Thursday’s Child: Mark Twain

For Christmas this year, my husband gave me a number of books from the Harper’s Library Edition of Mark Twain’s works (and filled me with a desire to possess the rest of the 25-book edition). I love Mark Twain, and my husband is possibly the most thoughtful gift-giver I’ve ever known. I’ve been reading Following the Equator this week, and thus was my topic for this edition of Thursday’s Child suggested to me.

Most everyone is familiar with Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Indeed, one need go no further than these familiar characters in any discussion concerning tales of travel and adventure, even if one isn’t aware of the further adventures of the two in Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective. But the theme of travel flows throughout Twain’s works, both of fiction and otherwise. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is perhaps one of my favorite of Twain’s works, and if you haven’t read it, you should.

Unfortunately for the public at large, few people these days delve much further into Twain’s work that those three novels. His non-fiction seems to have largely gone by the wayside, yet it delivers poignant and witty accounts of his personal travels, incorporating passages from his diary and commentary on politics and culture. In Following the Equator, his descriptions of the geography and people of Australia and India (and points between and beyond) are touching and beautiful, even though tempered by his often acerbic humor. In The Innocents Abroad he focuses more on his fellow travelers, casting the past-time of tourism in a shadow of the ridiculous. His writing in these works is very much a series of impressions; a catalog of the stream of thought his experiences suggested to him. It opens doors to his personal politics and morals that are much more difficult to uncover in most of his fiction, with the possible exception of Connecticut Yankee. As I read them, I feel more than ever that I would have liked to have this man in my circle of friends.

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