Friday, March 14, 2008

Mark Twain / Samuel Clemens (1835-1910) and Knowing My Grandfather

Mark Twain (1835-1910) - Humourist, Lecturer, Satirist and Writer

My mother used to tell me that her father never went to the theatre - this was her usual set up for the story we all knew was inevitably coming!

My grandfather was a Rhodes scholar who became physician and lecturer in medicine, leaving the house at 6am and returning after midnight - for his four hours of sleep. So for his grandchildren he was totally remote. He used to visit us perhaps once every few years - in his big big glamorous American limo (the child's perspective), which he changed over each year and was his only concession to worldliness. Though he also allowed himself a month's fishing a year - with his wife ...

... his children being parked with the cook in an old guest house he'd bought in the country ...

I have often wondered over the years about this famous and mysterious person. But I could never manage to bring anything specific about him to mind to work up his personality or his outlook on life. So I suppose I profiled him according to profession and socio-economic class.

Then my mother died a few years back and I was given a series of photographs her father had taken of aboriginals on the way to one of his fishing trips ...

... which seemed out of type - my curiosity was again piqued.

And today I got another an unexpected insight.

I was watching a doco on Mark Twain, author of 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' and 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'. And realized what an incredibly quirky irreverent self-deprecating iconoclastic funny guy this writer was.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

I have never taken and exercise except sleeping and resting.

I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hands and lead him to a quiet place and kill him.

I have been through some of some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.

I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.

And then I remembered the point of my mother's story - that her father had only ever ventured out once to the theatre - to hear Mark Twain on a tour of Australia in 1896.

And I suddenly understood something of my grandfather's character. To venture out, he must have had a strong empathy with the writer. And been in some ways like-minded. So different from the conventional elite guy I'd profiled up - great to have this new and much more exciting construction!


  1. hey nic,
    the photos of the Aboriginal people, looks like somewhere along the train line, central or northern South Australia, perhaps Adnyamathanha country?
    Fascinating pics. The dignity of the gentlemen in the last 2 pics, and his ability to cross 2 worlds (whilst one of those worlds at the same time was trying to destroy him and his people) is brilliant. My favourite is the rainwater tank pic though. a mix of fear, curiosity (of a white(?) man taking their photo) and desire to take part.
    Would it have been taken in the days when the photo needed to be 'set up'? no digital cameras in those days...
    thanks Nic

  2. hey shaun. i've often thought it was on the railway line from adelaide to alice springs. the photos are taken without the usual 'set-up' more typical of the period - they seem somewhat candid. and they are also like a reporter's shots - and they don't seem to have an agenda apart from just recording the subjects - the reactions of the man you mention seems to powerfully reflect the (natural and justified) fear of indigenous people in those days to the dominant and oppressing white invaders. makes me feel very uncomfortable - for him.

  3. PS shaun - you are probably right about the location - you seem to be much more familiar with that region than me.

  4. Port Augusta way, +/- 500kms further north!
    its interesting, we have the gorgeous latino's (always a pleasure to review Edilson Nascimento), and other ethnic categories, but native/first nations/aboriginal guys arent prominent as gay icons (Maori and Pacific Islanders are a bit more prominent). its not for shortage of talent, thats for sure, but perhaps something else. socio-economic or political? other?

  5. hey shaun. yeah it's hard to know what motivates exclusion or non-inclusion - certain types get mythologized and and others not. and then there are changes in 'taste' - so when i was a little kid, only young/er guys were seen as hot and then older guys (30+) came into focus. now what can be hot is more broad spectrum - more choices for fantasies!