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Mark Twain Today in History

 
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Old 06-08-2006, 11:29 AM
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
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Default Mark Twain Today in History

It was on this day in 1867 that Mark Twain set off on a tour of Europe and the Middle East, a trip that gave him the material for his first major book, The Innocents Abroad (1869). He traveled with a large group of American tourists, on a steam-driven side-wheeler called the QUAKER CITY. It was the first transatlantic cruise on a steamship.

Twain (books by this author), was just starting out as a writer at the time. He was living in New York, working as the travel correspondent for the San Francisco newspaper the Alta California. He convinced the editors to pay for his cruise, and in exchange he would write fifty letters from the cruise ship to be published in the paper. He had begun using the name Mark Twain a few years before, and he was still trying to build his reputation. His first book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches (1867), hadn't sold very well, and he thought a travel book would be a good way to make a name for himself.

Travel narratives were growing very popular at the time, but Twain didn't want to write a conventional travel book. He hated how travel books made it seem like every church and every museum was worth visiting. He wanted to write a book about what it was actually like to travel—with all of the inconveniences and disappointments and fatigue. He said the purpose of the book was "to suggest to the reader how he would be likely to see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes instead of the eyes of those who traveled in those countries before him."

In Florence, he wrote, "It is popular to admire the Arno. It is a great historical creek with four feet in the channel and some scows floating around. It would be a very plausible river if they would pump some water into it. They all call it a river, and they honestly think it is a river, do these dark and bloody Florentines. They even help out the delusion by building bridges over it. I do not see why they are too good to wade."

When Twain got back from the cruise, his publisher gave him six months to write a six-hundred-page book, even though he still had to make a living by writing newspaper articles. He wrote most of it in Washington, D.C., in a tiny room full of dirty clothes, cigar ashes and manuscript pages. He used a lot of the material from the letters he wrote during the trip, but he made several changes to make it more appealing to an eastern audience. He took out some of the cruder jokes and the racier passages, such as a description of nude bathers at Odessa. He thought easterners were more likely to be offended than westerners, and he wanted to reach as large an audience as possible. And he didn't use as much slang, because most easterners would have no idea what it meant. He wrote about 200,000 words in two months, or about 3,500 words per day, and finished just before his publisher's deadline. The Innocents Abroad sold more than 125,000 copies in ten years, and it established Twain's reputation. Thanks to "The Writers Almanac" (C) and Garrison Keillor for sharing.
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