Mark Twain’s first book, The Innocents Abroad (1869), despite being the most widely sold of his works in his lifetime, often baffles more recent readers. Innocents tends to be seen as interruptive, unclassifiable, and valuable mostly as an antecedent to his later novels. Prominent Twain scholars Robert Gray Bruce and Hamlin Hill once belittled Innocents as a “patchwork scissors-and-paste job,” and Bruce Michelson remarks that the “narrative stance” of Innocents is a persistent “mystery and a cause of argument” to contemporary audiences. The author proposes that to appreciate Twain’s travelogue, we must situate it not in a picturesque or burlesque context (both traditional for most travelogues of the nineteenth century), but instead venture further back in the Western canon—to the classic Spanish picaresque. Drawing on the scholarship of Ulrich Wicks and Alexander Blackburn, she embarks on a comparative study of Lazarillo de Tormes (1554), the original picaresque text, and Innocents, making a particular focus on the respective narrators and their use of the aside. She argues that Innocents is modally and symbolically (as opposed to generically) picaresque. Such a reappraisal of Twain’s first monograph opens vistas onto the trickling inheritance of the picaresque mode in curious and unexpected literary places.

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