For a man who liked being called "the" American, Mark Twain spent a surprising amount of time outside the continental United States. Biographer Roy Morris, Jr., focuses on the dozen years Twain spent overseas and on the popular travel books "The Innocents Abroad," "A Tramp Abroad," and "Following the Equator" he wrote about his adventures.Read more...
For a man who liked being called "the" American, Mark Twain spent a surprising amount of time outside the continental United States. Biographer Roy Morris, Jr., focuses on the dozen years Twain spent overseas and on the popular travel books "The Innocents Abroad," "A Tramp Abroad," and "Following the Equator" he wrote about his adventures. Unintimidated by Old World sophistication and unafraid to travel to less developed parts of the globe, Twain encouraged American readers to follow him around the world at the dawn of mass tourism, when advances in transportation made leisure travel possible for an emerging middle class. In so doing, he helped lead Americans into the twentieth century and guided them toward more cosmopolitan views.
In his first book, "The Innocents Abroad" (1869), Twain introduced readers to the American Vandal, a brash, unapologetic visitor to foreign lands, unimpressed with the local ambiance but eager to appropriate any souvenir that could be carried off. He adopted this persona throughout his career, even after he grew into an international celebrity who dined with the German Kaiser, traded quips with the king of England, gossiped with the Austrian emperor, and negotiated with the president of Transvaal for the release of war prisoners. "American Vandal" presents an unfamiliar Twain: not the bred-in-the-bone Midwesterner we associate with Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer but a global citizen whose exposure to other peoples and places influenced his evolving positions on race, war, and imperialism, as both he and America emerged on the world stage."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-03-16
- Reviewer: Staff
For readers not familiar with Mark Twain's travel literature, Morris (Declaring His Genius) will open up a new facet of his extensive writing career. Under the renowned Mark Twain pseudonym, Samuel Clemens wrote and lectured around the world, presenting the viewpoint of the semi-autobiographical "American Vandal," a "roving, independent, free-and-easy character of that class of traveling Americans... not elaborately educated, cultivated, and refined." The book's main strength lies in giving Clemens's entertaining travel stories historical context—the bubbling up of anti-Semitism in late 19th-century Austria, for example, or the U.S. financial failure of the early 1890s. Morris also brings the man (and the book) to life by filling in the backdrop of Clemens's family life, including mundane details about the family home in Hartford, Conn., and family deaths and tragedies. The book's first half shines, offering delightful vignettes such as Clemens's hilarious encounters with mountainside yodelers. The second half's tone is less carefree as Clemens struggles with the aftermath of bad financial decisions; at that point he was writing out of financial necessity, not love of travel. This lively overview provides an accessible entry point to the lesser-known works of a great American writer. (Mar.)