By Susanna Ashton
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Extra resources for Collaborators in Literary America, 1870–1920
There arrived in Virginia a dissolute stranger with a literary turn of mind—rather seedy he was, but very quiet and unassuming; almost diffident, indeed. He was so gentle, and his manners were so pleasing and kindly, whether he was sober or intoxicated, that he made friends of all who came in contact with him. He applied for literary work, offered conclusive evidence that he wielded an easy and practiced pen, and so Mr. F. engaged him at once to help write the novel. (341) Scholars have identified this dissolute author, or the model for this author, as Charles Henry Webb, a well-known journalist who arrived in Virginia City in March of 1864.
The paper died with that issue and the serial was never completed. Twain’s version of events is, as always, suspect but what is telling about this chapter of Roughing It is the manner in which he recounts the story. For not only is there that troubling moment when he describes the chapter as impossible to describe, while then going on for several pages to do just that, but also there is the portrait of a troublesome author who preempted Twain’s own foray into collaborative writing. Twain never got a chance to write his own installment because the fiasco of the stranger’s chapter precluded his own contribution that was scheduled to be installment no.
His interest in finding new ways to think about writing and production arose in some ways from a cultural tension over individual responsibility and collective guilt. Although his difficult experiences in composing Roughing It were to be a pattern throughout his life (writing at a red-hot pace and then freezing up and having to “shelve” a project away for a period of time), he didn’t yet realize it as a pattern. Hence his frustration at the lurching production of Roughing It may also have fueled his interest in doubling his productivity by taking on a partner.
Collaborators in Literary America, 1870–1920 by Susanna Ashton