Sunday, November 27, 2022

Eve’s Diary

Mark Twain (1835–1910)
From Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1891–1910

Three of the 55 illustrations created by American artist Lester Ralph (1876–1927) for the book publication of Eve’s Diary. The first two show Adam and Eve in Eden; the third shows Adam at the end of the story, after the Fall. The Charlton Library in Worcester, Massachusetts, banned the book from its shelves because, as The New York Times drolly put it in a front-page article, the images “represent Eve in summer costume. Her dresses are all cut Garden of Eden style.”

In 1909, the year before he died, Mark Twain published his last book, Is Shakespeare Dead?: From My Autobiography, which argues that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays and (as the subtitle suggests) includes anecdotes from his own life to examine the relevance of “literary celebrity” in history. In an early chapter of this slim book, Twain begins a recollection from his own childhood:
When I was a Sunday-school scholar something more than sixty years ago, I became interested in Satan, and wanted to find out all I could about him. I began to ask questions, but my class-teacher, Mr. Barclay the stone-mason, was reluctant about answering them, it seemed to me. I was anxious to be praised for turning my thoughts to serious subjects when there wasn’t another boy in the village who could be hired to do such a thing. I was greatly interested in the incident of Eve and the serpent, and thought Eve’s calmness was perfectly noble. I asked Mr. Barclay if he had ever heard of another woman who, being approached by a serpent, would not excuse herself and break for the nearest timber. He did not answer my question, but rebuked me for inquiring into matters above my age and comprehension. . . .
Even if Twain’s boyhood anecdote is fabricated (quite possible) or embellished (almost certain), we do know that throughout his life he was both fascinated by and skeptical of the accounts in the Book of Genesis—and this obsession led him to write more than a dozen sketches and satires inspired by them, most of which remained unpublished at his death. These efforts at biblical storytelling began as early as 1866, when he lit on the idea of a “conversation between the carpenters of Noah’s Ark.” Instead, this initial work took the form of a diary written by Shem, one of Noah’s sons. Twain made several attempts to work on the project during the 1870s—and picked it up again in 1909—but nothing came of it, and among his papers there are only a few surviving fragments of “diaries” by Shem and by Noah’s grandfather Methuselah.

The idea of using the journal format to portray biblical characters eventually bore fruit, however. In late 1892, Twain wrote “Extracts from Adam’s Diary.” Unable to find a magazine willing to publish it, he agreed to sell it the following year to a friend who was assembling a volume to promote Niagara Falls to travelers attending the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Twain revised the story for this publication, relocated Eden in the Niagara region, and described Adam going over the Falls in a barrel—additions Twain would later regret and try, unsuccessfully, to get removed when the story was included in future collections. The Niagara Book was reprinted when Buffalo hosted the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, and the story appeared that year in Harper’s Magazine, reaching a national audience for the first time. (During the Buffalo fair, in a curious case of life imitating art, Annie Edson Taylor, a 63-year-old schoolteacher, became the first person to strap herself in a barrel and take the trip over the Niagara Falls.)

Twain’s story opens with Adam perplexed and annoyed by the appearance of the “new creature with the long hair. . . . I wish it would not talk; it is always talking.” But by the tale’s end, ten years after their exile from Eden, he admits, “I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her. At first I thought she talked too much; but now I should be sorry to have that voice fall silent and pass out of my life.”

Mark Twain had long questioned, both humorously and seriously, whether Adam and Eve were to blame for the Fall and often suggested that, given their naivete and human nature, failure must have been part of the plan. “If God had told [Adam] to help himself,” he wrote to the industrialist Henry Huttleston Rogers in 1898, “the crop would have rotted on the trees; but as soon as He loaded the apples up with extra-territorial royalties and other wanton exactions and obstructions, Adam was bound to sample the orchard if it cost him his shirt-tail.” Similarly, one of the maxims that open the chapters of Pudd’nhead Wilson reads:
Adam was but human—this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.
Around the time the Adam story was reprinted in Harper’s, Twain began toying with the idea of imagining it from Eve’s point of view. At one point he had a 75-page manuscript tentatively titled “Autobiography of Eve,” a far more cynical account that follows Eve until her death in the year 920. Not satisfied with what he’d written, he set it aside, unfinished, and parts of it were posthumously published as “Eve Speaks” and “That Day in Eden.”

In June 1904, Olivia, Mark Twain’s beloved wife of 34 years, died after an extended illness while the family was in Florence, Italy. Shattered with grief, their daughter Clara broke down and, after their return to the U.S., admitted herself to rest-cure facilities for more than a year. The following May, afflicted with gout, dyspepsia, and chronic bronchitis, Twain traveled with this daughter Jean to a hideaway in Dublin, New Hampshire. During his first month there, in part to distract himself from grief and illness, he churned out “an intolerable pile of manuscript,” including the start of a new version of The Mysterious Stranger and an odd fantasy titled “3,000 Years Among the Microbes” (imagining the world from the point of view of a cholera bacteria living in the body of a tramp). Finding himself at an impasse with both novel-length works, he took some time off. “Since I stopped work I have had a two months holiday,” he wrote to Frederick A. Duneka, the secretary of Harper & Brothers. “The summer has been my working time for 35 years. To have a holiday in it (in America) is new for me.”

During his “holiday,” in mid-July, he reported to Duneka that he had completed “Eve’s Diary,” which uses “Adam’s Diary as her (unwitting and unconscious) text, of course, since to use any other text would have been an imbecility.” He added, “Eve’s Diary is Eve’s Love-Story, but we will not name it that.” The new tale parallels the events of the earlier story but the emotional stance is altogether different; as one contemporary reviewer put it, it is a “tribute from the widowed author to his lost partner of many years.”

Only days after Olivia Clemens died, Twain had written to her brother, “I am a man without a country. Wherever Livy was, that was my country.”—a line echoed in the final entry of “Eve’s Diary.” In the words of Twain’s first biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, “Adam’s single comment at the end . . . holds the full tale of Mark Twain’s love and sorrow, and is perhaps the most beautiful line he ever wrote.”

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