Friday, May 12, 2017
Never the Mark Twain should meet
Up until a few weeks ago, I had read a few of Mark Twain's books, but I never really knew much about him. Then my son opted to be Mark Twain for a school project and I was suddenly immersed in the man's life.
Of course his real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. He used Mark Twain, a nautical term from his steamboat pilot days, as his pen name. I'm not sure why a pen name was necessary. Samuel Clemens seems like a perfectly fine author's name. But name aside, he was a complex person.
I watched a two-part Ken Burns documentary about Samuel/Mark's life. It was fascinating. And it drove home how influential he was in not only literature, but in the way people viewed the world. He was also a tragic character. He rose from a humble background in the small riverside town of Hannibal, Missouri and rose to worldwide fame as an author, humorist and lecturer. He amassed and lost a fortune during his lifetime.
Basically Samuel/Mark was a brilliant thinker, but a lousy business man. Although he accumulated large amounts of cash and married into a wealthy family, he was never satisfied with how much money he had and made poor investments to try and accumulate more but they only led to bankruptcy. That in turn led him to go on the lecture circuit and earn more money. Which led to time away from a family that was tragic in its own right. He buried several of his children and his wife before he died.
It was his humor that made Samuel/Mark famous. He was noted for his storytelling ability and biting wit. And very little escaped his lambasting.
It struck me as I watched the documentary about his life that, other than his fame and success at actually publishing his work, Samuel/Mark was very much like me. It's not that I'm comparing my writing to Mark Twain's, but he seemed to view the world in much the same way I do. The older he got, the more disillusioned he got with life. And he used his humor to survive.
I have one advantage over Twain. I never achieved fame. Therefore I'll never agonize over losing it. I don't have to worry about whether my next book will be successful or as good as my first because I've never published my first. My failure as a writer does have that going for it.
I wonder, though, if Twain had been born in this generation would he have created as much of an impact on the world as he did in the 19th Century? Sure we have mass media that could have blasted his words all over the world in minutes. But it seems impossible for anyone to focus on any one thing or person for more than 15 minutes any more (except for that lunatic buffoon in the White House).
But I suppose if Twain had been on Twitter, he would have got a lot of retweets and likes.