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Is He Dead?: A Comedy in Three Acts

Overview


The University of California Press is delighted to announce the new publication of this three-act play by one of America's most important and well-loved writers. A highly entertaining comedy that has never appeared in print or on stage, Is He Dead? is finally available to the wide audience Mark Twain wished it to reach. Written in 1898 in Vienna as Twain emerged from one of the deepest depressions of his life, the play shows its author's superb gift for humor operating at its most energetic. The text of Is He ...
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Overview


The University of California Press is delighted to announce the new publication of this three-act play by one of America's most important and well-loved writers. A highly entertaining comedy that has never appeared in print or on stage, Is He Dead? is finally available to the wide audience Mark Twain wished it to reach. Written in 1898 in Vienna as Twain emerged from one of the deepest depressions of his life, the play shows its author's superb gift for humor operating at its most energetic. The text of Is He Dead?, based on the manuscript in the Mark Twain Papers, appears here together with an illuminating essay by renowned Mark Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin and with Barry Moser's original woodcut illustrations in a volume that will surely become a treasured addition to the Mark Twain legacy.

Richly intermingling elements of burlesque, farce, and social satire with a wry look at the world market in art, Is He Dead? centers on a group of poor artists in Barbizon, France, who stage the death of a friend to drive up the price of his paintings. In order to make this scheme succeed, the artists hatch some hilarious plots involving cross-dressing, a full-scale fake funeral, lovers' deceptions, and much more.

Mark Twain was fascinated by the theater and made many attempts at playwriting, but this play is certainly his best. Is He Dead? may have been too "out there" for the Victorian 1890s, but today's readers will thoroughly enjoy Mark Twain's well-crafted dialogue, intriguing cast of characters, and above all, his characteristic ebullience and humor. In Shelley Fisher Fishkin's estimation, it is "a champagne cocktail of a play--not too dry, not too sweet, with just the right amount of bubbles and buzz."

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Product Details

Meet the Author


Shelley Fisher Fishkin is Joseph S. Atha Professor of Humanities, Professor of English and Director of American Studies at Stanford University. She is the author of Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (1997); Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices (1993), selected as an Outstanding Academic Book by Choice; and From Fact to Fiction: Journalism and Imaginative Writing in America (2000), winner of a Frank Luther Mott/Kappa Tau Alpha Award for outstanding research in journalism history. She is also the editor of the 29-volume Oxford Mark Twain and the Oxford Historical Guide to Mark Twain. Barry Moser is one of the foremost wood engravers in the United States and is the proprietor of the Pennyroyal Press. Among other books, he illustrated Huckleberry Finn (California, 1985), Moby Dick (California, 1981), Dante's Inferno (California 1980), Purgatorio (California, 1981), and Paradiso (California, 1984), and the Holy Bible (1999). The Mark Twain Project is housed within the Mark Twain Papers, the world's largest archive of primary materials by this major American writer. Under the direction of General Editor Robert H. Hirst, the Project's five editors are producing the first comprehensive edition of all Mark Twain's writings, more than thirty volumes of which have so far been published by the University of California Press.

Biography

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri; his family moved to the port town of Hannibal four years later. His father, an unsuccessful farmer, died when Twain was eleven. Soon afterward the boy began working as an apprentice printer, and by age sixteen he was writing newspaper sketches. He left Hannibal at eighteen to work as an itinerant printer in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. From 1857 to 1861 he worked on Mississippi steamboats, advancing from cub pilot to licensed pilot.

After river shipping was interrupted by the Civil War, Twain headed west with his brother Orion, who had been appointed secretary to the Nevada Territory. Settling in Carson City, he tried his luck at prospecting and wrote humorous pieces for a range of newspapers. Around this time he first began using the pseudonym Mark Twain, derived from a riverboat term. Relocating to San Francisco, he became a regular newspaper correspondent and a contributor to the literary magazine the Golden Era. He made a five-month journey to Hawaii in 1866 and the following year traveled to Europe to report on the first organized tourist cruise. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches (1867) consolidated his growing reputation as humorist and lecturer.

After his marriage to Livy Langdon, Twain settled first in Buffalo, New York, and then for two decades in Hartford, Connecticut. His European sketches were expanded into The Innocents Abroad (1869), followed by Roughing It (1872), an account of his Western adventures; both were enormously successful. Twain's literary triumphs were offset by often ill-advised business dealings (he sank thousands of dollars, for instance, in a failed attempt to develop a new kind of typesetting machine, and thousands more into his own ultimately unsuccessful publishing house) and unrestrained spending that left him in frequent financial difficulty, a pattern that was to persist throughout his life.

