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The following review appeared 15 March 2006 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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Between 1867 and 1910 Mark Twain spent a total of 187 days in Bermuda, an island cluster located in the Atlantic Ocean about 700 miles southeast of New York and 568 miles east of North Carolina. Donald Hoffmann's well-researched volume examines the reasons behind Twain's eight trips to Bermuda, where he went, where he stayed, how he spent his time, who he met, and charitable activities in which he participated. The book contains eight chapters with reference notes and an appendix of dates for each voyage. Numerous black and white photos, many of which are contemporary to the time Twain visited Bermuda, are included.
Hoffman states that in writing his book, "I have favored facts, direct observation, primary sources, and various extracts in order to steer clear of secondary commentary, contrived interpretations, and the claptrap that comes from pretending to have delved successfully into someone else's unconscious" (ix). Hoffmann's primary sources include letters, diaries, newspaper reports, and Mark Twain's own autobiography. When he does venture into offering his own personal theories, such as equating a voyage to Bermuda to the "sense of enlarged freedom that soon became the manifold theme of his masterwork, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: the freedom from slavery, from the genteel, the indoors and all 'the shackles of civilization'" (p. 26) readers are easily convinced that he is right on target.
Twain's first visit to Bermuda came in November 1867 at the tail end of the five-month Quaker City excursion to the Holy Land. The passengers spent four days in Bermuda, a land mass of less than twenty square miles. Twain was apparently travel weary when he visited Bermuda and only briefly mentioned Bermuda and Bermudians in Innocents Abroad, the book that resulted from the trip: "We bade good-bye to 'our friends the Bermudians,' as our programme hath it--the majority of those we were most intimate with were negroes... I said the majority. We knew more negroes than white people, because we had a deal of washing to be done..." (p. 24).
Throughout his book, Hoffmann places Twain's activities into historical context. He wisely and efficiently uses the 1867 voyage to introduce his readers to Mark Twain and to the history of Bermuda, a British colony that had openly supported the Confederacy in the American Civil War and a place that few Americans visited in the postwar years. Charles M. Allen had served as President Abraham Lincoln's wartime consul in Bermuda in 1861. He remained in Bermuda after the war and eventually came to know Twain. Allen's son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter Helen Allen would later find themselves closely associated with Mark Twain's dying days.
Twain's longest body of commentary regarding Bermuda came a decade later after his May 1877 visit with Reverend Joseph Twichell. Hoffmann offers no clear reason for the 1877 excursion or the selection of Bermuda as the destination where Twain and Twichell stayed four days in a private boarding house. The trip resulted in Twain's 15,000-word sketch "Some Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion" which was published in four installments in the Atlantic Monthly from October 1877 through January 1878. Hoffmann devotes two chapters to this trip, one of which analyzes the trip and the resulting sketch and another chapter which focuses on Twain's notebook entries that did not make it into the final magazine installments.
Bermuda increased in popularity as a travel destination after Twain's Atlantic Monthly articles. The Princess Hotel opened in 1884 and became a haven for wealthy American travelers. However, it would be another thirty years before Twain returned. In January 1907, Twain and Twichell returned to Bermuda for three days. Twain, widowed in 1904, was accompanied on this trip by his secretary Isabel Lyon. In reconstructing this trip Hoffmann relies on Isabel Lyon's journal, at least one interview in the Bermuda Royal Gazette, and Twain's own autobiographical dictations. The reader senses that this trip was not as idyllic as it had been thirty years earlier. Lyon's journal indicates Twain felt a certain amount of aggravation with Twichell and Hoffmann also hints of that possibility stating that after returning stateside "On January 26, Clemens mailed a foul-worded poem to Twichell, saying 'all the periodicals' had rejected it, and pretending it should be published in the Hartford Courant" (p. 169).
Almost as soon as Twichell, Twain and Lyon returned from Bermuda, Twain began planning a return trip--a voyage of four days at sea for twenty-four hours on the island March 18-19. On this trip, Paddy Madden, a young school girl Twain had met on his previous return voyage from Bermuda accompanied Twain and Lyon back to Bermuda. Madden was only one of several young school girls linked with Twain's Bermuda trips between 1907 and 1910. Hoffmann again relies on both Lyon's diaries and Twain's own autobiography for insight into the efforts Twain was making to "appease a restlessness which invades my system" (81). Hoffmann also points out the historical context of this trip with Twain's meeting of wealthy industrialist Thomas D. Peck who was "uneasily married" to Mary Allen Hulbert Peck, who had "met and enchanted" future president of the United States Woodrow Wilson a few months earlier (p. 79).
