Sunday, April 17, 2016

Fortnightly Book, April 17

The recent Italy posts have decided the next Fortnightly Book for me: The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim's Progress, Being Some Account of the Steamship Quaker City's Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land, by Mark Twain.

The Innocents Abroad was easily Mark Twain's most popular work in his lifetime. Published in 1869, it is Twain's presentation of a real trip abroad. The Quaker City, a former US naval ship, was steaming across the Atlantic on a pleasure cruise -- the first transatlantic pleasure cruise ever -- and taking a circuit that would stop at Marseilles, Genoa, Leghorn, Naples, Palermo, Athens, Corinth, Constantinople, Sebastopol, Smyrna, Beirut, Joppa, Alexandria, Malta, Cagliari, Palma, Valencia, Madeira, and Bermuda before returning home, with excursions at most of the stops. The whole thing would be about five months. Twain was along as the traveling correspondent for the Daily Alta California. He sent back about 51 letters to the newspaper as part of its Holy Land Excursion feature. After he returned and was considering getting permission to use the letters for a book, he gave a lecture called, "Pilgrim Life"; they were so successful that he reworked them as a new lecture, "The American Vandal Abroad", and began hawking it on the general lecture circuit. Humorous lecturers were still relatively rare, so reviewers occasionally dinged him for his frivolousness -- but he packed the house. You can read one version of that lecture online. The book itself was worked up from the letters and lectures, with considerable revision at some points, and became the first step in Mark Twain's literary fame.

The Innocents Abroad is the first of his travel works; as such, it is in some ways his roughest, but also his most lighthearted and least cynical. I've read it before, but it has been some time, and it should be interesting to re-read his account of Northern Italy and his (highly critical and often anti-Catholic) discussion of the Papal States. Italian Unification was going on; Twain's American sympathies are entirely with Garibaldi, but Rome would not fall to the Kingdom of Italy until September 20, 1870. I don't remember much of anything about the book's Holy Land portion, so I will have to pay close attention there, too.

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