As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of Mark Twain and I already own a number of biographies and collections of his writings. One of the things he wrote that I’ve been looking forward to reading for, literally, decades is his own autobiography. The reason I haven’t read it already is because Mark Twain left instructions that it wasn’t to be published until 100 years after his death:
The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.
That milestone has now been reached, and in November the University of California, Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography. The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.
Scholars are divided as to why Twain wanted the first-hand account of his life kept under wraps for so long. Some believe it was because he wanted to talk freely about issues such as religion and politics. Others argue that the time lag prevented him from having to worry about offending friends.
Bist of his autobiography have appeared in other books, including some that billed themselves as being autobiographies, but more than half of the original material has never been published in book form. People who have seen the writings already, which was possible if you were willing to make the trip to the Berkeley Bancroft research library, say that Twain had a lot to say that is surprisingly vitriolic:
“He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He’s also critical of [Theodore] Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there.”
In other sections of the autobiography, Twain makes cruel observations about his supposed friends, acquaintances and one of his landladies.
Oh yes, I’m looking forward to that. No word yet on when to expect it to hit store shelves, but I’ll definitely be picking it up once it does.