Mark Twain Paperback – 5 Mar 2007
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"There is nothing jaded or recycled about Ron Powers's masterly portrait....He does justice to a comic, tragic, inspiring American life, and the reader shares his unwillingness to let go when it is time for Twain to die in the final, heart-stopping paragraph." -- Paperback of the Week, "Observer"
About the Author
Ron Powers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Emmy Award-winning writer and critic, is the author of ten books and the co-author of two, including the #1 New York Times bestseller FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (Pimlico).
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The past generation, tainted with "deconstruction", Freudian, feminist and anti-racist analyses of who Samuel Langhorne Clemens was, leaves many wondering why he should be venerated. Accusations of "crude" and "unlettered" still drift though writings about him. Powers lays these to rest with gentle, if firm, dismissals. Like any man, Clemens had his faults and foibles. His failures at business are the stuff of legend, but it was an era of freebooting capitalism. No vaccine had been developed to inoculate the innocent, and innocence was considered a virtue in Clemens' time. Powers carefully relates how "Sammy" who wanted to live forever on the Mississippi River, was snatched away from a life of absolute power - no-one dared challenge a steamboat pilot - to partake of an era for which he had no briefing.
From the childhood on the River, dominated by his austere father and religious mother, Sam Clemens moved across America to avoid the conflict he had no taste for. The escape to Nevada and the Comstock opened many opportunities for discovery. His own Mother Lode turned out to be people. Powers follows Clemens on his prospecting for personalities.Read more ›
This is a rich, vivid biography of, arguably, the foremost American literary figure of the 19th century.
It is packed with details of the hotels in which Twain stayed, the houses he bought and furnished, and how much money he made from writing and lecturing.
Twain undertook many lecture tours and Powers concentrates on this aspect of Twain's life, rather than his written works. He gives us a sense of actually being in the hall when Twain was speaking, painting a vivid portrait of his lecturing style. We are told that audiences were convulsed with laughter during his lectures.
The reader does get a very good idea of Twain's type of humour. Nowadays, he would be doing stand-up and I suppose the modern day equivalent in the UK would be comedians like Frankie Boyle or Jimmy Carr. Twain was fond of pushing boundaries with his humour and, inevitably, there were occasions when he bombed. There is an account of an after-dinner speech in which he managed to offend both Emerson and Longfellow. Like all bullies, he could dish it out, but couldn't handle being the butt of other people's jokes. Yes, humour is subjective, but as far as I am concerned, Twain comes across as a bar-room bore.
Twain was a self-absorbed man. His children's births warrant a brief mention in his correspondence and his mentor William Dean Howells was frequently called upon as proofreader and editor, without any remuneration. Twain was not above cribbing anecdotes from people to provide material for his books. His wife complained of homesickness on their tour of England; Twain accompanied his wife and family back to the USA and then returned on his own to England.Read more ›