The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Richard Pierre

Richard has a doctorate in Comparative Literature and has taught Comparative Literature, English, and German

''The Innocents Abroad'' is Mark Twain's account of a journey through various sites in the Middle East and parts of Europe. In this lesson, you will learn about the purpose of Twain's book, as well as important passages from it.

The Background and Structure of The Innocents Abroad

When you think of travel guides, what do you picture? Descriptions of museums and historical sites? Reviews of hotels and restaurants? In Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad, you get all of this and more: everything from a description of how terrifying it is to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to complaints about the alleged lack of soap in Europe!

In 1867, Twain took a trip on the ship Quaker City to visit various sites in the middle east and Europe. He published newspaper articles about the people and places he saw. In 1869, he collected these articles and other notes and published them as The Innocents Abroad. Not only was it Twain's best-selling book in his lifetime, it has proven to be one of the most enduring travelogues ever written.

Mark Twain
Mark Twain

After describing seeing an advertisement for the cruise, the preparations for the voyage, and the other passengers who accompanied him, Twain's book really gets going. Quaker City visited numerous places, including:

  • Gibraltar
  • France
  • Italy
  • Athens
  • Odessa
  • Constantinople
  • Jerusalem
  • Egypt

Twain's Observations of Places

While some earlier travelogues focused on depicting sites like Jerusalem and the Egyptian Pyramids in grandiose, almost mythological terms, Twain's writing is much more realistic and gives honest accounts of what he saw. He's not afraid to burst readers bubbles and give them a taste of the disappointment and frustration he sometimes experienced.

Jerusalem

Take Twain's observations on Jerusalem, for instance. Describing a column at the legendary Tomb of Adam, he tells us Jesus Christ ''said that that particular column stood upon the centre of the world. If the centre of the world changes, the column changes its position accordingly. This column has moved three different times of its own accord. This is because, in great convulsions of nature, at three different times, masses of the earth -- whole ranges of mountains, probably -- have flown off into space, thus lessening the diameter of the earth, and changing the exact locality of its centre by a point or two.'' What starts off with Twain seeming to buy the traditional legend quickly becomes satire, with the hyperbolic statement about mountains flying off the earth to change its center, suggesting that the legend is ridiculous.

The Pyramids

Twain didn't just poke fun at things, however. Seeing the Egyptian Pyramids, for instance, was magical: ''At the distance of a few miles the Pyramids rising above the palms, looked very clean-cut, very grand and imposing, and very soft and filmy, as well. They swam in a rich haze that took from them all suggestions of unfeeling stone, and made them seem only the airy nothings of a dream.'' At least from a distance, that is: ''A laborious walk in the flaming sun brought us to the foot of the great Pyramid of Cheops. It was a fairy vision no longer. It was a corrugated, unsightly mountain of stone.''

The Egyptian Pyramids
The Pyramids

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