A peek at Twain's unpublished works
The fantasy of discovering a new book by one's favorite author from the past, in which a beloved character reappears in new guises, usually remains just that -- a fantasy.Skip to next paragraph
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But in the case of Mark Twain just such an unlikely occurrence is indeed about the happen. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer will resurface in November in two little-know stories written by Twain more than 10 years after he had first imagined the boys. In "Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective" (being issued in one volume), we will be able to renew our acquaintance with their adventures, this time involving balloon travel and a murder mystery.
In addition, an unfamiliarly melancholy side of their creator will also be presented to us in a second November volume, "No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger," a humorous yet haunting story.
These books, together with a perennial favorite, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," are the first three in a new series known as the Mark Twain Library, which will encompass many of the unpublished and little known works as well as the author's most familiar works. The series will be published by the University of California Press. It may seem hard to understand why, when we can already find "The Prince and the Pauper" or "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" in any bookstore, we need new versions. Such is the power of the written word that we tend to regard a book as a direct link between us and its writer. But, in fact, the author often gets lost in the shuffle during the editing and publishing process, and the end product that we read and trust may only partly reflect the author's intention. Such has been the case with many of Twain's works.
All the earlier editions of "Tom Sawyer Aboard," for example, were based on the bowdlerized text seiralized in the children's magazine St. Nicholas. Anything that seemed indelicate for youngsters -- or for Victorian sensibilities -- was tempered; "darky" was substituted for "nigger," references to sweat and death rephrased in drawing room language.
Artist Dan Beard, whose illustrations for "Tom Sawyer Abroad" were also judged too crude by the magazine editors, reported that Twain lodged a furious protest: "Any editor to whom I submit my manuscripts has an undisputed right to delet anything to which he objects, but God Almighty Himself has no right to put words in my mouth that I have never used!" The objections were of no avail, however. It has taken nearly a century for an edition to be readied which Twain would have applauded.
This edition and the others projected for the Twain library series are the work of the Mark Twain Project of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, here in Berkeley. The Bancroft boasts the world's largest collection of manuscripts, letters, and documents from a single American author. Its core consists of the materials in Twain's possession at the time of his passing in 1910 -- more than 600 literary manuscripts, 45 notebooks and journals , several thousand family letters, and over 10,000 of the letters he received from prominent people.
Until 1962 these papers were largely unpublished, because both Twain's sole surviving daughter, Clara, and his official biographer and literary executor, Albert Bigelow Paine, were very protective of the writer's reputation. Twain himself had insisted that some of his writing was so blasphemous it could not be released until long after his death.
When Clara Clemens passed on in 1962 she bequeathed her father's papers to the University of California. Only now are we discovering, as his hitherto unpublished writing gradually makes its way into print, that their contents are much milder than rumor had made them seem. When the staff of the Twain Project completes its massive publishing program, it will be possible to read the entire contents of the manuscripts, notebooks, and letters. In addition to the unpublished writing, the thousands of newspaper articles Twain also wrote will be published.
The Mark Twain Library will comprise a series of popular editions based on the authoritative texts put out by the Mark Twain Project. The project's editions for scholars, systematically edited and researched, with extensive annotations and explanatory notes, were never intended for general readers. But the new Twain library series will offer what general editor Robert H. Hirst has termed "Moderately priced editions of Mark Twain's writings just as he wanted them to be read." This means meticulously edited and precise texts, minus the voluminous scholarly apparatus.
The new editions will reveal a Mark Twain who doesn't match all the familiar conceptions of him. And nowhere is the conventional image so challenged as in "No.44, The Mysterious Stranger."