The surprising final chapter of a great American life
When the first volume of Mark Twain's uncensored autobiography was published in 2010, it was hailed as an essential addition to the shelf of his works and a crucial document for our understanding of the great humorist's life and times. This third and final volume crowns and completes his life's work. Like its companion volumes, it chronicles Twain's inner and outer life through a series of daily dictations that go wherever his fancy leads.
Created from March 1907 to December 1909, these dictations present Mark Twain at the end of his life: receiving an honorary degree from Oxford University; railing against Theodore Roosevelt, founding numerous clubs; incredulous at an exhibition of the Holy Grail; credulous about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays; relaxing in Bermuda; observing (and investing in) new technologies. The autobiography's "Closing Words" movingly commemorate his daughter, Jean, who died on Christmas Eve 1909. Also included in this volume is the previously unpublished "Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript", Mark Twain's caustic indictment of his "putrescent pair" of secretaries and the havoc that erupted in his house during their residency.
Fitfully published in fragments at intervals throughout the 20th century, Autobiography of Mark Twain has now been critically reconstructed and made available as it was intended to be read. Fully annotated by the editors of the Mark Twain Project, the complete autobiography emerges as a landmark publication in American literature.
Public Domain (P)2015 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
And so the great dictation comes to an end. It's been a wonderful adventure, and I'm glad I lived to read and hear all of it. As I may have mentioned in reviews of the earlier installments, I learned of Mark Twain's autobiography when I was about 12 years old, but it was always described as something fragmentary and unfinished and unpublished and unpublishable. But here it is, in perfectly comprehensible order, and here he is, talking to a stenographer, correcting himself as he goes along, backtracking, changing his mind, jumping back and forth through the years like a Time Lord - yet always in perfect control of the effect he's trying to achieve.
Among other things to be gleaned from this volume are that Mark Twain really, really disliked Theodore Roosevelt; and that he really, really, REALLY disliked his former secretary Isabel Lyon. Roosevelt was exactly the kind of aggressive, macho poseur that Twain despised: a warmonger and big-game hunter who charged up hills with guns blazing, no matter what the cost - to others. Twain tells an hysterically funny story of TR tracking a great bear for three days, only to discover, when he finally caught up with it, that it was a cow. Is it true? It should be.
Isabel Lyon is a more complicated case. The real meat of this story comes not in the autobiography itself but in a three-hour-long "prosecutor's brief" that Twain wrote, in the last year of his life, apparently to get his own thoughts in order. It's included here as an appendix. I've read about this episode from several points of view. After years of service, Twain fired Lyon and sued her for misappropriated funds. Some writers have suggested that Twain's mind was poisoned by his daughter Clara, who was jealous of Lyon for some reason. But I have to say that Twain's reconstruction of dates and financial transactions over a period of years is impressively full and detailed, and every epithet he uses to describe Lyon - liar, thief, embezzler, drunk - is supported by mountains of specifics. He certainly convinced me.
The autobiography proper ends with Twain's heartbreaking essay about the death of his daughter Jean. Coming at the end of his recollections - at the end of this journey of hundreds of thousands of words - it seems even sadder, even more bereft, than it does in standalone form. It's as if the rest were silence.
The reading by Grover Gardner is, as always, clear and perfectly paced. Disclosure: I've corresponded with Mr Gardner on social media, much of it complimentary. But I don't think that affects my objectivity: I've been a fan of his readings of Mark Twain for many years. This entry is no exception. He's one of the best.
Samuel Clements (Mark Twain), you will enjoy this autobiography. It explores the many sides of his personality. From renowned author to frequent lecturer to gullible investor to loving family man to revengeful victim, you will get the ultimate insider's look at his life and thinking
Finally dispensing with his bellyaching over miserable and failed business ventures and endless (albeit justified) moaning about copyright laws, Twain steps into what he is brilliantly known for: storytelling.
I follow Tad Davis!
One of the most important works I've ever read. Not only have I become a devoted friend of Mr. Clemens forever. I've learned so much about life, ideas, and language of the century before mine. So much that was, still is, and that is: "American!" Makes me understand that this country has culture that is its own and that persists. And, like almost everyone who knew Mark Twain in "real life," I have developed a deep an abiding affection for this man.
The perfect narrator was chosen for this project. You actually feel like you're listening to Mark Twain himself.
Hilarious, heartbreaking, interesting, informative. Everything you'd expect of Mr. Clemens final work. Honest and open since he knew this wouldn't be published for 100 years he had the freedom to say what he really felt and thought without worrying about hurting anyone's feelings or reputation.
So sad that he outlived so many in his family and never met his grandchildren but he substituted his "Angel Fish" for his grandchildren.
You really feel like you've known him after listening to all three books. I've laughed, cried, gotten angry on his behalf. He really did figure out the right way to write an autobiography.
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