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Innocents Abroad cover
|Publisher||American Publishing Company|
|Preceded by||The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County|
|Followed by||Roughing It|
The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress is a travel book by American author Mark Twain published in 1869 which 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. It was the best-selling of Twain's works during his lifetime, as well as one of the best-selling travel books of all time.
Innocents Abroad presents itself as an ordinary travel book based on an actual voyage in a retired Civil War ship (the USS Quaker City). The excursion was billed as a Holy Land expedition, with numerous stops and side trips along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, notably:
Twain recorded his observations and critiques of the various aspects of culture and society which he encountered on the journey, some more serious than others. Many of his observations draw a contrast between his own experiences and the often grandiose accounts in contemporary travelogues, which were regarded in their own time as indispensable aids for traveling in the region. In particular, he lampooned William Cowper Prime's Tent Life in the Holy Land for its overly sentimental prose and its often violent encounters with native inhabitants. Twain also made light of his fellow travelers and the natives of the countries and regions that he visited, as well as his own expectations and reactions.
A major theme of the book, insofar as a book can have a theme when assembled and revised from the newspaper columns Twain sent back to America as the journey progressed, 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 skeptical 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 passage dealing with the ship's time at the Canary Islands, 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.
As a travel book, Innocents Abroad is accessible through any one of its chapters, many of which were published serially in the United States. (A compilation of the original newspaper accounts was the subject of McKeithan (1958)). In many of the chapters, a uniquely Twainian sentence or word stands out. A sampling of chapter material appears below and includes links to visual representations as well as to dedicated Mark Twain projects that have included Innocents Abroad in their sweep: