Mark Twain in Wien - Now in Bronze

In all his travels he never felt so well as in “wonderful, gemütlich Vienna” - an anniversary celebration of the legendary author

TVR Books | Candy Fresacher | April 2010

On Apr. 21, 1910, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, alias Mark Twain, died of a heart attack in Redding Connecticut.  The year before, Twain was quoted as saying: "I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it." It would be "the greatest disappointment" of his life, he said, if he didn’t go out with the Comet.

"The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’"  He died one day after the comet came closest to the Earth.

The year 2010 also commemorates the 175th anniversary of his birth and the 125th anniversary of the U.S. publication of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – considered by Hemingway to be the Great American Novel.

In a small survey done with young people attending vocational colleges in Austria, nearly all recognized the name, but none could place him as an American. And although they knew the names Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, they did not connect them to Mark Twain. And only three of the 135 people asked recognized the name Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

In another survey of 48 Austrian high school teachers in the audience for a reading of Mark Twain’s works at the International Theatre, about 50% of them taught only a simplified version of Huck Finn in their classrooms, because they felt the dialects in the original would cause problems for their students.

Only six of the teachers knew that Mark Twain had lived in Vienna.

While Berlin celebrates Mark Twain’s visit to that city with a Mark-Twain-Strasse and even a Mark Twain Grundschule, up until now, his 20-month stay in Vienna has not been marked in any special way.

Now, thanks to the support of the U.S. Embassy, a plaque will be unveiled on Apr. 21 on the outside wall of the Hotel Ambassador, where Twain stayed between October 1898 and May 1899. He had also stayed at the Hotel Metropole on Morzinplatz in the 1st District from September 1897 to May 1898 and spent the summer in the Villa Paulhof in Kaltenleutgeben, where his wife and daughter Jean received treatment in the cold water spa there. He and his daughter Clara did not. Twain spent much of his time writing while he was there, because as soon as he went walking in the hills, he said, it rained often.

"I viewed the mist," he quipped, "and missed the view."

Twain’s visit to Austria came about because his daughter Clara wanted to take piano lessons with Theodor Leschetizky, one of the most famous piano teacher in Vienna of his time. Twain also claimed he wanted to "study the Austrians" for some future work. When he left, he told reporters:

"During these last years in my Vienna sojourn I have finished a volume," he crowed. Vienna has been a bonanza for me."

On his last day in Vienna during a private interview, Emperor Franz Josef asked Twain how he had enjoyed his stay in Vienna. "I can truthfully say that in all my travels I have never felt so well as in this wonderful gemütlich Vienna," Twain said. "A city from whose splendid yet graceful proportions I have derived so much inspiration that I could put to good use..."

The works with Austrian themes or places that emerged – like "The Man who Corrupted Hadleyburg" to "The Mysterious Stranger" or "44", or "The Chronicles of Young Satan" – are mostly rather dark. However he did indeed use the material, in "Stirring Times in Austria" or "Concerning the Jews", for example, or his stories about his friend and inventor Jan Szczepanik, "The Austrian Edison Keeping School Again" and "From the ‘London Times’ of 1904". Other pieces reflect the flavor of the fin de siècle times like "The Great Dark." Some of the best parts of his autobiography were written here and the opening of the book Christian Science:

"This last summer, when I was on my way back to Vienna from the Appetite-Cure in the mountains, I fell over a cliff in the twilight and broke some arms and legs and one thing and another, and by good luck was found by some peasants who had lost an ass and they carried me to the nearest habitation, which was one of those large, low, thatch-roofed, farm-houses, with apartments in the garret for the family, and a cunning little porch under the deep gable decorated with boxes of bright-colored flowers and cats; and on the ground floor a large and light sitting-room separated from the milch-cattle apartment by a participation; and in the front yard rose stately and fine the wealth and pride of the house, the manure pile.

"That sentence is Germanic, and shows that I am acquiring the sort of mastery of the art and spirit of the language which enables a man to travel all day on one sentence without changing cars."

For anyone who is a fan of Mark Twain’s work, this year is a special one.  And in Vienna, Apr. 21 will be special. In addition to the plaque unveiling, the U.S. Embassy is hosting a special event at the Concordia Haus – recalling the evening of Oct. 31, 1897, when Twain himself was invited – as only the second foreigner after Henrik Ibsen in 1851 – to give a lecture to the Presseclub Concordia.

For a review of this event, see TVR May 2010.

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    Renewed oil drilling and tougher regulations on shipping lead to confusion and renewed tensions between Britain and Argentina
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    Nights at the Opera: Apr. 2010
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  • All articles from this issue

    the vienna review April 2010