The books Mark Twain "dictated" from beyond the grave

Illustration for article titled The books Mark Twain "dictated" from beyond the grave

There are always folks trying to exploit the success of authors long after those authors have died. Whether it's capitalizing on a famous ancestor (see Dacre Stoker) or continuing to publish under a deceased writer's pen name, some writers and publishers refuse to let celebrity novelists rest in peace. But few tales of posthumous publishing are quite as strange as those involving Mark Twain. After Samuel Clemens, better known to the world as Mark Twain, passed away in 1910, at least two women claimed Clemens communicated with them via Ouija Board, making him the ultimate ghostwriter.


mental_floss points us to the curious cases of Emily Grant Hutchings and Mildred Swanson, two women who published books based on their Ouija-mediated interactions with the famed humorist. Hutchings is the more famous of the two; she published her novel Jap Herron in 1917, after which she was sued by Clemens' daughter. Hutchings was acquainted with Clemens while he was still alive, and correspondence between the two indicates that he offered her advice on her own writing efforts. Hutchings was also friends with one Pearl Lenore Curran, and the two frequently occupied themselves with their Ouija Board. Curran achieved some fame when she began publishing works she claimed had been authored by the ghost of a 17th century girl, Patience Worth. It was only a matter of time before Hutchings got a spectral writing buddy of her own.

Jap Harron was the tale of a young man born into poverty in Missouri, who grows up to be a fine and noble fellow and reinvigorates his home town. The New York Times review was less than admiring, telling readers, "If this is the best that "Mark Twain" can do by reaching across the barrier, the army of admirers that his works have won for him will all hope that he will hereafter respect that boundary." Clara Clemens and Harper and Brothers publishers, who held the exclusive rights to publish Twain's work, went to court over the book. The case never went to trial, but the book was eventually withdrawn from publication and most copies were destroyed. Curious readers can, however, find the complete text online.

Mildred Swanson, on the other hand, wasn't so ambitious as to write a novel and then attribute it to Twain. She and her husband John were members of the Midwest Society of Psychic Research and they had created their own version of the Oujia Board, called the "Nona Board." She collected a diary of her supposed exchanges with Clemens, which she titled, Good Bless U, Daughter, the phrase she claimed Clemens always signed off with. (It seems that in addition to losing his wit, Clemens also descended into text speak in the spirit realm.) It's not surprising she couldn't find a publisher. She ended up publishing the work herself.

Clemens probably would have had a biting word or two to say about this whole ghost business as he was not a believer in the spirit world. A 1918 editorial in the New York Times put it best:

It is much to be regretted that MARK TWAIN himself is precluded by circumstances from commenting on the forthcoming and very posthumous production. The task is one that would have delighted him - and its performance by him would delight everybody else - except, perhaps, the psychical researchers who so industriously set down the products of subconscious activities. His daughter should not be unduly disturbed. Her father's memory is safe, no matter what nonsense the "mediums" say he makes them talk or write.

Oujia Board photo by ryan.

You can read more about the Hutchings affair at Twain Quotes, and about Mildred Swanson at paranormal investigator James Offutt's site. mental_floss has more tales of books "dictated" by dead authors.




Mark Twain would never speak to the world through an ouija board. You know he'd use Twitter.