|My Master's Thesis was on Mark Twain's stay in Australia in 1895, at the age of 60. I found the research extremely interesting, and rewarding, and would like to share a little of my project with you.|
The latter half of the 19th century was an exciting time in history. The world was changing dramatically; even Japan was moving from the long standing Edo Period into the Meiji Restoration. It was in this lively era that Mark Twain honed his skill as journalist, writer, critique, and of course, humorist.|
Mark Twain was an adventurer, like Lemuel Gulliver and Robinson Crusoe, heroes of books he admired. Since his first trip overseas, to the islands of Hawaii in 1866, Twain traveled extensively. At the advanced age of 60, Mark Twain circumnavigated the world. Not only did he visit such commonwealth colonies as Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa, but lectured in several of their major cities and a number of their rural towns. Beginning in mid-May, 1895, it took Twain more than a year to return to the starting port of Southampton. This page delves into why Twain chose to embark on such a great journey to the commonwealth colonies, particularly Australia. (I went on to also look at the poorly researched and reviewed book written about his trip: published as Following the Equator in America, and as More Tramps Abroad in England. Those interested, please feel free to contact me.)
gDo you reckon Tom Sawyer was satisfied after all them adventures? cNo, he wasnft. It only just pfisoned him for more.h These are the opening words of Tom Sawyer Abroad. They weregwrittenh by Huck Finn and describes, I believe, the inner spirit of Mark Twain at the time of writing; that is, about 1893. Through his vivid descriptions in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, readers see how intrigued Twain was with his surroundings and how adept he was at rendering various scenes from his childhood into his novels. These powers of observation are best revealed in his gtraveloguesh, also amongst his most popular literary works.|
So what was his reason for going to Australia? Many critiques (Welland, Macnaughton, Rasmussen, Shillingsburg, etc.) have pointed out that the major reason for Twainfs trip around the world was to raise the money needed to pay back creditors. Although these researchers present the overseas trip as a great adversity for Twain, his American audience was not necessarily aware of this. Had he not wanted to go to Australia, he could have easily lectured all over the United States and Canada, and as John C. Gerber points out, may have been able to gather just as much money as on the world trip, with fewer expenses. In fact, Twainfs active role in preparing for the world trip has not been questioned by any of the writers I have researched.
First, let's look at Twain's contact with his journalist-turned-explorer friend, Henry Morton Stanley. Twain turned to Stanley for advice about choosing a tour agent for Australia, even though he had been approached by other Australian agents on three occasions previously between 1882 and 1889. In fact, it seems that Twain had sent a letter to Smythe, who had been Stanleyfs Australian tour agent, at the same time that Smythe had written to Twain, inviting him to lecture in Australia.
Twain was also full of praise for Rudyard Kipling as a literary entity, keeping a small book of his poetry beside his bed during his final years. Once again we can speculate that by reading Kiplingfs works, it whet Twainfs adventure-loving spirit and led him to write the words of his Sept 23, 1893, letter to his wife: gcI would rather begin with India.h Indeed, Twain met with Kipling during return visits to the States in April 1893 and January 1894.
Along with these friendships, and Twainfs innate interest in world affairs, there is no doubt that he positively wanted to visit Africa, India, and Australia. Furthermore, I would pose the possibility that Twain had had a quiet interest in Australia from much earlier days. The connection is a simple one, but should not be overlooked: the strong influence through literature and mass media. Jonathan Swiftfs Gulliverfs Travels as well as Daniel Defoefs Robinson Crusoe contain many references to Australia. Likewise, Twainfs interest in the Tichborne Claimant, which had caused an uproar in London many years before, most surely turned Twainfs thoughts towards Australia. In fact, Twain included the story of the Tichborne Claimant in his travelogue.
Furthermore, in an interview with a newspaper reporter, printed in a Sydney newspaper of Sept 17, Twain explains that Chapter 33 of A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthurfs Court was written during American media coverage of the New South Wales expansion of trade and levying of tariffs. This is but one example of how Twain showed interest in all aspects of Australia including politics. Readers will find that Twainfs travelogue contains various interesting episodes taken from both his public and private functions. All these allow us to see a little of how Australia fascinated him. In Following the Equator, Twain explains:
To my mind the exterior aspects and character of Australia are fascinating things to look at and think about, they are so strange, so weird, so new, so uncommonplace, such a startling and interesting contrast to the other sections of the planetc(118)
Of course, it is fully known that Twain had to write the book about his travels after the sudden death of his daughter, Susy. On the other hand, it was due to his exceptional efforts in gathering information and taking notes while he was in Australia that he was still able to complete his last travelogue. It was fortunate that he could rely on the fond memories of his stay there.
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