Twain planned several more trips to Bermuda in 1907 after his return from Oxford, England during the summer of that year. Those plans all fell through--until January 1908, when he recruited Ralph Ashcroft to accompany him on a seven-day visit. On this trip Twain met writer Upton Sinclair, the author of The Jungle (1906), which had just caused a national sensation; dined with Mrs. Peck and Woodrow Wilson; and formed a friendship with Elizabeth Wallace, dean at the University of Chicago who also vacationed in Bermuda. Wallace kept a journal, and later wrote a book about her Bermuda experiences with Twain. Hoffmann pulls material from Wallace's memoirs as well as Twain's autobiography. Twain felt that Bermuda was rejuvenating his health and grieved that his dead wife Livy never had the opportunity to share the Bermuda paradise with him. He wrote, "It grieves me, and I feel reproached, that I allowed the physicians to send Mrs. Clemens on a horrible ten-day sea journey to Italy when Bermuda was right here at hand and worth a hundred Italies, for her needs . . . [F]or climate Florence was a sarcasm as compared with Bermuda" (p. 101).
Almost as soon as Twain and Ashcroft returned to the states in February 1908, Twain did an about face and again returned to Bermuda. Accompanied by Henry H. Rogers, Rogers's son-in-law William Benjamin, Rogers's valet (unnamed), and Isabel Lyon, Twain spent forty-seven days on the islands from February 24-April 11. Hoffmann again relies on Lyon's journal and Elizabeth Wallace's memoirs to add insight to this trip. Both women weighed in on Mrs. Peck. Lyon referred to the enchanting Mrs. Peck as "a snare for men folk" and Wallace saw in Peck "a little restless look of unfulfilment [sic] about her eyes and mouth that gave grounds for romantic speculation" (p. 107). On this trip Twain met thirteen-year-old Helen Allen, granddaughter of Charles Allen. Helen's grandmother had known Livy as a child and Twain visited with Grandmother Allen and talked about the Langdon family and friends in Elmira, New York. Helen's mother Marion Schuyler Allen began a memoir of Twain's visits to the family home and Hoffmann relies on the Allen memoir to help piece together activities with the Allen family.
When Twain's health began its decline in November 1909, he returned to Bermuda for twenty-six days, this time in the company of his biographer Albert Bigelow Paine. He returned stateside in time for Christmas 1909. After the sudden death of his daughter Jean Clemens on Christmas Eve 1909, Twain once again sought healing and solace in Bermuda. This final visit to Bermuda, in the company of his French butler Claude Beuchotte, lasted ninety-five days. (Hoffmann misspells Beuchotte as "Benchotte" copying the spelling error first made by Hamlin Hill in God's Fool and duplicated by Karen Lystra in Dangerous Intimacy.) Twain lodged with the Allen family while Beuchotte resided at the local Hamilton hotel. The Bermuda Royal Gazette reported Twain played miniature golf with Woodrow Wilson. He crossed paths again with a young schoolgirl named Dorothy Quick. He wrote letters, one of which contained an angry response to Elizabeth Wallace who had tried to reassure him of an afterlife. Once again, Hoffmann pieces together primary sources from those involved to give readers a close account of Twain's mindset during his final trip to Bermuda. Twain departed Bermuda for the last time on April 12, 1910.
Hoffmann is to be commended for providing readers with a clear and concise study of Twain's connection to the Bermuda island paradise. However, there are shortcomings in his work that will leave some readers wanting more information. The dust jacket text of his book states the author has culled information from Twain's "unpublished" autobiographical dictation. And herein lies one shortcoming of Hoffmann's book. He uses blanket reference notes to account for almost all quotations that are pulled from Mark Twain's letters and manuscripts. Thus one footnote suffices for most quotations from Twain's letters: "All quotations for Clemens's correspondence can be located in the electronic editions of his published and unpublished letters in the Mark Twain Papers, the Bancroft Library" (p. 159). And one footnote suffices for most of the quotes from autobiographical dictation: "Typescripts of all his dictations are in the Mark Twain Papers, Bancroft Library" (p. 160). This method of footnoting and referencing also applies to most of the other sources Hoffmann utilizes--after referencing a source once in a note, he quotes from it without further footnoting of the source or page number. A reader who jumps into Hoffmann's book in the middle may be lost when trying to nail down where a quoted passage originated. The lack of full citations for each quote and reference to its previous publication (if any) might be forgiven if the book had included a formal bibliography, but it does not. Since the book claims publication of previously unpublished Twain material, the general citations make it impossible to identify new text.
Since many readers may not be familiar with the geography of Bermuda, a good, easy-to-read map would have been helpful. The map included is half-page size of approximately 3" x 4" from Harper's March 1874 with tiny typeface, some of which is difficult to decipher. This book will be a "must have" for any scholar planning a trip to Bermuda to recreate Twain's treks around the island paradise and a larger map would be helpful.
Mark Twain in Paradise is a valuable addition to Twain
studies. Readers will come away from Hoffmann's book with a clearer understanding
of the series of trips Twain made to Bermuda--from the brief visit in 1867
where Twain did his washing to voyages that might best be characterized as
escapes and searches for something that was missing toward the end of his
life. An insightful and informative read, Mark Twain in Paradise is
one to add to the Twain bookshelf.