After 100 years, Mark Twain tells all —

Way back at the beginning of the last century, way back, oh, about a hundred years ago, when Mark Twain was writing his autobiography, he made it clear that it should not be published until a hundred years after his death. As the UC Berkeley News explains,

In the book, he shares his unfiltered and often ferocious or controversial opinions and rants about people, religion, war, politics and just about anything else that crossed his mind. The 100-year delay guaranteed that those he criticized or ridiculed would not feel the sting, nor would their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. Above all, he said, it would save him from being shunned for his controversial views: “I am human, and nothing could persuade me to do any bad deed –or any good one –that would bring that punishment upon me.”

Another one of Twain’s posterity and reputation-protecting moves was to stipulate that his papers–including his autobiography–could only change hands by will: e.g. after his only surviving child, Clara Clemens, first inherited the papers, they could not pass to anyone else until her passing, and they couldn’t pass to anyone else until after his or her passing . . . and so on. In this way, the papers all stayed together and were given eventually to UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, where the autobiography could await the end of its hundred-year sentence to censure.

Twain died in 1910, so the hundred years are finally up, and his autobiography (volume one of three) has been flying out of bookstores; it’s been on the New York Times best-seller list ever since it was released a few weeks ago (read all about it here)! It should be noted that parts of the autobiography have been published before, but this edition is the complete autobiography as Twain planned it, or the “Final & right plan.”

Of course the autobiography might have slept on in obscurity if it weren’t for the crack team of editors who combed through Twain’s drafts, wrote explanatory annotations, and constructed an accompanying online database of materials (here); see the cast of characters behind it all below (this photo is from just one of their many media appearances!)  — you may recognize one of them!

Twain Autobiography editors, c. late October, 2010