Mark Twain is back on the bestseller list, 100 years after his death, and according to his plan.
Mark Twain spent the last decade of his life dictating his autobiography and demanding it not be published for 100 years after his death.
“Who has the chutzpah to think anyone is going to want to read it in a hundred years? Mark Twain did,” says Bob Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project and curator of the Mark Twain papers at the University of California-Berkeley.
“I think the real reason for this delay is really not so much the hundred years bit. I mean, one hundred years is a nice, round number and what it really meant to Mark Twain was a long time,” Hirst tells the Missourinet. “A long time after I’m dead so that I’m not around when it’s published and also so that my children are not around when it’s published and their grandchildren are not; long enough so that anyone discussed in it will not be affected.”
Hirst says Twain is frank and open in the autobiography. He says what he thinks. He changes subjects. His humor shines through.
“You really, literally, cannot read 10 pagers without laughing out loud,” according to Hirst, “and that goes for people who’ve read it before.”
April 21st of this year marked the 100th anniversary of Twain’s death and the release of Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Vol. I. It is 760 pages long, the first installment of Twain’s unexpurgated, uncensored, 5,000-page autobiography. Some readers won’t find Volume 2 as humorous. Hirst says Twain knew his thoughts on Christianity would prove controversial, at the very least. Those are contained in Volume 2. Twain once suggested those remarks shouldn’t be published for 500 years after his death. A third volume will also be released.
Hirst says it took some sharp editors poring over Twain’s papers to determine the final form of the autobiography now available to the public. Several copies existed for some passages. Some had Twain’s handwritten notes. Others did not. Some portions of the autobiography have been published before, both by Twain and by his biographers. It took a while for the editors to determine what exactly entailed the autobiography Twain intended to be published a century after he died.
Hirst gave a presentation on the book at the downtown branch of the Kansas City Public Library. He was introduced by Georganne Wheeler Nixon, first lady of the State of Missouri.