"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare."

Monday, December 29, 2008

When Twain Met Churchill

An astute reader of the New York Times pointed out in yesterday's Sunday Book Review that Carlo D'Este's new book about Winston Churchill, which was recently reviewed in the Times, contains a misrepresentation of Churchill's encounter with Mark Twain.

According to the new book, Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, Twain introduced Churchill to a New York audience in 1900 with the words, "a hero of five wars, author of six books and future prime minister of England." In actuality, it was the manager of Churchill's North American lecture tour who came up with that only partly accurate description, not Twain.

Twain, more in keeping with his personality and general attitude toward colonial warfare, actually described Churchill as "[knowing] all about war and nothing about peace."

This inaccurate attribution has been often repeated, so thanks go out to Times reader Peter Crane for pointing that out.

Twain and Churchill, incidentally, shared the same birthday: November 30.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Twain Maxim Inspires Story Behind 2008 Oscar Favorite

Any way you slice it, Mark Twain has had a profound and ongoing influence on American popular culture. The latest example of the stamina of Twain's wisdom can be found in one of the most acclaimed motion pictures of the year, one that has been making waves lately as a major Oscar contender.

When famous editor Maxwell Perkins related to his even more famous client F. Scott Fitzgerald that well-known remark of Twain's which asserts, "It's a pity that the best parts of life come at the beginning, the worst parts at the end," it inspired Fitzgerald in 1922 to pen the short story "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"--about a man who comes into the world as an old man and literally ages in reverse, passing away as an infant.

It was that story which was eventually adapted into David Fincher's newest film from Paramount Pictures, starring Brad Pitt in the titular role. Actually, the story had been considered for film adaptation going back to Fitzgerald's lifetime, during his years as a Hollywood screenwriter. However, even a 1943 screenplay by fellow author-turned-screenwriter William Faulkner wasn't enough to get the unusual project off the ground. It popped up again in the early 1980s, but was stuck in development hell for the past 25 years.

And now, finally, after such a rocky road, the film based on the short story inspired by the words of Twain has made it to the silver screen, and is one of the biggest projects of the year. Ol' Sam would sure be amazed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Twain Speaks from Beyond the Grave

The New Yorker has published the rare Mark Twain essay "The Privilege of the Grave" in this week's issue. Written by Twain in 1905 (five years before his death), it has not seen the light of day until now. The essay is part of UC-Berkeley's Mark Twain archive.

Here's a snippet:

"We have charity for what the dead say. We may disapprove of what they say, but we do not insult them, we do not revile them, as knowing they cannot now defend themselves. If they should speak, what revelations there would be!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Book Examines Clemens' Years as a "Journalist"

It was during his time writing for the Virginia City newspaper the Territorial Enterprise during the 1860s that Samuel Clemens transformed on the printed page into Mark Twain. The young upstart cut his teeth writing satirical and often outrageous parodies of real-life news in the mining town, and its that writing which University of Hawaii English professor James E. Caron looks at in his new study, Mark Twain: Unsanctified Newspaper Reporter.

Brian Burnes of the McClatchy Newspapers has written up an interesting review of the book, explaining that although it is clearly a scholarly work and not as populist as Ron Powers acclaimed 2005 biography, it admirably does the job of painting the picture of Sam Clemens finding his literary voice.

Twain wrote for the Nevada Territory paper beginning in 1862, and didn't achieve major success as a published author until The Innocents Abroad ion 1869--providing Caron with a long stretch of fertile ground to cover.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Own a Rare Twain House Sketch

Yesterday, Following the Equator reader John Farrell gave me the heads-up on a beautiful pencil sketch of the Hartford Mark Twain House, which he currently has up for auction on eBay. The sketch is by artist Charles H. Overly, an illustrator who produced many such pencil sketches of historical buildings during the 1950s and 1960s. Anyone interested in owning this piece of Twain-related art/memorabilia should head over here.