Twain on Relationships, pt. 1


And now for something completely different on this blog. Extremely different.

To my mind, one of the greatest commenters on the human condition (and all-around great curmudgeons who ever lived) was Mark Twain. A veritable quote machine, it’s quite possible that he was America’s first superstar. Yes, his books are classic literature; of course he defined classic literature for us as books “which people praise and nobody reads.” For me, one of the plusses about Twain is that he truly pissed off the Moral Majority of his day with the book Huck Finn (come to  think of it, he still does.) Louisa May Alcott was on the committee that got it banned from the Concord, MA, library.

But lost in all the humor and quotes is the fact that Twain was a keen observer of humanity. Oh, he could engage in wondrous verbal slice-and-dice in his writing and speaking, and could make jokes at the drop of a hat, but behind the mask was an understanding of people: their foibles, their pomposities, and their cussed humanity.

Recently, I went back and re-visited an old favorite of mine, Eve’s Diary. This link will take you to the 1906 edition on Project Gutenberg; if you want your own, you can download it, or get free editions for your Kindle or iPad, as well. (Be forewarned about the Project Gutenberg link–that was an illustrated edition and caused a scandal in libraries. 🙂 )

As I went back over Twain’s humorous version of the Adam and Eve story, I was struck by just how insightful he was into the relationship between men and women. Admittedly, he could play off of a stereotype with the best of writers, but given his material, I like to think of it as archetype. And as I read this old favorite for the first time since I started blogging, I was surprised to find that his insights from 100 years ago are not only applicable today, but truly universal.

Why Are We Here?

On the first day of creation, Twain has Eve writing in her diary wondering just that very thing. She knows that she is created, that the world has been created for her, but why? And she comes to an interesting, albeit tentative, conclusion:

So I am coming to feel convinced that that is what I AM—an experiment; just an experiment, and nothing more. Then if I am an experiment, am I the whole of it? No, I think not; I think the rest of it is part of it. I am the main part of it, but I think the rest of it has its share in the matter.

The diary continues and she writes for several day, maybe even weeks, but she doesn’t give up wondering about her “Why.” Another day, Eve writes in her diary,

At first I couldn’t make out what I was made for, but now I think it was to search out the secrets of this wonderful world and be happy and thank the Giver of it all for devising it. I think there are many things to learn yet—I hope so; and by economizing and not hurrying too fast I think they will last weeks and weeks.

How remarkably Christian of the Deist writer Twain, don’t you think? This brought to my mind the Q&A from The Westminster Catechism:

Question. 1. What is the chief end of man?
Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.

And as Eve said, there are so many things to learn yet, even for us. And we don’t have to economize. Of course, one of those wonders to learn about was…

The Other

A few days after the Creation, Eve discovers that she is not alone, that there is another Experiment in the Garden. At first, she is kind of non-committal about this new experiment, but does begin to observe its comings and goings, as she does the rest of the animals. And then one day, she is surprised to learn something: it talks! We are treated to this observation in Eve’s diary:

When I found it could talk I felt a new interest in it, for I love to talk; I talk, all day, and in my sleep, too, and I am very interesting, but if I had another to talk to I could be twice as interesting, and would never stop, if desired.

And, yes, Twain plays off of a well-known stereotype, but who among us doesn’t think that we are not only interesting, but interesting to others when we speak. I know I do.  🙂

Since Eve’s diary was translated from the original, there are a few surprising revelations that might offend the truly orthodox among us; for example, it was Eve who named the animals, and not Adam, as we are told by Moses:

During the last day or two I have taken all the work of naming things off his hands, and this has been a great relief to him, for he has no gift in that line, and is evidently very grateful. He can’t think of a rational name to save him, but I do not let him see that I am aware of his defect. Whenever a new creature comes along I name it before he has time to expose himself by an awkward silence. In this way I have saved him many embarrassments. I have no defect like this. The minute I set eyes on an animal I know what it is. I don’t have to reflect a moment; the right name comes out instantly, just as if it were an inspiration, as no doubt it is, for I am sure it wasn’t in me half a minute before. I seem to know just by the shape of the creature and the way it acts what animal it is.
When the dodo came along he thought it was a wildcat—I saw it in his eye. But I saved him. And I was careful not to do it in a way that could hurt his pride. I just spoke up in a quite natural way of pleasing surprise, and not as if I was dreaming of conveying information, and said, “Well, I do declare, if there isn’t the dodo!” I explained—without seeming to be explaining—how I know it for a dodo, and although I thought maybe he was a little piqued that I knew the creature when he didn’t, it was quite evident that he admired me. That was very agreeable, and I thought of it more than once with gratification before I slept. How little a thing can make us happy when we feel that we have earned it!

So eager to be of use, so desirous to help.

Trouble In Paradise

But it is right here that a problem first appears that has plagued men and women since, well, the Creation; miscommunication and misunderstanding. For you see, Adam also kept a diary, and of this proclivity towards helping him out, he writes:

The naming goes recklessly on, in spite of anything I can do. I had a very good name for the estate, and it was musical and pretty — Garden Of Eden. Privately, I continue to call it that, but not any longer publicly. The new creature says it is all woods and rocks and scenery, and therefore has no resemblance to a garden. Says it looks like a park, and does not look like anything but a park. Consequently, without consulting me, it has been new-named — Niagara Falls Park. This is sufficiently high-handed, it seems to me. And already there is a sign up:


My life is not as happy as it was.

But, like the stereotypical male, Adam keeps it inside, which is a complaint of Eve’s, and leads her to an interesting conclusion:

He talks very little. Perhaps it is because he is not bright, and is sensitive about it and wishes to conceal it. It is such a pity that he should feel so, for brightness is nothing; it is in the heart that the values lie. I wish I could make him understand that a loving good heart is riches, and riches enough, and that without it intellect is poverty.

Eve intuits a universal truth about where value lies, but, unfortunately exhibits a trait that is all too human: the ability to reason logically to the wrong conclusion. In this case, that a difference between the two sexes indicates an inferiority.

*sigh*—Twas ever thus.

Here are the links to Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.



Filed under Marriage & Sexuality

4 responses to “Twain on Relationships, pt. 1

  1. Pingback: Twain On Relationships, part 2 | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

  2. Pingback: Twain on Relationships, part 3 | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

  3. Pingback: Twain on Relationships, part 4 | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

  4. Pingback: Now We Are Three | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

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