Tag: Mark Twain

A Mark Twain Pilgrimage

Fresh off a trip to the grave of Robert Louis Stevenson, World Hum contributor Catherine Watson visits Mark Twain’s grave in Elmira, New York—and explains how Twain had previously flown under her radar:

America’s most American writer lies in a family plot on a gentle hillside, beside his beloved wife, Livy, surrounded by the graves of their children and her relatives—all under simple, matching headstones.

The name on his marker is the one he was born with, Samuel L. Clemens. The pen name we know him by—which he once claimed to detest—gets second-billing below.

For me, these quiet graves were the end of a quest I hadn’t planned on making. I’d always been a Hemingway fan, with runner-up passions for Robert Louis Stevenson and the Bronte sisters.

But this year—the 100th anniversary of his death—I’ve been immersed in Mark Twain. I’ve been reading almost nothing but his abundant travel writing, with side trips into biographies about him, when I needed a break.

It has felt like living with the man, and his writing is so prolific and varied—and his life so preposterously colorful—that I now wonder how I could have cared about anyone else.

Mark Twain: Traveling Foodie

The Atlantic’s Andrew Beahrs examines Mark Twain’s food fantasies, and the ways in which his tastes were shaped by his travels. Here’s his take on a list of must-haves Twain composed during a long European tour:

Twain didn’t just want mussels; he wanted steamed mussels, from San Francisco. He wanted terrapin from Philadelphia, stewed with sherry and cream (the recipe’s main rival, from Baltimore, omitted the cream—Twain loved cream). He wanted partridge from Missouri, shad from the Connecticut River, and perch and canvasback ducks from Baltimore. The list went on ... In a very real sense, his menu was a memoir of fondly remembered travels, from the prairies to the mountains and from the New Orleans docks to the backstreets of San Francisco.

Tracking Twain and the Mississippi

Laura Barton followed the river through 10 states to better know Twain. Her story about the journey also touches on the music and other literature of the river. It’s a lovely piece.

I kept in mind a line from “Old Glory”, Jonathan Raban’s account of his own journey down the river: “It is called the Mississippi, but it is more an imaginary river than a real one.”

It had been shaped in my own imagination by a confederacy of literature and song lyrics. I pictured it as described by Twain, or Eudora Welty, or William Faulkner, who saw “alluvial swamps threaded by black, almost motionless bayous and impenetrable with cane and buckvine and cypress and ash and oak and gum.” I imagined it as it was conjured up by Paul Robeson in “Ol’ Man River”, or in the songs of Johnny Cash or Charlie Patton, a mighty force capable of carrying away the one you loved, of breaking levees and washing the lowlands of Greenville and Leland and Rosedale, and I saw the delta through Paul Simon’s eyes, “shining like the national guitar”.

Side note: The more time goes by, the more I appreciate Paul Simon’s “Graceland” for its power to evoke the river and the region.

William T. Vollman on Hopping Trains

In an interview in The Independent, William T. Vollman reveals that he’s working on a book about riding freight trains across the United States. The notoriously on-the-edge author tells Matt Thorne, “It’s really fun to think about the connections with the Beats, rereading Jack Kerouac, but also Jack London and Mark Twain, travelling fast through the country, that solitary, wild American experience.”

A Tale of Two Twains

Kristin Van Tassel considers two recent books about Mark Twain, arguably America's greatest traveler -- and travel writer

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