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A tramp abroad by Mark Twain

A tramp abroad (original 1880; edition 1880)

by Mark Twain

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719913,154 (3.88)33
Title:A tramp abroad
Authors:Mark Twain
Info:London : Chatto & Windus, 1880.
Collections:Your library
Tags:Novels, Wilfred's Room

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A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain (1880)


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A Tramp Abroad gives an account of one of Mark Twain's journeys through Europe. It is one of the author's travelogues in which he shares his observations while 'tramping' through Germany, Switzerland, France and Italy. 'Tramping' here includes the ascent of Mont Blanc by telescope. With a book as this you cannot really tell what exactly it is about apart from saying what I just said. You'd either have to tell it all or just leave it. I decided to leave it for the interested readers to explore. Just imagine an American traveling through Europe at the end of the 19th century.

To my mind there are certain things that make this book an interesting, if unconventional, read. First, there is Twain's gift for humorous depictions of people and places. Twain manages to tell his stories in a lighthearted fashion that actually makes you laugh out loud at times. Second, A Tramp Abroad contains various drawings made by the author himself to support his stories with some sort of 'proof'. Those drawings further contribute to the satirical way this book is written in. Eventually I have to say that I liked how Twain constantly tries to convince the reader of the truthfulness of what he's telling. At numerous points in the book, the author uses footnotes to heighten his credibility. There is even an appendix to fit in all the accounts Twain could not get into his main narrative. This last aspect is somewhat ironic as the main narrative is just an unconnected telling of stories in which the narrator often digresses into things that are only remotely relevant to his story. To give potential readers some idea of what I especially liked about this book and about Mark Twain in general I chose some quotations that I find quite revealing as to Twain's style. Personally, I think Twain is a genius.

I have since found out there is nothing the Germans like so much as an opera. They like it, not in a mild and moderate way, but with their whole hearts. This is a legitimate result of habit and education. Our nation will like the opera, too, by and by, no doubt. One in fifty of those who attend our operas likes it already, perhaps, but I think a good many of the other forty-nine go in order to learn to like it, and the rest in order to be able to talk knowingly about it. The latter usually hum the airs while they are being sung, so that their neighbors may perceive that they have been to operas before. The funerals of these do not occur often enough.
(on opera visits, p. 50)

The Germans are exceedingly fond of Rhine wines; they are put up in tall, slender bottles and are considered a pleasant beverage. One tells them from vinegar by the label.
(on German wine, p. 84)

Now, in the end I was not sure how to rate this book in terms of stars. A Tramp Abroad is certainly an interesting and funny read. However, I think to really enjoy it you have to have been in one of the countries that are depicted in the book or have some knowledge about Germany and Switzerland. Otherwise, you just would not enjoy the book that much, I assume. Living in Germany, though, I find the book highly recommendable. Finally a note on the reading experience. A book with little above 400 pages that is divided into 50 chapters and an appendix is nothing like the usual reading experience you have with novels. But then again A Tramp Abroad is not a novel. So you might need some time to get used to the structure of the book. It is more like some fifty plus separate stories as Twain usually tells more than one story per chapter. All things considered, I would rate the book with 3.5 stars. ( )
1 vote OscarWilde87 | Feb 4, 2014 |
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
"A Tramp Abroad", like any dated satire, is made difficult to appreciate when society is no longer innundated with the thing being satirized; in this case, 19th century travelogues from Americans travelling abroad who used a narrow lens to arrive at their impression of other cultures. Consequently I had no idea when he was kidding or not. To understand Europe in the later 1800s you'll have to seek elsewhere. Did German students pointlessly duel to the point of mutilating each other (doubtful)? Could a ship actually navigate the entire length of a winding river by dragging a chain through its belly (maybe...)? I had less patience for the chapters that were too obviously false from start to finish, like his tackling the Matterhorn.

It worked best when I read each chapter as if it were a blog entry. That format would have suited Mark Twain admirably. While I was reading his travelogue in this way, I didn't mind that the chapters felt like a mostly disconnected series of episodes, some about what he saw and did on his travels, some digressing into retelling the legends he picked up, personal foibles, etc. Then I was able to fully enjoy the obvious kidding, his talent for description, and be amused with wondering how much was farce and what was fact (is there a study guide that sorts this out?). Less frequently, it felt like the days when someone invited you over to see a slideshow of their trip. Then it was someone naddering on and on about where he went, what he did, look how beautiful this bit of scenery is, here's a shot of a person we met and let me tell you her life story, etc.