Following The Gilded Age (1873), written in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner, Twain began a literary exploration of his childhood memories of the Mississippi, resulting in a trio of masterpieces --The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and finally The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), on which he had been working for nearly a decade. Another vein, of historical romance, found expression in The Prince and the Pauper (1882), the satirical A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), while he continued to draw on his travel experiences in A Tramp Abroad (1880) and Following the Equator (1897). His close associates in these years included William Dean Howells, Bret Harte, and George Washington Cable, as well as the dying Ulysses S. Grant, whom Twain encouraged to complete his memoirs, published by Twain's publishing company in 1885.

For most of the 1890s Twain lived in Europe, as his life took a darker turn with the death of his daughter Susy in 1896 and the worsening illness of his daughter Jean. The tone of Twain's writing also turned progressively more bitter. The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), a detective story hinging on the consequences of slavery, was followed by powerful anti-imperialist and anticolonial statements such as 'To the Person Sitting in Darkness' (1901), 'The War Prayer' (1905), and 'King Leopold's Soliloquy' (1905), and by the pessimistic sketches collected in the privately published What Is Man? (1906). The unfinished novel The Mysterious Stranger was perhaps the most uncompromisingly dark of all Twain's later works. In his last years, his financial troubles finally resolved, Twain settled near Redding, Connecticut, and died in his mansion, Stormfield, on April 21, 1910.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Samuel Langhorne Clemens (real name); Sieur Louis de Conte
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1835
    2. Place of Birth:
      Florida, Missouri
    1. Date of Death:
      April 21, 1910
    2. Place of Death:
      Redding, Connecticut

Read an Excerpt

IS HE DEAD?

A COMEDY IN THREE ACTS
By Mark Twain

University of California

Copyright © 2003 Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-23979-2


Chapter One

PERSONS REPRESENTED.

Agamemnon Buckner, ("Chicago,") Young artist.
Jean François Millet,} Young artist
Widow Daisy Tillou
Hans von Bismarck ("Dutchy,") Young artist.
Bastien André, picture-dealer and usurer.
Papa Leroux.
Sandy Ferguson, Young artist.
Charles Everest, Young artist.
Phelim O'Shaughnessy, Young artist.
Basil Thorpe, rich English Merchant.
Jared Walker, an Australian Wool-King.
Henry Parker, rich San Franciscan.
A young Turk. A young Hindoo. } Pupils of Millet
A young Spaniard. A young Chinaman.
Mother Leroux.
Marie, Millet's sweetheart.
Cecile, Chicago's sweetheart. } Young daughters of the Leroux
Madame Audrienne. Madame Bathilde. Madame Caron.
Some pretty girls, acquaintances of the young artists and pupils.
A gorgeous butler and several splendid flunkeys.
A page. A chimney sweep.

Memorandum. The handsome young gentleman (a bright Yale student) of whom "Chicago" is an attempted copy, was full of animal spirits and energies and activities, and was seldom still, except in his sleep-and never sad, for more than a moment at a time, awake or asleep. He had a singular facility and accuracy in playing (imaginary) musical instruments, and was always working off his superabundant steam in that way. He could thunder off famous classic pieces on the piano (imaginary) so accurately that musical experts could name the pieces. He imitated the flute, the banjo, the fiddle, the guitar, the hand-organ, the concertina, the trombone, the drum, and everything else; and for a change, would "conduct" a non-existent orchestra, or march as a drum major in front of a non-existent regiment.

If I have not made him a clean and thorough gentleman in this piece, I have at least strenuously intended to do it.

And I have intended Millet, too, to be a thorough gentleman, and the Widow Tillou to be a lady-a lady subject to accidents and mistakes and awkwardnesses in her unaccustomed costume, but still at heart a lady.
S L C

Note. The time is really before 1848, and Louis Philippe is still king. Millet was born before 1820 (I've forgotten the date, but it is not important.) In this piece he is about 25.

The sale of the "Angelus" by auction, to an American for 500,000 francs and France's re-purchase of it on the spot for 550,000 are events which occurred after Millet's death, but I have taken the pardonable liberty to highly antedate them.
S L C
Vienna, Feb. 21, 1898.

