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The Innocents Abroad

By: Mark Twain

The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress is a travel book by American author Mark Twain. Published in 1869, it humorously chronicles what Twain called his "Great Pleasure Excursion" on board the chartered vessel Quaker City (formerly USS Quaker City) through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travelers in 1867. The five-month voyage included numerous side trips on land. The book, which sometimes appears with the subtitle "The New Pilgrim's Progress", became the best-selling of Twain's works during his lifetime, as well as one of the best-selling travel books of all time.

A major theme of the book is that of the conflict between history and the modern world. Twain continually encounters petty profiteering and trivializations of history as he journeys, as well as a strange emphasis placed on particular past events. He is either outraged, puzzled, or bored by each encounter. One example can be found in the sequence during which the boat has stopped at Gibraltar. On shore, the narrator encounters seemingly dozens of people intent on regaling him, and everyone else, with a bland and pointless anecdote concerning how a particular hill nearby acquired its name, heedless of the fact that the anecdote is, indeed, bland, pointless, and entirely too repetitive. Another example may be found in the discussion of the story of Abelard and Heloise, where the sceptical American deconstructs the story and comes to the conclusion that far too much fuss has been made about the two lovers. Only when the ship reaches areas of the world that do not exploit for profit or bore passers-by with inexplicable interest in their history, such as the early passage dealing with the ship's time at the Azores, is this attitude not found in the text.

 

This reaction to those who profit from the past is found, in an equivocal and unsure balance with reverence, in Twain's experiences in the Holy Land. The narrator reacts here, not only to the exploitation of the past and the unreasoning (to the American eye of the time) adherence to old ways, but also to the profanation of religious history. Many of his illusions are shattered, including his discovery that the nations described in the Old Testament could easily fit inside many American states and counties, and that the "kings" of those nations might very well have ruled over fewer people than could be found in some small towns. Disillusioned, he writes, "If all the poetry and nonsense that have been discharged upon the fountains and the bland scenery of this region were collected in a book, it would make a most valuable volume to burn."

 

This equivocal reaction to the religious history the narrator encounters may be magnified by the prejudices of the time, as the United States was still primarily a Protestant nation at that point. The Catholic Church, in particular, receives a considerable amount of attention from the narrator, specifically its institutionalized nature. This is particularly apparent in the section of the book dealing with Italy, where the poverty of the lay population and the relative affluence of the church are contrasted.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Details

Language

English

Original Language

English

Published In

1869

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Author

Mark Twain

United States

Twain was fascinated with science and scientific inquiry. He developed a close and lasting friendship with Nikola Tesla, and the two spent much time together in Tesla's laboratory. Twain patented thre...

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