Friday, October 30, 2015

Literary Studies: Roughing It Part 1 by Mark Twain

by M. J. Joachim

Mark Twain, one of the world’s most beloved authors, describes in detail, almost like a diary of sorts, several years of his life, traveling out west, meeting curious people and delighting in the times of his society, be it civilize, uncivilized or customarily cultured or lacking culture just the same. It doesn’t get any better than this, as Mr. Twain teaches writers everywhere how to journal, authenticate history and become engrossingly involved in the process of substantiating one’s existence through composition.

The journey starts with Twain’s brother being appointed Secretary of Nevada, which ultimately takes all of us on an adventurous expedition from east to west, beginning on a stage coach, ending on a train - the Transcontinental Railroad (completed in 1867) was in the process of being built during this discourse. The antics proposed to embark on this journey were nothing short of spectacular, particularly for writers desiring to imbue their audience with a sense of reality healthily dosed by a comedy of errors. One can’t help but laugh out loud at some of the tomfoolery taking place in this narrative.

Cowboys and Indians, stagecoach mishaps and robberies, bad guys overshadowed by some truly difficult times in American history are all present and completely detailed by this magnanimous account of a couple of city boys roaming across the country for their livelihoods. Perhaps the history is the most important of all, as Roughing It specifically takes into account so many things readers might otherwise forget, and almost certainly never read in their history books. 

Mark Twain brings the wild, wild west to life in a way far beyond imagination. They say the truth is stranger than fiction, and if Roughing It is any indication, there isn’t any doubt to be had about it. “Published in 1872, MT’s second major work is about going west to dig for wealth in the rocks of Nevada and ultimately finding it instead as a writer and entertainer. It was written between 1870 and the end of 1871, and based on experiences MT had had (mostly as Samuel Clemens, of course) between 1861 and 1866,” states the Twain Library of Virginia (edu).

Roughing It was sold door to door, and is the supposed sequel to Innocents Abroad. Twain had a difficult time determining his calling as a writer in the beginning, and from certain accounts only wanted to invest his time if it might come to be a successful venture. He also had a family to care for, and as families go, and in all probability because of the current times, things were not always easy on that front. There were deaths, illnesses and a variety of other hardships that made it arduous to consider becoming a writer, as the male head of the household in those times. 

Twain was already an accomplished author due to his success with Innocents Abroad when Roughing It was published. Many of his fans were anticipating his new book with eager disposition. For whatever reason, Twain appeared a bit anxious about publishing this work, as is indicated in various correspondence with his peers, and present company of the time. Reviews proved his apprehension unfounded. 

Mark Twain is undoubtedly, at present, the most popular of American humorists.” Utica Morning Herald and Gazette - Unsigned (February 23, 1872)

It is not necessarily to say one word about this work, as it is already widely known. It is equal to Mark's Innocents, profusely illustrated and of course no one would think of being without it.” St. Louis Missouri Democrat - Unsigned (March 4, 1872)

The country reasonably and rightfully expects to be amused when Mr. Samuel Clemens gives it a new volume. His fun is contagious.” The Hartford Courant - Charles Dudley Warner (March 18, 1872)

Roughing It is, in some respects, superior to The Innocents at Home. It is more consecutive and less fragmentary, but both are almost equally racy and entertaining.” London Examiner - Unsigned (April 6, 1872)

In this work Mr. Clemens has produced one of his more readable volumes.” New York Independent - Unsigned (April 11, 1872)

Roughing It is the title of Mark Twain's last book. The volume is full of humor and atrocious woodcuts, even more grotesque than the text…No writer ever made so much out of so little, and that much of such excellent quality.” San Francisco Call - B. B. Toby (April 28, 1872)

Indeed, Twain’s “grotesque” style of writing was noteworthy during his day. A few reviews expressed as much, and not all in a positive light. I personally found it charming, definitely less grotesque than much of what we read, view and express in various ways today. You can read the entire manuscript all at once, or opt to read smaller works of it like I did, per your preference. It can be purchased or collected as a public domain work, and is well worth your discovery and time. 

Thank you so much for visiting my writing blog today. The pleasure is always mine when you stop by. 

M. J. 

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