When Mark Twain died in 1910, he asked that his autobiographical writings not be released for 100 years.
Twain, who had become one of America’s most celebrated humorists, apparently had a lot of nasty things to say about the world. He spent the last six months of his life writing those thoughts down.
Some of those jottings included observations about Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, who became his secretary after the death of his wife Olivia in 1904. Twain and Lyon were romantically involved and Lyon once even bought Twain an electric vibrating sex toy. But she was fired in 1909, after Twain claimed she had “hypnotized” him, prompting him into giving her power of attorney over his estate.
Now UC Berkeley is getting ready to release the first volume of Twain’s autobiography. Based on 5,000 manuscript pages that Twain left behind, the book will be released in November. Two other volumes will follow.
The manuscript has been sitting in a vault in the Bancroft Library, home to The Mark Twain Papers and Project, the world’s largest collection of Twain papers. His daughter, Clara Clemens Samossoud, bequeathed the papers to the university when she died in 1962. The archive also includes copies of almost everything Twain ever wrote.
“This combination of original and photocopied documents now makes it possible to read virtually every document in Mark Twain’s hand known to survive, without ever leaving Berkeley: some 50 notebooks kept by Clemens between 1855 and his death in 1910; approximately 11,000 letters by him or his immediate family, and more than 17,000 letters to them; about 600 literary manuscripts left unpublished (and often unfinished) in his lifetime; manuscripts ranging from mere fragments to complete drafts (including chapters Clemens later deleted) for almost all of the books he published and for perhaps a tenth of his published short works (sketches, essays, editorials, speeches, poems); working notes, typescripts, and proofs for various titles….” And more, according to the Mark Twain Project website.
Twain certainly knew how to get people’s attention, according to Robert Hirst, the editor and chief curator of The Mark Twain Project.
“When people ask me, ‘Did Mark Twain really mean it to take 100 years for this to come out?’, I say, ‘He was certainly a man who knew how to make people want to buy a book’,” editor Hirst told the Independent newspaper. “There are so many biographies of Twain, and many of them have used bits and pieces of the autobiography. But biographers pick and choose what bits to quote. By publishing Twain’s book in full, we hope that people will be able to come to their own complete conclusions about what sort of a man he was.”
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