The University of California Press is delighted to announce the new publication of this three-act play by one of America's most important and well-loved writers. A highly entertaining comedy that has never appeared in print or on stage, "Is He Dead?" is finally available to the wide audience Mark Twain wished it to reach. Written in 1898 in Vienna as Twain emerged from one of the deepest depressions of his life, the play shows its author's superb gift for humor operating at its most energetic. The text of "Is He Dead?", based on the manuscript in the Mark Twain Papers, appears here together with an illuminating essay by renowned Mark Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin and with Barry Moser's original woodcut illustrations in a volume that will surely become a treasured addition to the Mark Twain legacy. Richly intermingling elements of burlesque, farce, and social satire with a wry look at the world market in art, "Is He Dead?" centers on a group of poor artists in Barbizon, France, who stage the death of a friend to drive up the price of his paintings.
In order to make this scheme succeed, the artists hatch some hilarious plots involving cross-dressing, a full-scale fake funeral, lovers' deceptions, and much more. Mark Twain was fascinated by the theater and made many attempts at playwriting, but this play is certainly his best. "Is He Dead?" may have been too 'out there' for the Victorian 1890s, but today's readers will thoroughly enjoy Mark Twain's well-crafted dialog, intriguing cast of characters, and above all, his characteristic ebullience and humor. In Shelley Fisher Fishkin's estimation, it is 'a champagne cocktail of a play - not too dry, not too sweet, with just the right amount of bubbles and buzz'.
Shelley Fisher Fishkin is Joseph S. Atha Professor of Humanities, Professor of English and Director of American Studies at Stanford University. She is the author of Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (1997); Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices (1993), selected as an Outstanding Academic Book by Choice; and From Fact to Fiction: Journalism and Imaginative Writing in America (2000), winner of a Frank Luther Mott/Kappa Tau Alpha Award for outstanding research in journalism history. She is also the editor of the 29-volume Oxford Mark Twain and the Oxford Historical Guide to Mark Twain. Barry Moser is one of the foremost wood engravers in the United States and is the proprietor of the Pennyroyal Press. Among other books, he illustrated Huckleberry Finn (California, 1985), Moby Dick (California, 1981), Dante's Inferno (California 1980), Purgatorio (California, 1981), and Paradiso (California, 1984), and the Holy Bible (1999). The Mark Twain Project is housed within the Mark Twain Papers, the world's largest archive of primary materials by this major American writer. Under the direction of General Editor Robert H. Hirst, the Project's five editors are producing the first comprehensive edition of all Mark Twain's writings, more than thirty volumes of which have so far been published by the University of California Press.