Friday, June 06, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: The Innocents Abroad

I'm falling behind on the Fifty Classics project.  I've been doing it for over two years, so I should have read about twenty books by now, and I've only read fourteen. (You're supposed to read fifty classics in five years.) I'm going to be pushing myself through several in the upcoming weeks.  Right now I'm reading Crime & Punishment (I DID start it in Cape Town) and also on the short list are David Copperfield, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and The Woman in White.

Anyway, Innocents Abroad.  Can I just say that Mark Twain can be irritating?  Sometimes he can be really funny.  Sometimes, you find yourself laughing while also feeling ashamed.  And sometimes he's just offensive.  He takes his crowd of innocents from New York to the Azores, the south of France, Paris, back down into Italy, where they visit all the major cities.

In part two of this massive volume, they attempt to visit Athens, but are banned because of quarantine regulations. (A small group leave the ship in the middle of the night and sneak in to the Athens and visit the Acropolis by moonlight.)  They head to Constantinople, the Black Sea, Turkey, the Holy Land by way of Syria, and finally, Egypt.

Twain really did make this journey in the 1860s, and he intended to highlight the tawdriness of tourism--the shilling, the begging, the tackiness that destroys the beautiful places of history, but he often comes across as just plain mean and intolerant of the different societies he encountered, particularly in the Holy Land, where he derides the legends (I was raised on these stories as truths) around Christ's crucifixion, such as the story of Saint Veronica.  Perhaps he makes a point about gullibility,  but mocking people for their faith is a low blow.  (Except US politicians who believe in the rapture.)  Then again, he exposed the outrageous behavior of pilgrims who were constantly chipping bits of stone from every site they saw.  It's a wonder there are any old buildings left standing.

It would be fun to retrace Twain's journey and write a book about it.  That would be epic, although you'd have to skip Syria.  If I ever win the lottery, I'll consider it.


  1. That does sound fun. I like reading your reports on the classics more than I think I'd like reading the classics. Although I do have a soft spot for Russian lit.

  2. Following that journey would be fun.
    How's C&P going?
    Reading that list seems like a daunting task.

    1. Fifty-nine pages to go! WHY do they keep talking to each other? C&P has the most interminable conversations.

  3. Oh wow, that would be an interesting trip to recreate. I'd probably give Egypt a miss too, because it's so unsafe for women these days.

    The trip I have pondered recreating is John Steinbeck's itinerary from Travels With Charley.

  4. I recall that I really enjoyed reading "The Innocents Abroad". I also vaguely recall that I thought it was stupid of them to defy the quarantine rule. Twain definitely got quite bitter in some of his writings.

    It's too bad they didn't go to South Africa. I just read the end of your last post about your trip, with the cryptic statement about wondering if the guys from Oklahoma ever got their guns back. That sounds rather Twain-like, so I am going to read about that now!