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.
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of Tom Sawyer," are the first three in a new series known as the Mark Twain Library, which will encompass many of the unpublished and little known works as well as the author's most familiar works.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."
Like "Huckleberry Finn," this story is narrated by a boy, but none of Twain's other boyhood novels contain a character like the "mysterious stranger." He is not human, but a demon of sorts -- variously called young Satan, Little Satan, Jr., or No. 44. The reason for all the names is that over the last 10 years or so of Twain's life, he wrote not one but three versions of the story. How bits and pieces of them wre eventually published posthumously as one story is an example of editorial sleight of hand that deserves some elaboration.
The published version of "The Mysterious Stranger," which first appeared in 1916, is based largely on Twain's first manuscript, "The Chronicle of Young Satan." It is set in the Austrian village of Eseldorf.
Another unpublished version of the story, however, is set in Hannibal, Mo., where Twain lived as a boy. This whimsical tale of little Satan, Jr., who came to Hannibal and went to school, brings out the human foibles of the village children: The boys are jealous of his supernatural feats, and the girls don't like him because he smells of brimstone.
But Twain must have wanted a more about setting (with more serious adult foibles), becuase he worte yet a third draft of the story, again set in Austria, this time in a print shop. The mysterious stranger, here called "44," performs such satanic miracles as creating doubles of the printers who go out on strike and threaten to close down the shop.
The "Print Shop" manuscript is, in part, an exploration of the idea of multiple selves, while the "Hannibal" manuscript is a gently mocking boy's story. But in all three versions, "the mysterious stranger" offers satiric comments on the human race.This was "a book without reserves," Twain reported to his friend and fellow writer William Dean Howells in 1899. Twain intended the novel to say what he thought -- or possibly was thinking at the moment, since recurrent periods of cynicism and gloom marked his later life -- of "Man, . . . and what a shabby poor ridiculous thing he is, and how mistaken he is in his estimate of his character and powers and qualities and his place among the animals."
Considering such invective, it should come as no surprise that Paine, together with Frederick A. Duneka, an editor at Harper & Brothers, performed a radical cleanup of the manuscript before publication six years after Twain's passing. They took even more liberties with the author's words than had the editors at St. Nicholas with "Tom Sawyer Abroad," but a strait-laced moralism and perhaps an eye to profits were at work in both cases.
Paine and Duneka largely ignored the later manuscripts and based their edition on "The Chronicle of Young Satan" manuscript, the earliest of the three. They deleted one-fourth of Twain's words from this manuscript, including his long commentary on the corruption of late 19th-century civilization. Then they grafted onto it the concluding chapter from his last version, altering the names of several characters to make the ending fit. Paine and Duneka went so far as to delete all references to one character, Father Adolf, the wicked priest, substituting an astrologer of their own invention as the villain of the piece.
Thus the editors tried to ensure that Twain would not offend his readers' sensibilities. The satire survives in the 1916 version, but all of Twain's explicit references to world imperialism -- the Boer War, the Spanish-American War -- were carefully omitted. The editors didn't acknowledge their alterations , and the Paine-Duneka edition of "The Mysterious Stranger" was considered to be true to Twain's intentions until 1963, when the fraud was revealed by a professor studying the manuscripts at Berkeley.
In the Mark Twain Library edition of "No. 44. The Mysterious Stranger," we will have restored to us not a bland fairy tale concocted by two Victoria editors, but the writer's final novel -- so far unknown and unread except by scholars.
The Mark Twain Library series will continue to widen our horizons over the next few years by interspersing the old favorites with some unfamiliar books. Scheduled for 1982 are "The Prince and the Pauper," "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," and "Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians"; for 1983 , "Huckleberry Finn" with the wonderful, original drawings by E. W. Kemble; "Roughing It," the fictionalization of Twain's Western sojourn; and "Mark Twain's Early Letters," some of his personal documents from that some period.
This means that today's readers can look forward to the "latest Mark Twain," just as his 19th-century audience eagerly awaited the serialized installments of his newest novel. And, as long as we continue to read him, we make good Mark Twain's oft-misquoted retort to a sensational news story in 1897: "The report of my death was an exaggeration."