The following review appeared 15 April 1998 on the Mark Twain Forum.
Copyright © 1998 Mark Twain Forum.
This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.
Larry Howe <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Commissions are donated to the Mark Twain Project
Over the course of a dozen years, from 1893-1905, Mark Twain wrote various pieces in the voices of Adam and Eve. Twain's interest in this material has a long background, present in some of his earliest work. In Innocents Abroad he visits a site identified as Adam's grave, prompting fond thoughts of his departed ancestor. In another instance he confesses his envy for Adam who never had to worry about plagiarism. And in Huckleberry Finn he conjures up Edenic bliss in Huck's escape to Jackson's Island. Twain's return to Adam and Eve in 1893 was triggered by his writing calendar maxims for Pudd'nhead Wilson, in which the Edenic couple appear. Upon completing that novel, he began Extracts from Adam's Diary, and followed that with Eve's Diary. In these later texts he has come a long way from those earlier references and allusions; here Twain dares to invent authority for the two figures who bear mythological responsibility for the condition of Western civilization.
Now Don E. Roberts has collected these writings in one counterpointed narrative. Although the original appearance of this material didn't attract much positive attention, this edition is proof that another look is more than warranted. For many readers familiar only with Twain's tales about mischievous boys or cranky vernacular characters, this work--one of the great love stories of all time--will come as a real surprise. Whether you're interested in Twain or not, if your heart hasn't atrophied, you will love The Diaries of Adam and Eve. As well you should, because, aside from its greatness as a love story, it's also a labor of love both for Twain and for Roberts. Roberts's profound love of the art of the book is evident in every detail--from the illustrated dust jacket, which features a rare 1902 Thomas Marr photograph of Twain at Quarry Farm on the back; to the Smythe sewn binding in gold-stamped Kennett cloth; to the high-quality printing on acid-free paper; to the eight beautiful illustrations commissioned specifically for this volume. The 1000 numbered copies in this limited edition will be collector's items for all who value finely crafted books and especially the works of Mark Twain.
Most of all, Roberts demonstrates his keen appreciation for the text itself. Twain had proposed to his publisher that Extracts from Adam's Diary (1904) and Eve's Diary (1906) should be published together. He reasoned that "[t]hey score points against each other--so, if not bound together, some of the points would not be perceived." But not until the publication of the Oxford Mark Twain edition in 1996 did the two appear in one volume. Roberts has taken this intention two steps further. First, he has collated the entries in these two central texts in Twain's Eden cycle, creating a patterned exchange between the principals. Second, he has rounded out this exchange with passages from the more obscure "Eve Speaks," "That Day in Eden," "Adam's Soliloquy," and the "Autobiography of Eve".
This bold move makes clear that this is not a scholarly edition; no doubt, Roberts's editorial liberties may irk some Twain purists. Even aside from the dovetailing of the entries in the respective diaries, textual scholars would, no doubt, argue that the inclusions of other compositions in which Twain projected Adam's or Eve's voice is akin to linking Tom Sawyer Abroad or Tom Sawyer, Detective with Huckleberry Finn.
But even if Roberts's composite edition violates scholarly protocols, his manifest sensitivity for the Adam and Eve material yields the sort of book that makes for deeply satisfying reading. The chronological arrangements of the first couple's separate observations highlight both the characteristic humor and the surprising tenderness with which Twain viewed the innocence of their Edenic courtship, their mutual support during the fall, and the triumph of their love through a lifetime of labor and pain. Arguably, the juxtaposed reflections in this edition--graphically distinguished by roman type for Eve, and italic for Adam--go a long way to achieve what Twain had in mind.
From the outset, one is struck by the differing proportions of their entries. Eve is the more voluble, exhibiting a deeper sense of self-consciousness, aesthetic appreciation, and scientific inquisitiveness than Adam does. She fancies herself an "experiment," coins arbitrary words for things with a refreshing confidence about their appropriateness, and derives axioms based on her experience. For example, after discovering the properties of fire, she invents the maxim, "The burnt experiment shuns the fire" (41). Adam, on the other hand, is tersely observant, even curmudgeonly in his resentment for Eve's intrusion on his privacy:
TuesdayTwain has given Genesis a wry spin: not only has he reoriented the gender hierarchy of Western culture by giving Eve the first voice, but he has also given Adam and Eve personalities and personal authority to tell their own versions of biblical events and pre-historic daily life. We come to appreciate them because of the humanity they project in their growing consciousnesses and the progress they make as they mature together.
Cloudy today, wind in the east; think we shall have rain . . . We? Where did I get that word? . . . I remember now--the new creature uses it.
My life is not as happy as it was.
The new creature eats too much fruit. We are going to run short most likely. "We" again--that is its word; mine, too, now, from hearing it so much. Good deal of fog this morning. I do not go out in the fog myself. The new creature does. It goes out in all weathers. And talks. It used to be so pleasant and quiet here. (23)
Adam gradually loses his aversion to his know-it-all helpmeet, who does her best to protect his ego from the superiority of her intelligence, and comes to realize that she fulfills his life in ways that he'd never imagined in those early days they shared.
Year TwelveEve's love for Adam never wavers. But her love does expand as their family grows--their brood includes not just Cain and Abel, but innumerable offspring, including Gladys and Edwina. In her role as first mother, Eve demonstrates unqualified love for her children, admiring each for the talents they exhibit. Within the framework of this love, Twain reinvents the notion of the fortunate fall. Both Adam and Eve come to realize that losing Eden--"their property," as Adam calls it--was not such a great loss in light of what they gained. Still, the tragic quality of their experience manifests itself when Eve touchingly documents her agonizing loss of Abel, which makes death--heretofore only an undefined word--real in her experience. From the morning that they discover Abel drenched in blood, she ministers to him, convinced that he is merely sleeping off the effects of his wound and his propensity for working too hard. Not until the next day does she realize the full meaning of mortality:
After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the garden with her than inside it without her. At first I thought she talked too much, but now I should be sorry to have that voice fall silent and pass out of my life. (100)
We cannot wake him! With my arms clinging about him, I have looked into his eyes, through the veil of my tears, and begged for one little word, and he will not answer. Oh, is it that long sleep--is it death? And will he wake no more? (105)One week later, Eve's sadness turns into a bitter critique of the conditions and consequences of their lives:
We could not know it was wrong to disobey the command, for the words were strange to us and we did not understand them. We did not know right from wrong--how should we know? . . . If we had been given the Moral Sense first--ah, that would have been fairer, would have been kinder. Then we should be to blame if we disobeyed. . . .In Eve, Twain discovers a persona in which to express his skepticism about religion. Confronted with the profound sadness of losing a child, an experience that Twain endured three times himself, Eve articulates the pain and anger generated by unfathomable consequences.
Adam says my brain is turned by my troubles and that I am become wicked. I am as I am; I did not make myself. (106)
Adam, too, suffers his own sadness when Eve dies. His closing line of the Eden cycle speaks volumes about Twain's view of his own marriage:
Wherever she was; there was Eden. (109)In this affecting book, Twain manages to indulge sentiment--personal and cultural--without succumbing to what Huck Finn calls "soulbutter and hogwash." Twain, with help from Don Roberts, has given the book to us. Give it to someone you love.