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American Claimant 1ST Edition [Hardcover]

Mark Twain

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More About the Author

Mark Twain is the pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 - 1910). He was born and brought up in the American state of Missouri and, because of his father's death, he left school to earn his living when he was only twelve. He was a great adventurer and travelled round America as a printer; prospected for gold and set off for South America to earn his fortune. He returned to become a steam-boat pilot on the Mississippi River, close to where he had grown up. The Civil War put an end to steam-boating and Clemens briefly joined the Confederate army - although the rest of his family were Unionists! He had already tried his hand at newspaper reporting and now became a successful journalist. He started to use the alias Mark Twain during the Civil War and it was under this pen name that he became a famous travel writer. He took the name from his steam-boat days - it was the river pilots' cry to let their men know that the water was two fathoms deep.

Mark Twain was always nostalgic about his childhood and in 1876 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published, based on his own experiences. The book was soon recognised as a work of genius and eight years later the sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was published. The great writer Ernest Hemingway claimed that 'All modern literature stems from this one book.'

Mark Twain was soon famous all over the world. He made a fortune from writing and lost it on a typesetter he invented. He then made another fortune and lost it on a bad investment. He was an impulsive, hot-tempered man but was also quite sentimental and superstitious. He was born when Halley's Comet was passing the Earth and always believed he would die when it returned - this is exactly what happened.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The absolute best of Mark Twain? 14 Jan 2005
By Jack Purcell - Published on
No. Nothing by Mark Twain can qualify as his 'best'. The breadth of his writing career cuts too wide a swath for such a statement. However, The American Claimant, obscure though it is, is certainly among his best.

The American Claimant is about Americans, the way they view themselves, the way they are viewed by others through the eyes of a British nobleman. Even though a century has passed since the book was written, most of the acute observations are as true today as when it was written.

A family of Americans descended from an eldest son of a British Earl, Lord Rossmore, has been claiming the title for many generations. The actual young Earl, filled with idealism, decides to abdicate, to change places with the American claimant. He travels to the US with the intention of contacting Colonel Mulberry Sellers, the claimant, to exchange places. Sellers is an American dreamer, always down on his luck, an inventor, a philanthropist of sorts.

Through a series of Keystone Kops misfortunes the Earl loses his letters of credit, assumes the clothing of bank robber from the west, takes up life in a boarding house of workmen, determined to make a life on his own and abandon the wealth of his past.

This is the setting for The American Claimant. The Earl discovers the American dream isn't quite as it is cracked up to be, discovers his taste for the common man is far less palatable in close proximity. Every attempt to find employment is thwarted until he discovers himself to be a worthy hack as an artist.

Fate takes a hand in the lives of the young Earl and the heir of the claimant, leading to a zesty, if predictable wrap-up.

As with every book by Mark Twain, this one is fun. It is astute. It is thought provoking. It is well written, the characters sympathetic and mostly believable, the plot, circuitous in the best Mark Twain tradition. It also contains an element of subtle wisdom and tongue-in-cheek observation more finely honed than in many of the earlier writings.

The author declared in the beginning that this would be a story without weather. He held to his promise, but in the end provided weather for the story in an appendix, for those who must have it.

I don't know why this book has fallen by the wayside. It shouldn't have done so.

I recommend it for any reader, but especially for American ones.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Among Twain's Best 5 April 2011
By eric3742 - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I read Twain primarily for his humor. This book is one of his better efforts in that genre. His droll, tongue-in-cheek humor wasn't as prevalent as in his short story, "The Diary of Adam and Eve", but there was still plenty of it, as was some of his off the wall sarcastic wit.

The plot line is full of mistaken identities, misunderstood efforts, and general confusion; it was somewhat reminiscent of R.L. Stevenson's "The Wrong Box".

I found myself grinning on occasion, while reading this book, and even chuckled a time or two. It was an entertaining, fun read, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a light, pleasant evening.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very funny farce 27 July 2006
By Bomojaz - Published on
What we have here is an American (Mulberry Sellers) infatuated with English peerage who believes he is the rightful heir to the Earl of Rossmore and the real Earl who decides to throw over his title, come to America, and try out good old American egalitarianism where titles don't mean a hoot. So Lord Berkeley comes to America, is mistakenly thought burned to ashes in a hotel fire, but has in the meanwhile donned the cowboy outfit of One Armed Pete, a western outlaw and bank robber with a $5,000 award on his head. Desperate to find work but unable to, Berkeley begins to doubt the wisdom of his experiment in America, but then gets a job as a painter's assistant (Twain makes fun of the limitations of artists here and it's hilarious). Sellers is an inventor and schemer and is always coming up with a new contraption (the "Cursing Phonograph") or crazy idea (shifting the tropics to the arctic); Berkeley meets his daughter Sally and they instantly fall in love. Mistaken identity and misunderstandings hamper their relationship, though it's always more funny than serious. Everything gets straightened out, of course, by the end. Twain's humor here is more farcical than satirical, and he knows how to pour it on thick and keep the laughter flowing. The best scene is where Sally dismisses Berkeley (who by that time is going by the name of Howard) because she thinks he's only after her father's earldom. Not only is the whole scene ridiculously wacky, but her despair at not being kissed by him after she tells him to leave is only the rich icing on the cake. The book is a lot of fun, though not among the very first rank of Twain's work.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quirky & Fun 28 Nov 2012
By Meks Librarian - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Like most children, for a long time the only books I knew by Mark Twain were the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn books, largely made popular by television during my childhood in the 1970s. Only a lot later I learned more about the author, whose real name (and I am sure everybody knows that) was Samuel Clemens. He lived from 1835 to 1910, and the book that became my 41st read of this year was published in 1892: The American Claimant.

