Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens

Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens

by Andrew J. Hoffman
     
 

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This provocative, definitive biography explores the revealing and resonant contradictions between the true character of Samuel Clemens and his self-created alter ego, Mark Twain.

Richly detailed and filled with new information from primary sources, Inventing Mark Twain traces an extraordinary life that led from Mississippi steamboats to the California

Overview

This provocative, definitive biography explores the revealing and resonant contradictions between the true character of Samuel Clemens and his self-created alter ego, Mark Twain.

Richly detailed and filled with new information from primary sources, Inventing Mark Twain traces an extraordinary life that led from Mississippi steamboats to the California goldfields to cultural immortality as America's national philosopher.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1898, 36 years after he invented his pen name, Sam Clemens signed a hotel register "S.L. Clemens, Profession, Mark Twain." Hoffman (Twain's Heroes. Twain's Worlds) congratulates himself for employing as biographical springboard the idea that an imaginative Missouri upstart, Sam Clemens, became the ambitious, fortune-hunting Samuel Langhorne Clemens as well as the public persona Mark Twain. The conflicting personalities, Hoffman contends, clashed during the ups and downs of a troubled if triumphant lifetime. Such introductory ingenuity flashes warning signals, and indeed, among Hoffman's reinterpretations is a shaky one about his subject's early newspaper days in California. In the small print of an endnote he confesses, "I acknowledge that my hypothesis of Clemens' homosexual behavior, though circumstantially documented, can never be proven." Readers will find the theory as unpersuasive as many of the gold-rush claims of that era. The biography improves when Hoffman eschews such suppositions and concentrates on Clemens's growth as a writer and as a public figure, and on his self-destructive greed in trying to parlay his royalties into quick wealth through one ill-considered investment or invention scheme after another. His most profitable capital outlay proved always to be his invented persona, Mark Twain, yet family tragedies and financial flip-flops would sap his creative energies. In his final decades, writing little that mattered, he metamorphosed into a sardonic public moralist prospering from his platform manner and Twainian reputation. Extracts from unpublished letters enrich the biography more than Hoffman's speculations do, and the biographer's best pages examine the downside of success. The 70-year-old Clemens died in 1910. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Library Journal
As further proof that his subject remains inexhaustibly fascinating and complex, Hoffman, a visiting scholar at Brown University, offers compelling evidence-including hitherto unpublished material by Twain-that an early and acute sense of guilt and failure, as well as the well-known longing for fame and money, led Sam Clemens arduously, and over a long period of time, to construct the immensely engaging public image of Mark Twain. Thus, Hoffman's subject is not a conflicted personality (Sam Clemens vs. Mark Twain) but a Clemens so tormented by memories (the deaths of his father and sister) and fears (the threat of his own death) that he used his public persona to re-create one more to his own-and his public's-liking. Not afraid to suggest the stunning (for example, that Twain may have had some early homosexual experience), Hoffman uses his thesis to provide a lens through which to view the familiar facts and see a tragic new Sam Clemens. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Charles C. Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, Mo.
Kirkus Reviews
This brisk double profile ably traces the career of America's greatest literary celebrity, ark Twain, while drawing a full portrait of his progenitor, Samuel Clemens.

For novelist and scholar Hoffman, Clemens was an insecure if sympathetically brilliant narcissist, desperate to rewrite his past and secure his future. Thus he created the Mark Twain persona: a masterstroke of self-creation and self-promotion that Hoffman considers nothing less than the "inspired ad-hoc invention of fame." Hoffman seeks to reconstruct what Clemens actually experienced before he edited and capitalized on his life. Thus, the Mississippi is the tragic scene of Clemens's father's doomed struggle to support his family. Hoffman illuminates several years of Clemens's life about which he never wrote, when his teenage rebelliousness led him to leave home and become an itinerant typesetter and newspaper columnist. A career as a riverboat pilot was interrupted by the Civil War, which Clemens sat out reporting for newspapers in Nevada and California. Hoffman deftly explores the romantic relationships with men that Clemens conducted in his years out west, placing them in the contexts of both boomtown mining culture and also the literary bohemianism that Clemens increasingly came to embrace. Local fame in San Francisco led to successful lectures in the east; soon Mark Twain's brilliant travel writing was earning top dollar. But adroit as the narrative of these years is, Hoffman's account of the creation of the great novels, particularly The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is thin, and by the time he reaches the eventual wreck of Clemens's investments and the tragic deaths of two of his daughters, his commentary has become less insightful. Even Clemens's final years as a terrifying iconoclast come off muted.

While Hoffman doesn't capture the full spectrum of his subject's achievements and disasters, he does convincingly picture Samuel Clemens's personality: a character interesting not least for his powerful ambivalence towards his astoundingly successful public alter ego.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780688127695
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/01/1997
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
608
Product dimensions:
6.49(w) x 9.53(h) x 1.78(d)

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