ACT I.

TIME-not specified.

PLACE-Studio of Jean François Millet, at Barbizon, near Paris, lofty and spacious; faded and ragged sofa; cheap old chairs, several of them backless or otherwise crippled; other evidences of extreme poverty, to be imagined and furnished by the theater-management. Door R, front. Door L, front. A bedroom door in one of the walls. The walls are hung with two or three dozen framed chromos or something of the kind to represent oil pictures-the "Angelus" (covered) in the most prominent place, on a tall easel.

Curtain exposes CHIMNEY SWEEP sitting on a footstool, his head bowed on his knees, asleep. He gradually comes awake, yawns, stretches, looks around. Begins munching an apple.

CHIMNEY SWEEP

No use waiting any longer. - I was behind time; now he'll say I didn't come.

(Gets up and stretches.)

Leave my card. It'll show I done his errand.

(Searches his soot-bag for card. Disappointed.)

Not a visiting-card left.

(Takes up a paint-brush-is going to paint his name on the canvas that covers the Angelus.)

Leave my name. - A-N - no, A-double-N - no-don't know how to spell it.

(Throws down brush. Sees the white sheet that covers the sofa. Nods approval. Stretches himself out on it. Rises and holds it up, exposing his printed form, done in soot. Hangs the sheet on the tall easel of the Angelus.) (Exit, R.)

(Enter DUTCHY-L.)

DUTCHY

If dot sweep ton't come, it mean he can't find him -und dot would pe bad-mighty pad.

(Anxiously.)

I vish he vould come! I vish he -

(Sees the sheet. Joyously.)

Goot! he's peen here - und it's all righd.

(Admiring the soot-print.)

Ah, dot is sphlennid-sphlennid, for a fellow dot hain't had no draining in Art.

(Turns the sheet clean-side up, and covers the ragged sofa with it.)

(Enter the LEROUX family-PAPA and MOTHER LEROUX, MARIE, CECILE, and CHICAGO. Melancholy hand-shakings with DUTCHY.)

(CHICAGO is fidgeting around, the others sad. The WOMEN and the OLD MAN sitting. DUTCHY standing. The LEROUX FAMILY are cheaply and modestly but respectably dressed. DUTCHY's clothes show wear; he is clad in the ornamental cap, baldric, and high boots of a German college-corps student, and has a court-plaster X on his cheek from a recent duel. CHICAGO is neatly dressed as to cut, but his clothes are cheap and rather the worse for wear. MARIE is softly crying; has her head in CECILE's lap, who is stroking her hair.)

PAPA

It's very hard. God knows I wish he would come, and let us know the worst.

CHICAGO

When is he due?

PAPA

By the noon train from Paris.

CHICAGO

Is it to collect the money?

PAPA

To - to try to.

CHICAGO

Then he'll be on time.

PAPA

You know him?

CHICAGO

Do I know him? Well, I should think!

PAPA

Do you also owe him money? Are you in his grip?

CHICAGO

All of us. Millet, too.

DUTCHY

Py Chorge, François Millet he -

CHICAGO

Oh, yes, he got in up to the chin. If he hadn't, we other young artists-comrades and worshipers of his that swing round him and swim in his light and warmth the same as the other planets up yonder swing round their sun-would have starved, this year.

DUTCHY

Blanets ton't starve, dey ton't eat noding.

CHICAGO

Don't interrupt. Astronomical opinions based on sauer kraut are no good.

DUTCHY

(To no one in particular.)

Shecaggo he always yoost like dot. Always he ton't care for fact-only yoost boetry. Now of a blanet -

CHICAGO

How much do you owe him?

PAPA

Ah enough to beggar me if he forecloses-fifteen thousand francs.

CHICAGO

Phe-u! How'd you come to get in so deep?

PAPA

It was wrong, it was foolish; but I did not know where else to go, and he was soft-spoken and smooth, and promised he would never press me. And now he as good as threatens to take the property.

DUTCHY

Oh, dot is noding. Of you haf his bromise in wriding -

PAPA

But I haven't, I haven't. He was so smooth, you know, and he said -

CHICAGO

All right, if he said it before witnesses, I guess you are safe. I wouldn't give up yet.

PAPA

But oh, dear, there wasn't any witness.

CHICAGO

Oh, hang it, that looks bad. It's an awful pity. Bastian André hasn't any heart in him. Carries a doughnut where it ought to be. Petrified one.