It shows Twain's humour very well, and although I must admit I skipped some of the lengthy speeches made in the book, and some bits were rather predictable (especially the way the love story goes), I much enjoyed it.
Just by the way it starts, you can see what I mean:

"No weather will be found in this book. [...] Many a reader who wanted to read a tale through was not able to do it because of delays on account of the weather. [...] Of course weather is necessary to a narrative of human experience. That is conceded. But it ought to be put where it will not be in the way [...]. And it ought to be the ablest weather that can be had, not ignorant, poor-quality, amateur weather. [...] The present author can do only a few trifling ordinary kinds of weather, and he cannot do these very good.
So it has seemed wisest to borrow such weather as is necessary for the book from qualified and recognized experts - giving credit, of course.
This weather will be found over in the back part the book, out of the way. The reader is requested to turn over and help himself from time to time as he goes along."

The story begins with the introduction of an elderly English Earl and his son. The family have been receiving letters from American relatives claiming the Earldom for many years; now one of the last remaining relatives has died, and the claim has moved to the hands of one Colonel Sellers, who sends a most extraordinary letter.
The Earl's son, with a strong sense of justice, wants to put things right (because, actually, the claim is apparently justified) and decides to travel to America and renounce his own claim to the title, to become a man just like everbody else, to make a living by honest work.

Does he succeed? Yes and no.
Colonel Sellers, who comes up with all sorts of quirky ideas to make money and better his and his family's position, does not know of the Earl's son's plans. At the moment of the son's arrival in his town, he is trying to capture a bank robber to earn the reward. A fire at a hotel leads to the Earl's son being taken for the "resurrected" criminal (who really died in the fire), and a chain of all sorts of events, some funny and some less so, is set in motion.

All ends well, though, and everything in between is interesting and fun to read: from the political and humanistic ideals of the Earl's son to the inventions and schemes of Colonel Sellers to the thoroughly described living conditions at a humble boarding house for working class men in those days.

Read it, if you want something truly different; amusing, but not without some deep thoughts, presented in humoristic disguise.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mark Twain Foreshadows P. G. Wodehouse's World of Jeeves and Wooster 6 Feb 2008
By T. Patrick Killough - Published on
Mark Twain's 1892 novel THE AMERICAN CLAIMANT is neither notably long nor notably short. It has the "middle-weight" (or at least middle length) feel of a Graham Greene novel. THE AMERICAN CLAIMANT's 25 chapters make it, however, too long to be called a novella. On the other hand, it also lacks the heft of an unhurried whopper by Fenimore Cooper or Sir Walter Scott. As for content: it resembles a zany anticipation of P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster, both authors delighting in bird-brained but kind-hearted aristocrats of both England and America.

The Earl of Rossmore has an annual income of 200,000 pounds and only one heir, his flighty, nearly 30 year old son Viscount Berkeley, whose full name is Kirkcudbright Llanover Marjoribanks Sellers. The heir-apparent to the Sellers family name, title and wealth is, alas, influenced by leveling ideas among his smart set. He therefore resolves to renounce his inheritance and go to America, find work and rise to the heights by his own unaided efforts.

But wait: there is an "American claimant" to the English Earl's title. A century and a half ago, a Sellers viscount went off with the noble Fairfaxes (who later befriended the young George Washington) to "the wilds of Virginia, got married, and began to breed savages for the Claimant market" (Ch. 1). Back in England the then viscount was presumed to have died in America and his younger brother quietly assumed the title. But every generation of American Sellerses has since protested the cadet line's usurpation.

The newest American Claimant is the polymath, exuberantly fecund but financially unsuccessful inventor, Colonel Mulberry Sellers. He, his amused, admiring and loyal wife and their beautiful air-headed daughter Sally (recently restyled the Lady Gwendolyn) live in a ramshackle house in Washington, D.C. named Rossmore Towers. Sally/Gwendolyn attends fashionable Rowena-Ivanhoe College. The American Claimant sings that academy's praises to a visiting chum from the Cherokee Strip in Indian Territory:

"Rowena-Ivanhoe College 'is the selectest and most aristocratic seat of learning 'for young ladies in our country. Under no circumstances can a girl get in there unless she is either very 'rich and fashionable or can prove four generations of 'what may be called American nobility. Castellated 'college-buildings--towers and turrets and an imitation moat--and everything about the place named out of 'Sir Walter Scott's books and redolent of royalty and 'state and style ; and all the richest girls keep phaetons, 'and coachmen in livery, and riding-horses, with English 'grooms in plug hats and tight-buttoned coats, and 'top-boots, and a whip-handle without any whip to it, 'to ride sixty-three feet behind them-- 'And they don't learn a blessed thing, Washington 'Hawkins, not a single blessed thing but showy rubbish 'and un-American pretentiousness." (Ch. 4)

There are very few additional characters in THE AMERICAN CLAIMANT. Much of your fun in reading this romantic spoof will be to watch their sometimes harum-scarum interactions. What if the Viscount (disguised as commoner Howard Tracy, and taken by Colonel Sellers for an American cowboy bank robber) were to fall in love with Lady Gwendolyn? Their marriage might go a long way to settling the trans-Atlantic family feud. But what if Sally/Gwendolyn indignantly thinks Tracy/Sellers (he keeps his title secret) wants to marry her only for her title? What if the English Earl will not permit the wedding? Read on and enjoy an amusing little yarn.

In other novels Mark Twain also makes use of rich people in disguise (not necessarily freely chosen), mistakenly identified or wanting to pretend to be common: THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER and PUDD'NHEAD WILSON spring to mind. This motif has echoes leading back through Sir Walter Scott to William Shakespeare. -OOO-
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