There's no denying Twain's skill for telling any kind of story about anything. A blog by Mark Twain would have had me reading daily and, sure, even an invitation to a Mark Twain slideshow would win my attendance. I'm not sure this book is the best way to sample him, but it is a way, and you'll definitely obtain a sense of his style. Remember to read the often quoted appendices relating to Heidelberg Castle, and the German language. ( )
  Cecrow | Jan 10, 2013 |
1/4 brilliant and hilarious. 1/4 wry and sometimes sophomoric puns and gags. 1/4 repetitive attempts at humor. 1/4 late 19th century travelogue. The French dueling description was a scream and the observation of German students (hacking each other up during fencing challenges) was spot-on accurate. 'Well worth the time it took to get through all this, from the perfect side story and behavioral description of a Blue Jay, all the way through the appendices.

I love Mark Twain and this is one of his better works. ( )
  Sandydog1 | Jul 20, 2012 |
I confess I bought this book because while perusing it in the bookstore I noticed that Dave Eggers had written the introduction, and because of visited several of the places that Twain writes about from his travels in 1878-1879. I was surprised at how good it was; I was very entertained throughout. You get what you would expect in Twain: wry comments and at times outlandish humor, but also his true reverence for nature and for beauty, and his love of travel, yet at the same time, his love for his home America. By far a better 'travelogue' than Dostoevsky's tepid "Winter Notes on Summer Impressions"; Twain is a true traveler, lover of life, and consummate humorist. He pokes fun at the places he visits and at American tourists and himself too. I can't imagine a better travel companion, and that's what this book feels like, a trip, and with a great travel companion.

Quotes, I start with the 'standard' Twain types of quips for:
- A French duel: "Sixty-five yards with these instruments? Squirt-guns would be deadlier at fifty."
- German opera: "...I lived over again all that I had suffered the time the orphan asylum burned down."
- German wine: "The Germans are exceedingly fond of Rhine wines; they are put up in tall, slender bottles, and are considered a pleasant beverage. One tells them from vinegar by the label."
- On cuckoo clocks: "Some sounds are hatefuller than others, but no sound is quite so insane, and silly, and aggravating as the 'hoo'hoo' of a cuckoo clock, I think."
- On St. Mark's in Venice: "Propped on its long row of low thick-legged columns, its back knobbed with domes, it seemed like a vast warty bug taking a meditative walk."
- Recipe for New England Pie concludes with: "...then solder on the lid and set in a safe place till it petrifies. Serve cold at breakfast and invite your enemy."
- Lastly, the recipe for German coffee which Twain found weak ends with: "Mix the beverage in a cold cup, partake with moderation, and keep a wet rag around your head to guard against over-excitement."

On beauty, with beautiful writing, and with humor at the end:
"She was an enchanting study. Her gown was of a soft white silky stuff that clung to her round young figure like a fish's skin, and it was rippled over with the gracefullest little fringy films of lace; she had deep, tender eyes, with long, curved lashes; and she had peachy cheeks, and a dimpled chin, and such a dear little dewy rosebud of a mouth; she was so dove-like, so pure, and so gracious, so sweet and bewitching. For long hours I did mightily wish she would speak. And at last she did; the red lips parted, and out leaped her thought, - and with such a guileless and pretty enthusiasm, too: 'Auntie, I just know I've got five hundred fleas on me!'"

On beauty as compared to ugliness:
"One does not find out what a hold the chalet has taken upon him, until he presently comes upon a new house, - a house which is aping the town fashions of Germany and France, a prim, hideous, straight up-and-down thing, plastered all over on the outside to look like stone, and altogether so stiff, and formal, and ugly and forbidding, and so out of tune with the gracious landscape, and so deaf and dumb to the poetry of its surroundings, that it suggests an undertaker at a picnic, a corpse at a wedding, a puritan in Paradise."

"But every now and then, through the stern gateways around us we caught a view of some neighboring majestic dome, sheathed with glittering ice, and displaying its white purity at an elevation compared to which ours was groveling and plebeian, and this spectacle always chained one's interest and admiration at once, and made him forget there was anything ugly in the world."

And this one....wow:
"...we looked up toward a neighboring mountaintop, and saw exquisite primatic colors playing about some white clouds which were so delicate as to almost resemble gossamer webs. The faint pinks and greens were peculiarly beautiful; none of the colors were deep, they were the lightest shades. They were bewitchingly commingled. We sat down to study and enjoy this singular spectacle. The tints remained during several minutes - flitting, changing, melting into each other; paling almost away, for a moment, then re-flushing, - a shifting, restless, unstable succession of soft opaline gleams, shimmering over that airy film of white cloud, and turning it into a fabric dainty enough to clothe an angel with."

On college:
"So this German attends only the lectures which belong to the chosen branch, and drinks his beer and tows his dog around and has a general good time the rest of the day. He has been in rigid bondage so long that the large liberty of university life is just what he needs and likes and thoroughly appreciates; and it cannot last forever, he makes the most of it while it does last, and so lays up a good rest against the day that must see him put on the chains once more and enter the slavery of official or professional life."

