire used to live. Unlikely that I will ever get to see Hartford in real life, but if you post about it, please let me know.

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  5. I am another fan of Twain, though I haven't read anything by him for quite a time....The end of his life was very tragic. I remember in high school being blown away by The Mysterious Stranger. Have you read this? I would love to know what you think of it.

    When I lived in Germany I had besides classes in German, conversations with an old neighbor, Herr Gutekunst. He gave me a copy of Huckleberry Finn, in German, which I could not read. I think a lot of it was in dialect.

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    1. Hmmm... I don't think I have read The Mysterious Stranger, but it may be on my kindle. I review all my reads on my blog, so you will know what I thought of it once I get round to it.
      Yes, the German translation of Huck Finn tries to adapt the funny English Huck uses by putting it in an odd mix of German dialects, largely sounding like a Berlin street boy from the 1920s.

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  6. He was a very attractive and interesting character, wasn't he? And he got around the world in the most amazing way. I think he tended to "embroider" his experiences a little but I think that just made him a better storyteller! The person I would meet would be Lewis Carroll. I have spent so much time thinking about him for my book, that I'd really like to see if I was right!

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    1. Oh yes, you would of course pick Lewis Carroll! That would definitely make an interesting conversation.
      Now that I have read Twain's biography written by someone else, based on the known facts and evidence from letters etc., I am really looking forward to reading his autobiography, see how he describes the same events in his own words.

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