Twain Autobiography Out This Fall
Tour of the Mark Twain Project and PapersRobert Hirst talks about the resources available at the Mark Twain Project and Papers housed in the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. Hirst also explains the editing and publication process as well as the sources of selected historical items.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Category: News > University > Academics and Administration
Over 100 years after his death, Mark Twain will be given one last opportunity to dish out his sardonic wit this November when UC Press publishes his long-awaited uncensored autobiography.
Twain, who was known for his sharp wit and clever one-liners as much as his literary masterpieces, had a reputation for voicing strongly worded and often controversial views on subjects ranging from religion to politics. That, some experts say, is part of the reason why the posthumous release of his autobiography is causing such a stir.
The full manuscript contains over 1,000 pages of never before published writing that Twain explicitly instructed must not be printed in full until a century after his death.
"The idea is that it gave him the freedom to say what he had to say in a frank way," said Robert Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project and Papers at UC Berkeley. "Religion, politics, but also people ... (Twain) didn't want to injure them or their sons or their grandsons."
The publication of the complete autobiography has been long anticipated among literary scholars and English professors. A lucky few have obtained access to the full manuscript - the result of a decade's worth of work with a stenographer. The original contained thousands of pages of Twain's thoughts about his life.
"His autobiography is so big," said Forrest Robinson, professor of American studies at UC Santa Cruz, who has written several books about Twain. "I think he had something like 350 sessions with the stenographer ... There are literally hundreds of hours."
Robinson, who has already read the autobiography, says the book promises to be a great read, in keeping with Twain's style.
"He's just terrific fun - all he does is lie," said Robinson. "It's priceless ... There's just hundreds of hours of Twain talking away to the stenographer about whatever's on his mind."
Though this will be the first complete and uncensored version of the autobiography published, parts of the manuscript have been released before. According to Hirst, many of these were edited and revised to read more like traditional narratives.
"That's one of the things we're fixing," Hirst said. "What (Twain) wanted was to stand up and talk about whatever he wanted to talk about and change the subject whenever he wanted to."
The publication of the full manuscript will present a much more complete picture of the man, according to Robinson. He said that, until now, the plethora of biographies and partial publications of the manuscript have provided several very different versions of Twain.
"It'll make a huge difference," Robinson said. "It's a window on (Twain's) personality."
UC Press will be publishing the first volume of the autobiography in the fall. It will run about 750 to 770 pages, and the initial print run will be about 7,500 copies. It will also be made available on the project's website.
Hirst said the other volumes of the autobiography are expected to be published "as soon as we can."
Funding for the publication came almost entirely from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and private donors, according to Hirst.
Though Hirst said there hasn't been a celebration planned for the book's release, he expects a large one is in store.
"I'm sure there will be," he said. "This is a big deal for us."
Contact Gianna Albaum at [email protected]
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