Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bon anniversaire, M. Twain!

The Google Doodle today alerted me to the fact that today is Mark Twain's 176th birthday.  Merci, Google!
Happy Birthday, Bon Anniversaire, M. Twain.  Here is a virtual treat for you!  I know you would love these little macarons.  Were they popular, did they even exist, when you were in Paris?  They are the dernier cri these days in La Ville Lumière.  Wouldn't it be nice to be sitting in a little café or tea shop enjoying a few with a cup of café crème right this very moment?  Watching the Frenchies hurry by on their way somewhere?
M. Twain's best work, in my humble opinion, is Joan of Arc.  (No, I have not read them all.)  It is also called Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by The Sieur Louis de Conte (Her Page and Secretary).  The dedication reads:

To My Wife
Olivia Landgon Clemens
This Book
is tendered on our wedding anniversary in grateful recognition of her
twenty-five years of valued service as my literary adviser and editor
The Author

However, this story was first published in Harper's Magazine, in installments, beginning in 1895, but no one knew it was by Mark Twain.  It was supposedly written by Jean François Alden, translated from the original unpublished manuscripts of de Conte. Twain wanted his identity to be kept a secret, probably thinking that the book would be taken more seriously if told through the eyes of one of Joan of Arc's childhood friends.  Evidently, Twain held St. Joan in great esteem, believing her to be the one historical figure "genuinely free, innocent, and devoid of selfishness."   
Of this work, Twain said this:
"I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well.  And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing."
I am not sure how I first got my hands on this book.  My best guess would be that I found it while just hanging out in Barnes and Noble looking through rows and rows of books (one of my favorite past times).  The version that I have was published in 1989 by Ignatius Press, San Francisco.  The original version was published in book form in 1896.  I actually found a free on-line copy of it, too.
The Innocents Abroad, Twain's travel stories published in 1869, was his best-selling book during his lifetime.  It is sitting on my nightstand, patiently waiting to be read.  From it comes one of my favorite Twain quotes about the French:

In Paris they simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French!  We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.

I will leave you with one more example of his thoughts on French.  This is from Mark Twain, A Biography:

It has always been a marvel to me-- that French language; it has always been a puzzle to me.  How beautiful that language is!  How expressive it seems to be!  How full of grace it is! And when it comes from lips like those [of Sarah Bernhardt], how eloquent and limpid it is!  And, oh, I am always deceived-- I always think I am going to understand it.

Twain had many other thoughts on the French, usually dealing with what he called their lack of morality.  He was, after all, a master of insult!

Bon appétit, Samuel Langhorne Clemens! (Nov. 30, 1835- April 21, 1910)

No comments: