Biographers have always found plenty to say about the life of Samuel Clemens (1835-1910). Kaplan's well-drawn life of America's beloved humorist and closet misanthrope is the latest in that regular flow, which began almost immediately after his death. Dictating the autobiography that was published only posthumously, Clemens observed, "I think we never become really & genuinely our entire & honest selves until we are dead-and not then until we have been dead years & years." With this perspective, Kaplan does not impose a path or goal on Clemens's picaresque and opportunistic career, merely noting his belief in luck throughout. If Clemens had not failed to find regular employment as a typesetter in Philadelphia, establish himself as a river pilot on the Mississippi before the Civil War or strike it rich as a prospector in Nevada, Mark Twain would not have emerged as the pen name for humorous articles in newspapers out west or a stage name for comic lectures back east. The surprising, reputation-making successes of The Celebrated Jumping Frog and Innocents Abroad was later matched by the failures of his publishing and printing ventures and the deaths of two of his daughters and his wife. Although Mark Twain would always be viewed popularly as a humorist, Kaplan highlights Clemens's all-American skepticism and his late-developing progressive attitudes on race relations and imperialism. Kaplan's readable and sympathetic work celebrates Sam Clemens (and the inspiring minor personages in his life) over the celebrity figure of Mark Twain, even as he asserts their ultimate unity. (On sale Oct. 21) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kaplan (English, Queens Coll.), biographer of Dickens and other literary giants, presents a vividly detailed account of the life of Samuel L. Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, by drawing on his family history, esteemed friends, and world travels. Each chapter is broken down into a specific span of years, making the book an easy point of reference for research. Kaplan relies on primary and secondary resources, including family letters and correspondence, to come to distinct conclusions about Twain. He emphasizes Twain's estranged relationship with his father, his enjoyable years as a bachelor and steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River, and his desire to succeed financially as a journalist and then a novelist. He looks closely at what may have led Twain to criticize slavery and other social customs of the day, and how his early comic writing not only allowed him to get away with such criticism but also to form a foundation of admirable readers. Throughout this dense tome, Kaplan clearly shows the connection between Twain's writing and the people and events that surrounded his life. However, the book's strength is also its weakness: in-depth descriptions and analysis of financial transactions, conversations, business trips, sicknesses, family dramas, and other normal life events will hold the attention of only serious Twain enthusiasts. Still, as Kaplan points out, the name Mark Twain conjures up images of a particular piece of American culture and history that interests a great number of people. Recommended for large academic libraries.-Jaime Anderson, Cty. of Henrico P.L., VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
An argument that the native adventurer and high Victorian author's life was not "twain," as it is sometimes presented, but unified by an unflagging belief in his own luck, a fierce social conscience, and a never-ending quest for money. Wily, outspoken, socially insecure, and immensely talented, the man born Samuel Clemens set out to become the foremost humorous chronicler of American culture and character in the years between the Civil War and the end of the Gilded Age, a designation he invented. Kaplan (Gore Vidal, 1999, etc.; English Literature/Queens College) catalogues Clemens's adventures on and off the Mississippi in prodigious if familiar detail. Leaving behind a far-from-idyllic boyhood in Hannibal, the future literary lion drifted from small-town newspaper jobs to riverboat piloting to prospecting in Nevada's silver mines before lighting on his nom de plume and his great talent as a brilliant comic storyteller, cultural satirist, and wildly entertaining popular speaker. Twain's novels and foreign correspondence brought him instant, enduring celebrity, his international lecture tours brought him affluence, and his charm and determination won him a wealthy Brahmin wife and a warm place in the literary society of Emerson, Beecher, James, and Howells. But a desire for a larger share of the period's immense wealth and a gambler's restlessness left him easy prey for flighty dreamers and con men. Though loved by friends and by a nation of admiring readers, Twain's final years were haunted by illness, debt, the deaths of two of his three children and his wife, and his intense, growing bitterness toward those he felt had betrayed his trust. Kaplan reports that Twain's last heir committedsuicide in 1964. Yet his literary legacy remains more vital than that of any American writer, with the possible exception of his friend Henry James. No real surprises here, but a welcome reminder of the contributions of a great American social critic.
“The clearest, most comprehensive portrait yet. . . . It is almost unprecedented for a truly definitive biography of a writer of Mark Twain’s stature to appear after so many years, but here it is.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer“A singularly excellent biography.” –The New York Sun“A real contribution to what we know of the writer who made the American language safe for literature. . . . A great glory of information.” –The Atlanta Journal-Constitution“ ‘Singular’ Twain is doubly good reading.” –Fort Worth Star-Telegram“An even-handed narrative, fully aware of all the biographical and critical currents at work . . . but owing allegiance to no particular theoretical or psychological school of criticism.” –Richmond Times-Dispatch“A delightful read and a storehouse of information and ideas that will be consulted for generations.” –Portland Sunday Telegram“Refreshing. . . . Full of new material.” –St. Louis Post-Dispatch“Lively. . . . Clemens feels whole because Kaplan takes the time to show him in so many different settings and situations.” –The Oregonian“Comprehensive. . . . Thoroughly researched. . . . Highly readable.” –Fort Worth Star-Telegram“A vividly detailed account. . . . Kaplan clearly shows the connection between Twain’s writing and the people and events that surrounded his life.” –Library Journal“Utimately, Kaplan’s major contribution may be in what he has taken out of the Twain mythology. No longer will Twain be referred to as an inspired primitive.” –Houston Chronicle“[Kaplan] has researched more fully and completely than any other has been able to do before. . . . Deeply detailed . . . rich with anecdote, facts and the humor that filled the man we have come to know as Mark Twain.” –Wichita Falls Times Record News