Mark Twain's 5,000-page Autobiography

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Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910, and specified in handwritten notes that his massive autobiography should not be published for at least 100 years. Well, folks, it's time. In the years leading up to his death, Twain (okay, Clemens) had been working on an extensive autobiography that sounds like a zinger -- he lets it all hang out, so much so that he didn't want the public to see the thing for a hundred frickin' years, well after his status as the great American novelist was established. That collection of 5,000 pages of material has been sitting in a vault at the University of California, Berkeley, waiting for that 100-year mark to pass. (And, to be fair, some people have read it -- scholars and biographers have been granted access to read, and in some cases publish excerpts of, the massive volume.) Now plans are afoot to publish the autobiography in three volumes. The Independent gives a great overview; here's a snippet:

One thing's for sure: by delaying publication, the author, who was fond of his celebrity status, has ensured that he'll be gossiped about during the 21st century. A section of the memoir will detail his little-known but scandalous relationship with Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, who became his secretary after the death of his wife Olivia in 1904. Twain was so close to Lyon that she once bought him an electric vibrating sex toy. But she was abruptly sacked in 1909, after the author claimed she had "hypnotised" him into giving her power of attorney over his estate.

Their ill-fated relationship will be recounted in full in a 400-page addendum, which Twain wrote during the last year of his life. It provides a remarkable account of how the dying novelist's final months were overshadowed by personal upheavals.

"Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian. Well, in this document he calls her a slut and says she tried to seduce him. It's completely at odds with the impression most people have of him," says the historian Laura Trombley, who this year published a book about Lyon called Mark Twain's Other Woman.

Yeah. So, you know, it's gonna be nuts. It comes out in November. Mark Twain Autobiography Book Club, who's with me?

Read the rest for some more choice bits, including a discussion of sending missionaries to the South rather than Africa.

(Via Kottke.org. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. The photo is from 1909.)

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May 25, 2010 - 8:55am
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