On reading:
"I have a prejudice against people who print things in a foreign language and add no translation. When I am the reader, and the author considers me able to do the translating myself, he pays me quite a nice compliment,- but if he would do the translating for me I would try to get along without the compliment."

On religion:
"In this sordid place, and clothed, bedded and fed like a pauper, this strange princess lived and worshipped during two years, and in it she died. Two or three hundred years ago, this would have made the poor den holy ground; and the church would have set up a miracle-factory there and made plenty of money out of it."

"I think 't if a feller he'ps another feller when he's in trouble, and don't cuss, and don't do no mean things, nur noth'n' he ain't no business to do, and don't spell the Savior's name with a little g, he ain't runnin' no resks, - he's about as saift as if he b'longed to a church."

On perspective, the smallness of man against the majesty of nature:
"...the exactest simile I can devise is to compare them to ant-deposits of granulated dirt over-shadowed by the huge bulk of a cathedral. The steam-boats skimming along under the stupendous precipices were diminished by distance to the daintiest little toys, the sail-boats and row-boats to shallops proper for fairies that keep house in the cups of lilies and ride to court on the backs of bumble-bees."

"...one seemed to meet the immutable, the indestructible, the eternal, face to face, and to feel the trivial and fleeting nature of his own existence the more sharply by the contrast. One had the sense of being under the brooding contemplation of a spirit, not an inert mass of rocks and ice, - a spirt which had looked down, through the slow drift of the ages, upon a million vanished races of men, and judged them; and would judge a million more, - and still be there, watching, unchanged and unchangeable, after all life should be gone and the earth have become a vacant desolation."

"The Alps and glaciers together are able to take every bit of conceit out of a man and reduce his self-importance to zero if he will only remain within the influence of their sublime presence long enough to give it a fair and reasonable chance to do its work."

Lastly, there is humor in a lot of ways throughout the book that are hard to capture, and there are also some truly hilarious moments. My favorite was after he got up the nerve to talk to a young lady and was interrogated by his travel companion afterwards; it's hard to quote in it's entirety. I also loved Chapter 37, the "ascent of the Riffelberg". ( )
3 vote gbill | Jul 17, 2010 |
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One day it occurred to me that it had been many years since the world had been afforded the spectacle of a man adventurous enough to undertake a journey through Europe on foot.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140436081, Paperback)

Nearly nine decades after his death, Mark Twain remains an international icon. His white-maned, mustachioed image is instantly identifiable throughout the world, the very picture of probity and high spirits (which explains why he's become the poster boy for products as diverse as beer, billiard tables, sewing machines, pizza, and real estate). Perhaps more importantly, Twain's books have retained all their power to amuse and enrage. How is it possible for the creator of a 19th-century "boy's holiday book" (Twain's own description of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) to raise so many contemporary hackles? The answer is that Twain is a contemporary writer. Not, of course, from a chronological point of view--he was born in Missouri in 1835 and died in 1910 (having insisted that "annihilation has no terrors for me"). But Twain was the first writer to elevate the American vernacular to a high art. Sidestepping the starched-shirt diction of his peers, he created an idiom that resembled (but did not precisely duplicate) the wayward, slangy, ungrammatical music of American conversation. No serious reader of Twain will want to do without the Oxford Mark Twain. This 29-volume leviathan includes not only the major works but also a treasure trove of essays and short pieces, many of them unavailable for decades. Throw in the introductions to each volume (by such heavyweights as Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, Cynthia Ozick, Gore Vidal, George Plimpton, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Walter Mosley), as well as the original illustrations, and you've got the book bargain of the millennium.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:15 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In April 1878, Mark Twain and his family traveled to Europe. Overloaded with creative ideas, Twain had hoped that the sojourn would spark his creativity enough to bring at least one of the books in his head to fruition. Instead, he wrote of his walking tour of Europe, describing his impressions of the Black Forest, the Matterhorn, and other attractions. Neglected for years, A Tramp Abroad sparkles with Twain's shrewd observations and highly opinionated comments on Old World culture and showcases his unparalleled ability to integrate humorous sketches, autobiographical tidbits, and historical anecdotes in a consistently entertaining narrative. Cast in the form of a walking tour through Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, and England, A Tramp Abroad includes among its adventures a voyage by raft down the Neckar and an ascent of Mont Blanc by telescope, as well as the author's attempts to study art?a wholly imagined activity Twain ?authenticated? with his own wonderfully primitive pictures. This book reveals Mark Twain as a mature writer and is filled with brilliant prose, insightful wit, and Twain's unerring instinct for the truth.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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