Books

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent Was a Summer Reading Mark Twain's Autobiography

| Thu Nov. 21, 2013 12:17 PM EST

Via Andrew Sullivan, here is Ben Tarnoff's review of the second volume of Mark Twain's autobiography, which is now being published 100 years after it was written:

The hundred-year ban seems less about protecting Twain’s reputation than about sparing the feelings of the many people whom he attacks in his autobiography. The list is long. He has total recall of past slights, as well as an undiminished stream of vitriol for those whom he feels disrespected or deceived him. But he wants to make sure that his victims—and their wives and children—are dead before he dismembers them as cruelly as necessary. He feels a special hatred for publishers, especially Charles L. Webster....“The times when he had an opportunity to be an ass and failed to take advantage of it were so few that, in a monarchy, they would have entitled him to a decoration.”....Twain’s rage is unrelenting. He pumps his enemies’ bodies full of bullets when one or two would do the job.

That's kind of fascinating, isn't it? What sort of person can be simultaneously so brimming with rage and so sparing of others' feelings? It's an odd mix. Normally, I'd guess that it was the act of a calculating man who didn't want his contemporaries to know what he was really like, but Tarnoff suggests that's not the case. Instead, it seems to be the case of a man who knew, perhaps, that his rage was unfair, but was vain enough that he couldn't bring himself to let it go unexpressed or unseen forever. Very peculiar.