“Innocents” and Experience: Mark Twain’s Marginalia in William Prime’s “Tent Life in the Holy Land”, “The Innocents Abroad” and the Resilience of Literature

By Mark Woodhouse.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

A recently discovered copy of William Prime’s “Tent Life in the Holy Land”, containing marginal comments by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) is interesting on several levels. Long known to be an important source for Clemens’s early and biggest popular success, “The Innocents Abroad”, this annotated copy gives access to Clemens’s thoughts as he read Prime. In addition to the insight this offers regarding Clemens’s creative process and what Prime’s text and Clemens’s strong reaction to it has to say about the continuity of our troubled and complicated relationship with the cultures of the Middle East, from another perspective, the spontaneity and interaction evident in this example of Clemens’s habits of reading and writing speaks to our relationship to the written word. Clemens grappled with the changing nature of this relationship throughout his career and, as Bruce Michelson points out, if his late writings “can be construed as pushed to the edge of an abyss by technological change, they can also be read as resisting the fatal plunge.” In this age of the Kindle, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and the increasing fragmentation of our engagement with the written word what does Twain’s experience have to say to us about the persistence and importance of the literary endeavor.

Keywords: Literature, Technological Change, Marginalia, Intertextuality

International Journal of the Book, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp.171-186. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.363MB).

Mark Woodhouse

Head of Technical Services, Mark Twain Archivist, CollegeArchivist, Gannett-Tripp Library, Elmira College, Elmira, NY, USA

Mark Woodhouse is the Head of Technical Services, College Archivist and Mark Twain Archivist at Elmira College in Elmira N.Y. where he has served since 1987. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from the Catholic University of America and, in addition to a Master’s Degree in Library Science from The State University of New York at Buffalo, holds a Master’s Degree in Printing Technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology. His essay on Libraries appeared in American History Through Literature 1870-1920 published by Charles Scribner’s Sons/Thomsom Gale in 2006 and he is a regular contributor to Library Journal. His poetry has appeared in The Gettysburg Review as well as in other literary magazines. Recent work has appeared in American Literary Realism and in the collection Mark Twain’s Geographical Imagination published by Cambridge Scholars Press.


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