Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

Unbanning a Twain book…more than a century later

The Charlton Public Library lifted the ban on "Eve's Diary" by Mark Twain, 105 years later, because of its illustrations

As his 40th birthday approached, Mark Twain joined walking buddy Rev. Joe Twichell on a hundred-mile hike from Hartford to Boston. They walked 35 miles to North Ashford, Conn., before Twain’s aching knee joints and the subzero weather caused them to jump the nearest train for Boston.

I wish, for poetic justice’s sake, that they had managed to walk 15 more miles before being forced to stop walking in Charlton, Mass. It was the Charlton Public Library that made history by stopping access to a Twain book with nude illustrations in 1906 and then, last month, lifting the 105-year-old ban.

So of course we had to visit Charlton’s library to see what caused all the fuss.

Circulation Clerk Nancy Mills Chalk

Our first attempt, on a Friday, failed because Friday is one of two days a week that the library closes. Our second attempt failed because, as Circulation Clerk Nancy Mills Chalk explained, the library’s two copies of Twain’s Eve’s Diary, with 55 illustrations by Lester Ralph of Eve in her “summer costume,” were checked out. They were being checked out at a rapid rate by Charlton readers, Chalk said.

If Twain were still alive he surely would have something to say about those Charlton readers. He said of Mrs. H. L. Carpenter, the librarian who first “had her doubts” about the illustrations in Eve’s Diary: “When she made the dreadful find, being very careful, she jumped at no hasty conclusions—not she—she examined the horrid things in detail. It took her some time to examine them all, but she did her hateful duty!”

In a letter to a friend, Harriet E. Whitmore, Twain offered a final word on the book banning by the library’s trustees, a Congregational clergyman, the town clerk and an undertaker: “When a library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth any age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me.”

Loren Ghiglione

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