Tag Archives: Mark Twain

Twain’s August Anniversary

Today is the 126th anniversary of the first publication of Mark Twain’s the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  These days you can find this seminal tale of American literature in numerous formats, and CLP has you covered on most of them! Let’s take a moment to highlight some of your options.

Numerous print editions exist, but here are some good ones:

We’ve got “Huck Finn” in the newer formats as well:

  • EPUB (from Overdrive)
  • MP3 (from Overdrive)

And if you like film adaptations:

And if you feel you might ever need to read some critical analysis on the stories, you need look no further than our complement of wonderful literature databases found here.

No matter how you choose to commemorate this august anniversary, be sure to raise a toast this weekend to Mark Twain and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, both American originals!


Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.


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Literary Dustup: Twain vs Cooper, Cather vs Twain

The year 2010 marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of Mark Twain, the 125th anniversary of Twain’s most famous work, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the 100th anniversary of his death.  Rather than highlight the same old hoary chestnuts, I thought I’d feature some of my personal Twain favorites that are less well-known.

That’s what I thought.  However, as is often the case when writing a post, I hit an interesting detour along the way.

My odds-on favorite piece of Twain writing is the essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,”  in which the famous son of Hannibal, Missouri, finds, in two-thirds of a page of the novel The Deerslayer, 114 of a possible 115 literary offenses.  Twain sets out 19 rules of romantic fiction and finds Cooper in violation of 18 of them.  This is a must-read for anyone who has suffered through even a chapter of Cooper’s infamously turgid prose.  In high school, my class was assigned The Pathfinder and, upon asking around,  I learned that I was the only one to read the complete novel, everyone else resorting to Monarch Notes (a precursor of Cliffs’ Notes).

My colleagues all got either a B or an A; I got a C-.

While beginning to write about another of my favorite Twain items, Letters from the Earth, I ran across something I’d neither seen nor heard of before: an article entitled “Mark Twain is a Slob” by Pittsburgh’s own Willa Cather.  Originally published in the Nebraska State Journal, on May 5, 1895, it begins with this blistering assault:

If there is anything which should make an American sick and disgusted at the literary taste of his country, and almost swerve his allegiance to his flag it is that controversy between Mark Twain and Max O’Rell, in which the Frenchman proves himself a wit and a gentleman and the American shows himself little short of a clown and an all around tough.

Ouch.  A little bit of karmic payback for Mr. Clemens, perhaps.  Yet I couldn’t help thinking that, if he remained objective for a moment, he might have appreciated the quality and, well, snarkiness of the grand dame’s invective.

Twain trashes Cooper, Cather trashes Twain.  Though not quite the literary equivalent of a WWE Smackdown, both articles make for mighty entertaining reading.

Since it’s Twain’s multiple anniversaries and since I’m determined to get to all those favorites I mentioned,  let’s return to him for some last words.  The premise of Letters from the Earth might serve as material for an upscale (think Bravo, think A & E) cable sitcom: Satan writes a series of letters to heaven, reporting on the current very sad state of affairs down here on Earth.  Written just prior to, and published after, his death, Twain sets out some startling invective concerning the deplorable affairs of man.    Here is the opening to Letter III:

You have noticed that the human being is a curiosity. In times past he has had (and worn out and flung away) hundreds and hundreds of religions; today he has hundreds and hundreds of religions, and launches not fewer than three new ones every year. I could enlarge that number and still be within the facts.

One of his principle religions is called the Christian. A sketch of it will interest you. It sets forth in detail in a book containing two million words, called the Old and New Testaments. Also it has another name — The Word of God. For the Christian thinks every word of it was dictated by God — the one I have been speaking of.

It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.

Of course, we must hasten to remember that this is Satan speaking, not Mr. Twain.  Oh, no, not Mr. Twain at all.

And then there is Mark Twain On the Damned Human Race, which was published in Letters from the Earth and as a separate book as well.   Herein, Twain makes his case that man is, in fact, not a higher animal, but belongs to the lower animals.  Based on “a series of experiments” conducted at the London Zoological Gardens, Twain notes that man is the only animal that is cruel, is the only animal that bands together and deals in that “atrocity of atrocities, War.”  He is the only animal who enslaves.  Man is the Religious Animal, he is “the only animal that has the True Religion – several of them.”   Man is the only animal to have the great defect: “moral sense.”    In the great satiric tradition of Swift, who proposed that man is not a rational animal but an animal capable of reasoning, Twain goes one step further: he notes that “It seems plain to me that whatever he is he is not a reasonable animal.”

Finally, in this year of Twain anniversaries, there comes a first: the publication later this year of the full, unexpurgated Autobiography of Mark Twain, concerning which Twain left instructions that it not be published until 100 years after his death.

And so, 100 years later, here it is, coming soon, to a library (not yet in our catalog, but on order) and bookstore near you.

I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to imagine what had to wait 100 years to be said, since he seems to have pretty much touched all the bases while he was alive.   Thankfully or no, we won’t have to imagine very much longer.

– Don

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Rip Van Winkle, Dormez-vous?

Today is National Sleepyhead Day.

National, that is, in Finland, where the day is known as Unikeonpäivä.


Distinguished Citizen of Naantali, Finland

On Unikeonpäivä sleepyheads suffer. The town of Naantali, in southern Finland, celebrates by choosing a well known town resident, called Unikeko (Sleepyhead of the Year), who is awakened, carried from bed in a sheet, and thrown into the sea. 

Naantali’s Sleepyhead Day celebration traces its origins to nineteenth-century spa culture. A spa day started at 6 AM with a drink of healing mineral water. Every July 27, the last one to arrive at the spa was greeted with song and presented with a bouquet of thistles. The group then marched to town to wake the residents. This early morning, water drinking, song singing, thistle giving tradition evolved into the current Sleepyhead festival.

When waking in a Finnish household on July 27, you’ll want to rise early. Another Sleepyhead Day tradition is to throw water on the head of the last person sleeping, who then endures teasing as the laziest member of the house.


Seven Sleepers of Ephesus

Today is also the traditional feast day of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. During the reign of Roman Emperor Decius (249 – 251), so the legend goes, the Sleepers were sealed in a cave for their religious beliefs. They were awakened by a farmer 230 years later, and thought they had been asleep only one night.

Their story is one of many examples of legends about people who fall asleep and years afterward wake up to find the world changed. (For a light hearted version of the Seven Sleepers story, turn to chapter 40 of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad.)


Old coins, strong drink before sleep, and confusion upon waking are some of the Sleepyhead tale elements echoed in another famous long-snooze story, Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle.


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