This illuminating study reevaluates an often overlooked aspect of Mark Twain's writing-his travel narratives-and demonstrates their centrality to his identity and thinking.
Travel books, Jeffrey Melton asserts in this study, are vital to Mark Twain's identity as a writer and to his cultural influence, and not just, as many critics have argued, preliminary sketches or failed attempts at fiction. Furthermore, the identity that Twain establishes for himself in these books as the arch "tourist" provides the most compelling perspective from which to view his entire body of work.
Melton begins by outlining the conventions of travel writing in the 19th century and proceeds to document Twain's subversion of those conventions to his own ends: a reinvention of the genre. The remainder of the study examines Twain's travel narratives individually, charting a progression from the Old World in The Innocents Abroad and A Tramp Abroad, in which Twain confronts the limitations of the "tourist" experience of life and discovers the powers of imagination and self-delusion, to the New World in Roughing It and Life on the Mississippi, in which Twain seeks to reconcile his "outsider" identity with a search for home. The final section considers Twain's last travel narrative, Following the Equator, as Twain searches for a complete escape from the "tourist" perspective and its imperialistic implications. In the process, Melton shows, Twain's travelogues highlight the author's philosophical and moral evolution as a writer from the worldviews of "innocence" to "experience."
Mark Twain, Travel Books, and Tourism is the first full-length work to treat Twain's travel narratives in depth and in specific context with his contemporary travel writers and with tourism. Academic libraries, students and scholars of American and southern literature, Mark Twain and travelogue enthusiasts-all will welcome this thoughtful look at the 19th century's most popular and best-selling travel writer.
Jeffrey Alan Melton is Associate Professor of English at Auburn University Montgomery.