Mark Twain in His Own Words

Many of us go through life saying nothing quotable for posterity. Mark Twain produced a bookful of amusing and insightful quotes, hundreds of memorable quips and comments on life, love, history, culture, travel and dozens of other topics.

Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain: Book Cover

All of that wit and wisdom comes to life in what many consider the Publishing Event of 2010. It happens  in November when the University of California Press takes the wraps off of the first volume of Mark Twain’s century-old autobiography. For those who have seen or heard excerpts from Volume 1, there is no question about the authenticity of this memoir from the man many consider the author of the Great(est) American Novel.

“I’ve struck it!” Mark Twain wrote in a 1904 letter to a friend. “And I will give it away—to you. You will never know how much enjoyment you have lost until you get to dictating your autobiography.” Thus, after dozens of false starts and hundreds of pages, Twain embarked on his “Final (and Right) Plan” for telling the story of his life. His innovative notion—to “talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment”—meant that his thoughts could range freely. The strict instruction that these texts remain unpublished for 100 years meant that when they came out, he would be “dead, and unaware, and indifferent,” and that he was therefore free to speak his “whole frank mind.”

This is the 100th anniversary of Twain’s death. In celebration of this important milestone UC Press is publishing for the first time Mark Twain’s uncensored autobiography in its entirety and exactly as he left it. In the publisher’s own words, this book “presents Mark Twain’s authentic and unsuppressed voice, brimming with humor, ideas, and opinions, and speaking clearly from the grave as he intended.”

Granta 111: Going Back (Granta: The Magazine of New Writing)

You don’t have to wait the nearly three months for the full autobiography. You can sample Twain writing about his childhood in this month’s Granta literary magazine.

In the excerpt called “The Farm,” Twain vividly describes his experiences as a young boy on his Uncle John A. Quarles’ farm near the town of Florida, Mo. Twain spent a few months a year there for several years until he was about 12. It was there Twain met the slave known as Uncle Dan’l, who became the model for the great character Jim in “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The voice, with his biting wit, is clearly Twain’s.

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