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  • 5 Mark Twain
  • Alan Gribben

Another fecund year rewards those privileged to specialize in Mark Twain studies. Foremost is the justifiable boast of the Mark Twain Project to have produced "a new critical edition" of Twain's masterpiece "with the only authoritative text based on the complete manuscript." A new biography joins several recent efforts to capture Mark Twain in print. Two breakthrough books turn up troubling aspects of the Hannibal years once presumed to be nearly idyllic—the inescapable racism of that antebellum village and the life-altering tensions between two of the Clemens brothers. In a sign of advancing specialization, even Mark Twain's "personal experience with . . . the competing medical systems of the nineteenth century" gains a book of its own. Twain's business affairs likewise receive book-length examination. Another Oxford reference book assists experts and general readers alike. A magnificent CD-ROM product gives every reader the advantages formerly requiring trips to Buffalo and Berkeley. The founding of a handsome new journal offers an additional venue for those seeking to place critical or pedagogical essays.

i Editions

Overshadowing all other developments is the release of the much-anticipated Mark Twain Project edition, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ed. Victor Fischer and Lin Salamo (Calif.), vetted for the Committee on Scholarly Editions by no less eminent a textual authority than Hershel Parker. Hardly any scholars will begrudge the fact that Twain's 43-chapter novel, replete with the original drawings by E. W. Kemble and John Harley, takes up only 362 of the 1164 pages of this massive tome. It is well known that the astounding retrieval in 1990 of the first half of the novel's manuscript (found in a Hollywood attic) necessitated a drastic revision of [End Page 83] the Mark Twain Project's earlier edition. Walter Blair, who coedited the first Berkeley edition with Victor Fischer, lived to see this startling discovery, but was prevented by ill health from undertaking a revamped edition; he is graciously acknowledged on the new title page.

A more compact Mark Twain Library format of Fischer and Salamo's edition was published sooner (see AmLS 2001, pp. 99–100) but encompassed only 561 pages. In this amplified, magisterial format, the delighted scholar flips through detailed maps, meticulous explanatory notes, an augmented glossary, and voluminous transcriptions and facsimiles of Twain's working notes, manuscript passages, revisions for public readings, and advertisements. That is just for openers; what follows is more than 400 pages of textual apparatus that represent the most thorough examination the two halves of the manuscript—664 pages located in 1990 and 697 pages already housed in the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library—have ever received. One gauge of the enlargement of this edition is the fact that the references of the 1985 version took up only 22 pages; this time the editors needed 43 pages to list the primary and secondary sources relevant to their work. Students of Mark Twain will eagerly lay aside the previous edition, costly as its purchase may have seemed at the time, to obtain the erudition that now restores and surrounds Twain's original text. Editions by other editors and publishers will stand to be consulted, but the University of California Press has set a virtually unsurpassable standard with this stupendously annotated volume.

Another (if more modest) treat is in store for those who track down Bernard Taper's new edition of Mark Twain's San Francisco (Heyday), originally published in 1963. An inspired selection of Twain's newspaper pieces written between 1863 and 1866, Taper's compact collection pulls together a tremendous range of subject matter—from Twain's indignation at receiving a federal income tax bill for Civil War expenditures to his contempt for a repeat offender convicted of molesting schoolgirls and his investigation of a spiritualist séance—that effectively conveys the tenor of his journalistic days on the West Coast. Taper's new introduction is illuminating, his notes are cogent, and his decision to illustrate the volume with drawings by Edward Jump, San Francisco's favorite caricaturist during Twain's years there, seems perfectly apt.

One of Twain's more neglected travel narratives, A Tramp Abroad, has been...


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pp. 83-109
Launched on MUSE
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