Berkeley's Role in Mark Twain's Social Suicide

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK

    The University of California at Berkeley released the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography Monday, 100 years after his death and decades after university scholars first began poring over thousands of pages worth of Twain's reflections and correspondences.
          
    Twain, born Samuel Clemens, died in April 1910 and instructed that his autobiography not be released until 100 years after his death so the subjects of his critiques would be long dead - along with their children and grandchildren.

    UC Berkeley published the first of three annotated volumes in what researchers say is a non-linear social and political commentary as much as it is a personal autobiography.
          
    The first volume alone covers topics ranging from Twain's childhood on a farm in Hannibal to writing his first book to 19th Century politics.
          
    "It's not an autobiography in any conventional sense," general editor Robert Hirst of the Mark Twain Papers and Project said. "(Twain's) view is that conventional autobiographies are kind of fake. They form a very rigid pattern... he's saying, 'I can't get everything down, but it's more faithful and more interesting.'"
          
    Hirst said the papers used to compile the text have been available to scholars for decades, so it's unlikely any literary revelations will emerge from the completed autobiography.
          
    But he said the autobiography, which editors spent six years intensively preparing, is full of personal revelations that provide insight into Twain as a person. 
          
    One segment Hirst said he particularly enjoyed involved a presidential visit to Grover Cleveland in 1887.
          
    Twain's wife was concerned he would commit a social faux pas at the White House and left a note in his vest pocket, knowing he would reach in at some point and find it.
          
    As he was being introduced to the president, Twain found the note and excused himself.
          
    He walked over to Mrs. Cleveland and wrote on a card, "He didn't." He then asked the First Lady to sign the card.
          
    After she finally agreed to sign it, he let her read the note from his wife: Don't wear your galoshes in the White House.
          
    "It's very revealing of him," Hirst said of the exchange, which he said demonstrated that even in the White House, Twain was comfortable showing his sense of humor.

    It's the humor that has kept Hirst interested in Twain since UC Berkeley acquired his papers in the 1960s.
          
    "He's joking about things that will always be funny to us," such as pretentiousness, Hirst said.
          
    He said Twain also devoted his masterpiece to attacking racism -- not slavery, which was already outlawed, but racism.
          
    "For somebody like Mark Twain to take his genius for humor and use it that way is utterly compelling," Hirst said.
          
    UC Berkeley is already scheduled to print 300,000 copies of the first volume of the autobiography, but publication dates have not been set for the second and third installments as the school tries to secure funding.
          
    Hirst said the National Endowment for the Humanities has been funding the project since 1967. It relies on federal funding and private donations.