His is the most famous phiz in American literature. With the overabundant mustache and unruly head of hair, the hawk eyes and hooked nose - not to mention the genteel suits and potent stogies - Mark Twain mixed an unmistakable personal image with literary genius in a way that made him one of our nation's first true celebrities. Now the subject of a new book, Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography, the companion volume to the television series that airs this month on PBS, the inimitable author receives reverent treatment from Ken Burns and collaborators Geoffrey Ward and Dayton Duncan, who have worked with the filmmaker before on projects like The Civil War and The West. Celebrating Twain as novelist, journalist, humorist, creator of literary archetypes and founder of American letters, their latest endeavor honors a man who was unafraid to critique the politics and manners of the country he adored. Indeed - as the authors show - it seems that no writer ever loved America more. Who else but the man from Missouri would liken Venice to "an overflowed Arkansas town?" Or compare the Great Pyramid of Cheops to Hannibal's Holliday's Hill?
From his birth as Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri, to his rowdy days as a bachelor-reporter, to his rise as a writer and the adaptation of his literary alter-ego, Mark Twain traces the arc of the author's personal and artistic lives, while telling the stories behind books such as Roughing It, The Innocents Abroad and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - all produced during years of success and tragedy, marriage and, of course, travel. Twain, whose itinerant tendencies surfaced early (he stowed away on a steamboat as a boy), viewed himself as a vagabond and a rover, an unregenerate rascal whom his beloved wife Livy would reform. His humility and self-effacement, as well as the enormity of his contribution to American literature, are wonderfully reflected in this tribute - a book that glitters with photographic gems, including pictures of the author at work, of his splendid Hartford, Connecticut, home, and close-up shots of his handwritten manuscripts.
Documents like Clemens' riverboat pilot's certificate, issued in 1859, and newspaper clippings - a snippet dated February 3, 1863, from Virginia City's Territorial Enterprise contains the first appearance in print of the name Mark Twain - are among the book's visual riches. The text draws on Twain's diaries and private correspondence, and offers contributions from writers Ron Powers and Russell Banks.
A novel collection
A master of satire as well as more sober-minded fiction, Twain - ever the intrepid explorer - was not afraid to test his powers in disparate literary genres. His versatility as a writer is demonstrated in the sixth volume of the Library of America's authoritative collection of his work. Mark Twain: The Gilded Age and Later Novels, edited by Twain scholar Hamlin H. Hill, includes the amusing title novel - a satirical take on Washington, D.C., bigwigs - and its sequel, The American Claimant; Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective; and the complete version of Twain's final book, No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, a gothic adventure set (believe it or not) in a medieval Austrian village.
New spin on Huck Finn
Readers with a hankering for the more traditional Twain can try The Annotated Huckleberry Finn, the ultimate edition of a timeless classic. With notes by best-selling author Michael Patrick Hearn, this new version of the controversial narrative, originally published in 1885, contains archival photos and drawings, including maps of Hannibal, Missouri, and the Mississippi River, circa 1845. Hearn's thorough annotations, drawn from Twain's original manuscript, his revisions and correspondence, supplement the narrative. Reproduced for this edition, the novel's original illustrations by E. W. Kemble show an impish Huck, a raggedy Pap, a dour Miss Watson - distinctly American images that are almost as unforgettable as Twain's own. Copyright 2002 BookPage Reviews
Choice Reviews 2002 March
Somewhere between a coffee-table extravaganza and a scholarly edition, Hearn's addition to the literature on Twain's masterpiece is often engaging, occasionally overzealous in annotations, but, finally, a very good fulfillment of its overall objective. Hearn uses the text in the 1996 Random House corrected edition, taking advantage of the 1990 discovery of the first half of Twain's manuscript. In places the annotations overwhelm the text for pages at a time; a few of the critical or linguistic notes are unnecessary, but the majority are accurate and a potential boon to nonspecialists. A long (165 page) and engaging preface covers composition, illustration, publication, reception, background, influence, and current arguments over the text's "racism"--a wide-ranging discussion that covers the culture surrounding the book including its appearance as a play in 1902. The discussion is consistently clear, intelligent, deft, and illuminating; Hearn uses a range of historical and scholarly sources and provides a balanced interpretation of how Twain felt about and used his own work. Illustrations are fresh in both the preface and the annotation columns, adding value to the text. A good addition even for libraries that already own multiple copies of the basic text, this volume will serve readers at all levels. Copyright 2002 American Library Association
Library Journal Reviews 2001 June #2
Having given us The Annotated Wizard of Oz, Michael Patrick Hearn illuminates another American favorite. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2001 September #2
Hearn, who edited The Wizard of Oz for Norton's Annotated series, has taken on that formative fiction of American culture, Huckleberry Finn a seemingly transparent work that, as presented in Hearn's exhaustive research, harbors linguistic complexities worthy of an Eliot or a Joyce. In his long introduction, Hearn chronicles Huck's publishing history, from its on-again, off-again composition, to Twain's stormy relationship with his publishers, to the book's embattled trip to the printer (trailing censorious editors in its wake) and its instant success on the market. Hearn offers a thorough cataloguing of the book's critical reception and many controversies, an ample pinch of biography, a lengthy analysis of dialect and a fairly sketchy historical background. The notes themselves (presented alongside the text) are eclectic, sometimes charmingly so: we learn what a huckleberry is, and a sugar-hogshead, and how corn pone is made. Huck's vast repertory of Southern superstitions is carefully glossed, and Hearn wisely includes quotes about the book from Twain (who could scarcely open his mouth without saying something funny) whenever possible. The notes go overboard in their extensive translation of the book's idiomatic speech (readers probably don't need "powwow" defined and can figure out for themselves that "hoss" means horse). On the whole, Hearn supplies interesting information with a light touch possibly too light in the last third of the book, which seems more thinly annotated than the beginning. Restored passages not seen in the original appear in the appendices. Though a stronger anchor in cultural history could have made this volume better, this liberally illustrated and beautifully designed book offers many pleasures for the general reader. (Oct.) Forecast: This is the perfect gift book for all of Huck's fans and should sell very well with the aid of a six-city author tour and national media appearances. Also, in January 2002, a Ken Burns series on Twain will air. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.