CECILE

That's the truth.

CHICAGO

Any picture-dealer is a hard enough lot; and when you add usury to it-! Well, what is he so sudden about, all at once?

MOTHER LEROUX

Marie has refused him again.

MARIE

I didn't love him.

CHICAGO

Oh, I see. That is, you all suspect that that is it.

CECILE

No, dearie-more than that. He says it.

PAPA

Here is his letter. Read it for yourself.

CHICAGO

(Mumbles it over.)

M-m. Well yes, it is pretty plain. M-m. Proposes once more. If the answer is "No," there can be "unpleasant results." What a low down scoundrel he is!

DUTCHY

I will jallenge him. I will job a sword troo him.

CHICAGO

A sword, you pretzel-they don't use swords in French duels, they fight with hair-pins - hair-pins at thirty yards.

(Knock.)

Come in!

(Enter ANDRÉ, R.)

ANDRÉ

(Hesitating and apparently not pleased.)

I desired a private interview-and would prefer it if I may suggest-

CECILE

It is not necessary. These are friends.

PAPA

Please let them be no hindrance.

ANDRÉ

You got my letter?

PAPA

(Agitated.)

Yes. It was so sudden-so unexpected-so-so-it found me unprepared

(Rising and appealing to him.)

-I am sorry, deeply sorry I am not able to-to-but you will give me time, I know you will not be hard. You know you said -

ANDRÉ

Said? I said? Pray what did I say?

PAPA That you would not press me.

MOTHER

Yes, I remember it-he told me about it at the time. Be good, be kind, dear Monsieur André, the times are so hard for him, now; and he-well, you see, he was depending on your kind promise, and-

ANDRÉ

Please do not complicate the matter with imaginary promises-

PAPA

Imaginary!

MOTHER

Oh!

CECILE Why, you ashcat!

ANDRÉ

It is the word I used, I believe. Come, now, let us drop this. Be reasonable. Look at the matter in a rational way; and surely you must see - On the one hand a lover with nothing; on the other a lover who is getting on, with sure strides. I love your daughter as well as he does; I can give her a comfortable home, I can make her happy. He-can he do that?

CECILE

But man, where her heart is -

ANDRÉ

This lad of 25 years-this unknown painter, this-this-François Millet, or Miller, or Milton, or whatever his name is-I never can remember it-Can he do that, I ask you? He can't sell a picture to save his life-he can't give one away.

DUTCHY

Wy, dot is your fault.

ANDRÉ

And he is in debt besides-head over heels in debt-absolutely hopelessly in debt. He owes me 2500 francs. If she marries me, your debt is paid. I tell you I am prospering. - Come-you will not throw me aside for this shiftless painter-this youth without talent or a future. Speak.

(Pause.)

PAPA

It is hard; it is very hard, to put it in that way. It is not for me to - Answer him, child.

MARIE

No, father, no. You will spare me that.

(Suppressing emotion.)

You shall answer him, and it shall be as you decide.

PAPA

There, dear-I know where your heart is. She has answered you, sir.

MARIE

No, father-don't put it so. How can I make a beggar of you? I can't bear it.

PAPA

My child, answer me this one question-only this one. Do you love this man?

MARIE

No.

PAPA

One more, then. Do you love François Millet?

MARIE

Yes.

PAPA

Well enough to endure poverty and hardship for his sake?

MARIE

Oh, hunger, thirst, cold, everything!

PAPA

She shall have her way - Mother?

MOTHER

Please God she shall. We endured it in our young day.

PAPA

And were happy, too.

MOTHER

That we were!

PAPA

You have your answer, sir.

CHICAGO (Plays imaginary trombone.)

DUTCHY

(Approvingly, to both OLD PEOPLE. )

Shake!

(Shakes hands fervently.)

ANDRÉ

And you shall have mine. Your time is up day after tomorrow, 6 p.m., and I foreclose. Get the money in the meantime if you can!

CHICAGO

Come, no sass here.

ANDRÉ

Excuse me, I was not talking to you.

CHICAGO

But I was talking to you.

ANDRÉ

(To MARIE.)

Miss, I wish to make just one remark to you-

CECILE

Please let her alone. My father has answered you-now go.

Continues...


Excerpted from IS HE DEAD? by Mark Twain Copyright © 2003 by Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations
Foreword

Is He Dead? by Mark Twain

Afterword
Notes
Acknowledgments

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