WMU News

Former WMU faculty member writes essays for Twain volumes

Oct. 16, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- A retired Western Michigan University faculty member plays an important role in a new set of works by Mark Twain published by Oxford University Press.

Dr. Beverly R. (Penny) David, professor emerita of theatre, has written essays for the 29-volume set, "The Oxford Mark Twain." Each book in the set contains a facsimile of the first edition of Twain's work with all the original illustrations. This is the first time many of these illustrations have been published since they were included in the first editions in the 19th and 20th centuries.

David, an internationally recognized expert on Twain's first edition design, has written a general essay on the illustrations that appears in 26 of the volumes and specific essays relating to the illustrations in each particular book that appear in 24 of the volumes.

"From the 'gorgeous gold frog' stamped into the cover of 'The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County' in 1867 to the comet-riding captain on the frontispiece of 'Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven' in 1909, illustrators and illustrations were an integral part of Mark Twain's first editions," she writes in the general essay.

David notes that most of Twain's major works were produced for the commercially-oriented subscription market. Subscription books were packed with hundreds of pictures to capture the interest of customers, who bought them not in bookstores but from door-to-door sales agents. "Innocents Abroad" had 234 illustrations, "A Connecticut Yankee" contained 220 and "Huckleberry Finn" had 174.

"Mark Twain knew the power of pictures," David says. "He spent a good deal of time on the design -- choosing the most talented artists, directing the artists in interpretation of texts, selecting from final prints and, at times, censoring drawings of material unfit or pictures that could tell too much about his narrative."

One drawing, an "indelicate" print for "Huckleberry Finn," had to be returned to the printing house and the picture cut out before the book could be delivered to the buyers, she notes.

In David's specific essays, she describes the significance of the sketches, engravings and photographs in the first editions, reveals what is known about the public's response to them and demonstrates how the combination of pictures and print work together to bring Twain's stories to life.

David, who has published and lectured around the world on this topic for more than 20 years, was contacted by Oxford University Press about writing the essays after being requested by the volumes' editor, Dr. Shelley Fisher Fishkin of the University of Texas at Austin. David is the author of "Mark Twain and His Illustrators (1867-1875)," and is at work on the second book in that three volume-series. She also is writing a Mark Twain mystery novel, "Murder on the Matterhorn," for an editor in California. She owns an extensive collection of Twain's first editions to use as reference material.

In addition to the facsimiles of the first editions, "The Oxford Mark Twain" features commentaries from such well known authors as Toni Morrison for "Huckleberry Finn," Kurt Vonnegut for "A Connecticut Yankee," Gore Vidal for "Following the Equator," George Plimpton for "Roughing It" and Arthur Miller for "My Autobiography."

David was a WMU faculty member from 1967 to 1994, and was the originator and administrator of the Direct Encounter with the Arts Program at the University for 25 years. She resides in Allegan for six months of the year and the remaining six months lives in Arizona, where she teaches a seminar, "Mark Twain: The Man and His Work," at the University of Arizona at Tucson. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from WMU and her doctoral degree from Michigan State University.

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