A new gilded age for Twain scholars

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Reporting from Berkeley -- Harriet Elinor Smith was accustomed to anonymity. As lead editor for the "Autobiography of Mark Twain" and other Twain books, she has spent decades holed up with rare documents in a UC Berkeley office, fretting over commas and obscure references to 19th century personalities.

So Smith was stunned recently to be recognized by a fellow BART train passenger who had seen her on television, speaking about the astonishingly successful first volume of Twain's massive memoir. The other woman even complimented Smith on her hairstyle.

Thrust into a publishing success about which other academics can only fantasize, Smith and her colleagues at UC Berkeley's Mark Twain Papers & Project have become celebrities in the rarefied world of literary research and editing.

But like rock stars with a first hit record, they are coping now with hugely elevated expectations for the autobiography's next two volumes, which will bring the much-loved author's complete dictated memoir to print for the first time. And they worry about all the work ahead if they are to meet deadlines of 2012 and 2014.

"It's very strange and it's quite uncomfortable at times," Smith said of the shift from a scholarly but small audience for the Twain center's previous books to the runaway success now....

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