cover image Mark Twain's Letters, Volume 1: 1853-1866

Mark Twain's Letters, Volume 1: 1853-1866

Mark Twain. University of California Press, $80 (664pp) ISBN 978-0-520-03668-0

This auspicious beginning of what may come to be regarded as one of the most important collections of letters by an American author takes 17-year-old Sam Clemens, searching for work as an itinerant printer, from Hannibal, Mo., to age 31, when, established as the writer Mark Twain in California, he is on his way to wealth and worldwide fame. During these 14 years, he travels from the East Coast to the West, working along the way as a steamboat pilot, gold hunter, newspaper writer and editor, foreign correspondent, storyteller and humorous lecturer. Wherever he settlesin big cities, Nevada mining camps or Hawaiihe writes entertainingly to his family and friends about the moods and experiences, sights and sounds he encounters. Reading these letters is like anticipating Life on the Mississippi, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in some ways more enjoyably because of their freshness and spontaneity. Less than three-fifths of the book consists of the actual letter texts; the rest is editorial apparatus so admirably organized and set forth as to become a source of wonder to general readers and delight to advanced students of literary history. Appendixes include genealogies, maps, photographs, manuscript facsimiles and a detailed commentary. The book constitutes a major publishing venture. (May)