Mark Twain, uncensored

Posted by Jeff Markowitz on Thursday, July 29, 2010

Everybody's familiar with Mark Twain, right?  The quintessential American author and humorist.  But the Twain we know has been "scrubbed and sanitized" according to Ron Powers, author of Mark Twain: a Life.  Twain is about to be unscrubbed and unsanitized and I'm curious to see how this new, old Twain will be received.  You see, the University of California Press is getting ready to publish Twain's unexpurgated autobiography.  His autobiography has certainly been available for many years; it was originally released in 1924.  But up until now, the version that has been published has always been, at Twain's own insistence, heavily edited. 

Twain gave his publisher the following instructions in 1906.  "From the first, second, third and fourth editions, all sound and sane expressions of opinion must be left out.  There may be a market for that kind of wares a century from now.  There is no hurry.  Wait and see." 

Well, it's been a century and see we will.  The New York Times reports (July 9, 2011) "Whether anguishing over American military interventions abroad or delivering jabs at Wall Street tycoons, this Twain is strikingly contemporary."

The Times goes on to say, "Twain's opposition to incipient imperialism and American military intervention in Cuba and the Phillipines, for example, were well known, even in his own time.  But the uncensored autobiography makes it clear that those feelings ran very deep and includes remarks, that if made today, in the context of Iraq or Afghanistan, would probably lead the right wing to question the patriotism of this most American of American writers."

Will the unexpurgated autobiography have an impact on Twain's legacy?  Or is this, one hundred years later, much ado about nothing? 

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