Making Our Mark
Two scholars scrutinize Twain's last years as an American icon
Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years
by Michael Shelden
$30.00 List Price
Laura Trombley's Mark Twain's Other Woman and Michael Shelden's Mark Twain: Man in White are remarkably absent any close study of the literary works of Mark Twain, concerned as they are with the last decade or so in the life of a writer whose important books had been written very previously. Twain's major project between 1900 and 1910 was the burnishing of his public image; as his every sneeze, utterance, and physical movement from one location to another was clocked for posterity by the world press, typically in banner headlines, the historically ill informed could easily conclude that the period under scrutiny constituted an astonishingly slow news decade.
Since the appearance of his last major work, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, in 1889, Twain, or Samuel Clemens (journalists used his nom de plume and given name interchangeably), had become a ceremonial figure in America and abroad, a quip-dispensing miracle of self-embalming, universally "beloved," often less for his writings than for his carefully stage-crafted incarnation of "Mark Twain," whose first, gaga appearance in a white suit, in 1906, minted the icon of Twain by which he is still recognized, effecting his transmutation from a person into a figure. The suit was later augmented by a white cape.
The books at hand describe, almost inadvertently, the nativity of what's come to be known as personal branding in an era when technologies of image and sound reproduction, mass dissemination of the printed word, and public relations were establishing themselves as vectors of "viral marketing" and propaganda.