“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Illustration - Street Cars of DamascusDuring the summer months, many Brown Baggers travel for vacations near and far. Appropriate, then, that we gathered in our “little corner of the earth” to discuss Mark Twain’s travel classic, The Innocents Abroad. Because various group members were off jet-setting, we had a smaller group but a great discussion as always.

Opinions were split on our latest title. While a few readers loved the gentle pace and subtle humor, others found the style meandering and repetitive. We did note that originally, Twain had published Innocents in installments, so the serial nature necessitated including some expository details. All ranges of opinion — including the indifferent — agreed that it was not a book to be read for its thrilling plot. Those who enjoyed it most savored it slowly, as if they were traveling with Twain and his shipmates in real time.

Along with the pace of the book, we also discussed how different and how much slower travel was at the time of writing. This particular voyage took many months — a far cry from an transatlantic overnight flight today. The cutting descriptions of Americans abroad seemed to still ring true, though! While Twain’s depiction of his countrymen was tongue-in-cheek, some of us were amused to note the endurance of certain stereotypes. A little less clear was the level of sarcasm regarding his commentary on other cultures, often decidedly non-PC.

The Brown Baggers also discussed the title of the work. While we figured the “Innocents” were a Biblical allusion appropriate for a Holy Land journey, we also noted that this also highlighted the relatively naive worldview of the travelling Americans. Unfortunately, most of the editions that we read lacked the original illustrations, but the readers who did have them enjoyed them immensely and felt they contributed to the story.

Check out the University of Virginia’s wide range of Innocents Abroad resources, including the sales prospectus, selected illustrations, contemporary reviews and more.

The UVA site also has more information on other works by Mark Twain.

More fun resourcse are can be found on the official website of the Mark Twain House & Museum.

Join the Brown Baggers on Thursday, August 25 at noon to discuss Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

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