Thursday, March 1, 2012

Review: Innocents Abroad, Volume One

The full title of Mark Twain's first published book gives, in quaint – and, one expects, tongue-in-cheek – 19th Century style, a synopsis of the contents: The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims' Progress: Being Some Account of the Steamship Quaker City's Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land. This is the non-fiction chronicle of Twain's adventures, on sea and land, with a group of American travelers.

Volume One of the two-volume edition covers the European part of the trip, concentrating on Gibralter, France, and Italy, with side trips to the Azores and Morocco.   Twain's account is part travelogue, part humorous essay. Parts have aged better than others – some of the jokes are a little frowsty and his descriptions of the local people can be startlingly off-color to politically correct modern readers.

But the book is still very funny and entertaining. Some of the travel essays, especially his chapters on Venice, are insightful and relevant. His humor can be clever, slapstick, or subtly sarcastic. Some of the funniest bits involve running jokes about holy relics, martyrs, hired guides, and trying to communicate in foreign languages.

Sometimes he just offers a hilarious set piece, like this one:
We wish to learn all the curious, outlandish ways of all the different countries, so that we can "show off" and astonish people when we get home. We wish to excite the envy of our untraveled friends with our strange foreign fashions which we can't shake off. . . . The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass. If the case be otherwise, I beg his pardon and extend to him the cordial hand of fellowship and call him brother. I shall always delight to meet an ass after my own heart when I shall have finished my travels.

That's the kind of droll observation that can still sting, a century and a half later.


If you would like your review of this or any other Mark Twain book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


The Innocents Abroad, published in 1869, was Mark Twain's first published book. He'd had stories and essays published before, including the travel pieces that make up The Innocent's Abroad, but this was his first actual book. My edition is part of a matching set Hubby gave me several years ago. It is about time I started working my way through them.

This counts as one of my choices for several challenges: Non-Fiction, Back to the Classics, Classics, Mt. TBR, Off the Shelf, and TBR Pile. Because of the Venice chapters, I mention it as part of the Venice in February challenge too.


Michael5000 said...

"Innocents Abroad" always seems like it should be a scream, but I've tried it twice and never made it past Gibralter....

Rose City Reader said...

It definitely picks up after Gibralter, I think. That's when the running gags start and he is a little less offensive about the natives.

It certainly isn't as funny as it probably was back then, but there were parts that got to me. I was fascinated to see how Twain must have influenced P. G. Wodehouse -- you can pick up phrases and strains.

Katrina said...

Mark Twain is one of my favourite writers, he's so funny and seems to have been a great character himself, which can't always be said of famous authors.

Sarah Reads Too Much said...

I LOVE Twain, but have not tried his nonfiction yet. Now I feel better prepared for this one!

Rose City Reader said...

Katrina: He must have been quite a character. I just got his autobiography from the library and am looking forward to it.

Sarah: This was the first of his nonfiction that I read. I'd like to read more to get a better idea.

Priya said...

That sounds like the kind of book I would love. Mark Twain was the reason I started reading classics, I adore his books and his sense of humour. Nice review, I am definitely going to read this one!

Rose City Reader said...

Priya: Hope you enjoy it!

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