Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mark Twain's Long Monologue

American Writers
An article (“Mark Twain’s Eternal Chatter”), by Ben Tarnoff, in The New Yorker looks at American author and raconteur, Mark Twain, who loved the sound of his own voice.

Tarnoff writes:
He loved to talk: to friends, to reporters, to the crowds of adoring fans who filled lecture halls to hear him. He gave famous after-dinner toasts and tossed off witty one-liners that made great copy for the next day’s papers. He could talk all night, preferably with a plentiful supply of cigars and Scotch on hand. He was always bursting with opinions on topics large and small and humming with ideas for new books and new business ventures. He often had trouble sleeping, and drank to numb his nerves. But he never had trouble talking.
He kept talking until the end. In the last years of his life, when he began writing his autobiography, Twain decided to do it mostly by dictation. He sat in bed, with his head propped up on pillows, and riffed and reminisced for hours at a time, while his stenographer took down everything in shorthand. When he was done, he had more than five thousand pages of typescript.
The result is the “Autobiography of Mark Twain,” a monster that has haunted Twain scholars for a hundred years. Its forbidding size and freewheeling structure have puzzled and infuriated generations of researchers who have descended into the archives, hoping to find a finished memoir and instead discovering ten file feet of musings, interspersed with letters and newspaper clippings. Twain insisted that his sprawling memoir not be published until a century after his death, in 1910, so that he could speak freely about everyone and everything. But he couldn’t resist publishing excerpts in the North American Review before he died. And, in the decades since, more has trickled out as editors have waded through Twain’s papers to uncover pieces that they considered worth publishing.
No complete version appeared until 2010, the centennial of Twain’s death, when the University of California Press published the first of a projected three volumes. The book wasn’t intended for a general audience. It included nearly two hundred pages of endnotes, a scholarly introduction, and a large collection of Twain’s preliminary attempts at autobiography. Even so, the “Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1” sold more than half a million copies. Twain would have been proud. A veteran self-promoter, he had engineered a masterful publicity coup from beyond the grave.
Twain’s popularity remains high in America chiefly because of his singular gift of telling a good story. In many ways, Twain fits the description of the kind of man common in America at the end of the 1800s and at beginning of the 1900—the entertaining and witty self promoter. He exists today in America but without the wit of Twain and without the ability to entertain. It’s all about story-telling


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You can read the rest of the article at [New Yorker].

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