The Autobiography of Mark Twain is as famous for its fictional qualities as for its lively writing style. This is one of the reasons the work—which exists in three distinct and competing versions—has lived on for generations and inspired much debate. This entry studies the 1959 version, edited and arranged by Charles Neider and available in paperback from Perennial Classics.
Twain's autobiography was originally published in 1924 (fourteen years after Twain's death) by Albert Bigelow Paine in New York. It was published in two volumes as Mark Twain's Autobiography. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the real-life counterpart of the Mark Twain pseudonym, had been preparing notes for his autobiography for almost forty years, and they culminated in a series of dictated conversations to Paine from 1906 to Twain's death in 1910. Twain had lofty intentions when he started writing autobiographical notes in the 1870s. He expected that his autobiography would live on forever, and in this spirit he designated that certain parts of his memoirs would be time-released from his estate at specific times in the distant future.
The Autobiography of Mark Twain spans the years from 1835 to 1910, a rich period in United States history. Through Twain's characteristic wit and wisdom, readers gain a unique perspective on the Civil War, slavery and race relations, the colonization of the American West, world travel in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and notable literary and historical figures. With popular works like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain was regarded as a master storyteller in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and readers eagerly anticipated his memoirs. Readers were therefore profoundly disappointed when the first version of the Twain's autobiography was published in 1924 as a mass of incomplete biographical notes and observations that lacked organization. Later versions have tried to correct this problem by removing awkward sections or adding or rearranging other sections as necessary. None of the editors have chosen to include Twain's complete typescript in the order in which Twain intended.