The story of the beloved American novelist’s nearly 12 years abroad.
Peripatetic Mark Twain (1835-1910) traveled the world, beginning in 1867 with a five-month, 20,000-mile journey to 15 ports in eight countries. That adventure resulted in his first travel book, Innocents Abroad (1869), which introduced its irreverent, insouciant narrator, the American Vandal: “a brazen, unapologetic visitor to foreign lands, generally unimpressed with the local ambience—to say nothing of the local inhabitants—but ever ready to appropriate any religious or historical trinket he or she could carry off.” In this vibrant, fresh look at the venerable writer, historian Morris (Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America, 2013, etc.) traces Twain’s journeys and his evolving perspective on world politics and peoples. More than a decade after his first trip, Twain, his wife and two of their daughters embarked on a European adventure to gather material for A Tramp Abroad (1880). Despite the jaunty title, Twain found that he was no longer an American Vandal but “a well-tailored, respectable middle-aged Easterner…who now confronted European culture on his own relatively sophisticated terms.” His self-image changed more dramatically during a long journey that included India and Africa, chronicled in Following the Equator (1897). “Twain, for all his joking facade, was a keen and sensitive observer,” the author contends, “and his recent world tour had brought him face to face with the myriad horrors of power politics.” As one scholar put it, Twain saw that the “vandals have evolved into oppressors.” Returning from another trip in 1904, he joined the Anti-Imperialist League. Morris sets Twain’s travels in the context of his financial problems, family tensions and wrenching loss: He and Livy were in Europe when their beloved daughter, Susy, died of spinal meningitis; Livy died in Florence; and as he aged, Twain lost many dear friends.
A brisk narrative and sensitive insights make this book a delight.