Sunday, November 22, 2015

Literary Studies: Chapters from My Autobiography by Mark Twain

by M. J. Joachim

Mark Twain - Public Domain
Getting to know Samuel L. Clemens, aka Mark Twain, in this unique manner has been quite the intriguing and satisfactory adventure. He was every bit the character, as much as he was the successful and legendary author. Exhibiting industrious frankness throughout his autobiography, Twain captures the human spirit at its best, at its worst, at its proudest and at its most humbled. He is vulnerable, yet protected, by the mere honesty and candor represented.

Among the saddest points in his life was the loss of his daughter Susy, of which this autobiography pays tribute in rare fashion by sharing excerpts from her biography of him, a work she started when she was merely a little child, ever captured by the personality and fostering only the deepest love for her father and family. Twain left the misspellings in, capturing the essence of youth and encouraging every effort of her writings.

Susy Clemens, Public Domain

His heartbreak over Susy’s death literally oozes onto the pages in fine literary style, expressing a deep and genuine affection, while illustrating the life he lived, not only with Susy, but as a family man who loved his wife dearly and couldn’t be prouder of the life he chose to live with her and their children. Twain was a devoted husband and doting father. His wife in turn, appeared to be the same. Theirs was a rare family, not only by his accounts, but based on all the generous words he so lavishly spilled on their behalf.

Twain was also a writer, immersed in the artistic world of words and their various venues. He traveled the world, became acquainted with a myriad of public figures including presidents and kings and queens from his time, consequently sharing his experiences and the people he came to observe and know in each of the stories he published for us. Details of the real people behind his characters is quite often revealed within the pages of this work, and it is interesting to note the literary license he sometimes took, to bring these characters to life. Not that they weren’t lively enough, by any stretch of the imagination, simply that he liberally exaggerated certain points along the way.

His wife, Olivia, was his primary editor, so he indulged on numerous occasions, knowing she would strike this or that, and he would be laughing all the while, for having given her such a characteristically hard time, as was his nature. Early on in this work, Twain admits to being the problem child for his own mother, while boldly declaring he never outgrew this part of his personality for the duration of his life. He openly admits that he was and always would be full of mischief, because, to be honest, he was unequivocally born that way.

Public Domain

There is a great deal to be learned from this particular piece of literature, because Twain conveys a candor, thoughtfully designed to instruct its readers. He unquestionably teaches authors how to write in this work, stating facts and details, while elaborating on process, without seeming to coach his students at all. It’s in the actual digestion of this work that one feels connected to a sense of story telling, comprehending and perceiving the written word in assorted and unfamiliar ways. 

Twain knew he was an excellent wordsmith; as such, it appears he felt duty bound, almost as if a sense of obligation was eating at his heart. For one cannot receive great gifts without passing on wisdom to those who might follow him. There were annotations throughout his autobiography, many referring to his peers, among them Kipling, Dickens, Longfellow and Harriet Beecher Stowe who was his neighbor. 

Mark Twain's Home - GNU Free Documentation License

His journey, however, was not a list of who’s who, as he poignantly divides his words, occupying his audience with those moments when he was indeed a struggling artist, doing everything he could to care for his wife and family. It seems he went up and down like a yo-yo for a while, until his literary genius caught up with him and made him a renown author in his time. His reflections indicate he had his doubts at times, especially when he visited large cities like San Francisco and was relatively unknown during his stay on occasion.

It was with inspiration and gratitude that I finished reading Mark Twain’s autobiography, completely satisfied that I’ve had this exceptional opportunity to get to know him better. As I renew my childhood memories, rereading Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and various other stories I heard as a child, new appreciation and understanding will be mine. Twain was a prolific author, so I’m eager to read some of his works I’ve not had the pleasure of reading yet too. It is with a steadfast encouragement that I recommend Mr. Twain’s autobiography to you. Whether you read it before or after you read his stories, it will easily enlighten you about the man behind the work, as well as the work itself.

May we all be bold enough to be ourselves, and brave enough to know when do so quietly,

M. J.

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