Mark Twain's Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review

Mark Twain, Author, Michael Kiskis, Editor
Mark Twain, Author, Michael Kiskis, Editor University of Wisconsin Press $25 (301p) ISBN 978-0-299-12540-0
Reviewed on: 10/01/1990
Release date: 10/01/1990
Alas, reports of Twain's death have not once again been exaggerated, but Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910) has belatedly succeeded in his ambition of ``literally speaking from the grave'' in this collection of 25 autobiographical chapters. In his excellent introduction, Twain scholar Kiskis, assistant dean at State University of New York-Empire State College, traces Clemens's 40-year attempt to leave his editors and heirs with a publishable autobiography. Out of the unorganized mass of material he wrote, this volume limits itself to work approved by the author and published in 1906-1907. As readers would expect, Clemens tells his story with an engaging mixture of bluster and lyricism, and he is most affecting when reliving pastoral childhood memories and reflecting, as a writer in his 70s, on human nature. Less successful are excerpts from a ``biography'' of Clemens written by his 13-year-old daughter Susy and used, too frequently, as a lead-in to the author's stories. Clemens intended his autobiography to be chatty and entertaining; he promised to stay on a topic only as long as it interested him. Thus the book is a lively hodgepodge of anecdotes, pronouncements and descriptions--all of them distinctly Mark Twain. (Oct.)
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