The University of Alabama Press, 2009. 231 pp. $29.95.
ALAN GRIBBEN AND JEFFREY ALAN MELTON, EDS.
Version of Record online: 3 NOV 2010
© 2010 The Mark Twain Circle of America/Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Volume 8, Issue 1, pages 126–128, November 2010
Csicsila, J. (2010), Mark Twain on the Move: A Travel Reader. The Mark Twain Annual, 8: 126–128. doi: 10.1111/j.1756-2597.2010.00050.x
The field of Twain Studies is currently experiencing flush times, as accessibility to information and materials by and about Mark Twain has never been greater. New biographies abound, hard-to-locate interviews have been collected and published, tens of thousands of letters are available for viewing online, significant writings heretofore suppressed are seeing the light of day, and many texts that were commercially unavailable only a few short years ago are now being offered in range of formats. Alan Gribben and Jeff Melton have recently contributed mightily to this effort of making Twain more accessible with their excellent Mark Twain on the Move: A Travel Reader, which brings together in a convenient and highly affordable anthology substantive selections from Twain's canon of travel works. But what makes this project so unique is that the passages Gribben and Melton include from The Innocents Abroad (1869), Roughing It (1872), A Tramp Abroad (1880), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and Following the Equator (1897) for their collection are not the selections that have populated literary textbooks throughout most of the twentieth-century. Instead of relying, for example, on “Jim Blaine and His Grandfather's Ram” and “Jim Baker's Blue-Jay Yarn,” Gribben and Melton shift their focus away from the time-honored sketches that routinely represent these five volumes in an effort to showcase the “travel-book elements” of Twain's travel literature. The result is an exciting new way of thinking about this somewhat forgotten dimension of Twain's art.
Given the history of anthologizing Twain's writings over the last hundred years, it would not be all that difficult to forget that books like Innocents Abroad, Roughing It, A Tramp Abroad, Life on the Mississippi, and Following the Equator even belong to the travel-book genre. For many twentieth-century readers, contact with these texts came through excerpts so fundamentally unconnected to anything even remotely suggestive of travel literature that it seems a wonder Twain would have been thought of as a travel writer at all. Gribben and Melton set out with their collection both to restore that connection and to direct attention back to the type of writing for which the nineteenth century most regarded Twain:
the present volume more authentically introduces this neglected Mark Twain, a man en route, out of his comfortable element, on the road, on the seas, on trains, matching his travel skills against the inconveniences and hazards of living away from home and earning the thrills and diversions that the unfamiliar can bring. These writings deliver an undiluted Twain, the author as he was known and loved in his own day, vintage glimpses of Mark Twain on the move. (xix-xx)
Each of the nearly four dozen selections chosen for Mark Twain on the Move exhibits a strong sense of what Gribben and Melton describe as “movement,” which they argue provides the foundation for the best travel writing: “It is this movement that provides narrative tension and interest as a self-absorbed traveler interacts with unfamiliar surroundings” (xi-xii). Accordingly, from Innocents Abroad we get passages documenting Twain's tours of Paris, Milan, Venice, Rome, Athens, Constantinople, Syria, Jerusalem, and Egypt; from Roughing It, Twain's overland journey to through the West, and his visits to Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, and the Hawaiian Islands; from Tramp Abroad, Twain's trips to places throughout Germany and Switzerland; from Life on the Mississippi, Twain's stops in St. Louis, New Orleans, and Hannibal; and from Following the Equator, Twain's stopovers in Bombay and Delhi.
While Mark Twain on the Move holds plenty of appeal for the average reader, Gribben and Melton clearly designed their collection for classroom use. The volume is organized by text into five chapters and features a number of useful tools for beginning as well as more advanced scholars. The compact but highly illuminating “Introduction” contextualizes Twain aesthetically and historically within the genre of travel literature, and each chapter is prefaced with a helpful overview that sets the stage for the selections that follow. Gribben and Melton also provide an excellent bibliography of the most essential scholarship on Twain's travel writings. As a bonus, the volume includes a time-saving index that catalogs more than 500 key names, places, concepts, and terms. Gribben and Melton note that they were forced to make tough choices about what to include and what to leave out of their collection, presumably in order to keep the size manageable and the price affordable. (One could easily imagine a volume of this sort reaching in excess of 1000 pages and costing three or four times the current $29.95!) But in the end, they were wise to keep costs down and the book portable, especially given that this is a text marketed primarily for use in the classroom.
Mark Twain on the Move fills a very real and long-standing gap in the way that Mark Twain is taught and studied in many of today's college courses. For instructors of Twain who focus mainly on the novels and short fiction in their courses (as many surely do), this collection obviously allows for the opportunity to teach the entire range of Twain's career as a travel writer efficiently and without asking cash-strapped students to purchase another five somewhat expensive (and somewhat long) books. The volume's usefulness also extends conceivably to everything from the survey of nineteenth-century literature to specialized topics courses featuring travel writers. Gribben and Melton have made a truly substantive contribution to Mark Twain studies with Mark Twain on the Move.