Mark Twain’s delightful book “Eve’s Diary” prompts us to think
Scholars say that a year after Mark Twain’s wife Olivia (1870-1904) died, in 1905, Twain published his charming tale called “Eve’s Diary” with her and her feminist beliefs in mind. In the first two chapters of his book on philosophy, “Guide of the Perplexed,” Maimonides, Judaism’s greatest thinker, read the Bible’s opening adventure about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as a parable, as a story designed to teach readers that they should use their intelligence whenever facing a situation requiring a solution, and not rely on moral teachings, which are generally good advice, but do not and cannot address the minutiae and consequences of every possible event.
Twain also rejected the idea that the biblical story is the truth about the first humans, but “Eve’s Diary” was not a morality tale for him; it was a lark, a chance to poke fun at people who take the Bible as literal history, at the Sunday-school fundamentalist teaching that Eve was a scheming sexual temptress, at religion in general that is overly restrictive and ignores human emotions. It gave him an opportunity to offer readers a love story that shows that women, like his wife, can be very dear and even superior to man. The story is delightful and there are equally delightful full-page drawings on every left-hand page.
His tale is full of lovely amusing details and a tenderness and profound delicacy of feelings about women. For example, Eve’s story opens on Saturday. Eve is 1-day old. She looks at the world and is filled with naïve enchanting amazement. “I arrived yesterday. That is as it seems to me. And it must be so, for if there was a day-before-yesterday I was not there when it happened, or I should remember it.” Everything looks better to her on Saturday than it did yesterday. But there are problems. “In the rush of finishing yesterday, the mountains were left in a ragged condition…. Noble and beautiful works of art should not be subject to haste; and this majestic new world is indeed a most noble and beautiful work. And certainly marvelously near to being perfect, notwithstanding the shortness of the time. There are too many stars in some places and not enough in others, but that can be remedied presently, no doubt. The moon got loose last night, and slid down and fell out of the scheme — a very great loss; it breaks my heart to think of it.” She knows that the stars will not last. She saw some of the best ones melt and run down the sky. She realizes as she views the world that the core of her nature is love of the beautiful, a passion for the beautiful.
She notices another “experiment” at a distance. She thinks it’s a man. “It looks like one.” Curious, she follows the man who became frightened when he sees her and climbs a tree. She sees him again the next day, and he runs again and climbs another tree. On Sunday, she sees him sitting on the tree doing nothing, as if Sunday were a day of rest; although he seems to rest every day; “it looks to me like a creature that is more interested in resting than anything else. It would tire me to rest so much.”
Soon, despite the man’s initial fears, the two become acquainted. She decides to be useful to him in every way she can, so as to increase his regard. She takes over his work of naming things, for it was clear that he has no gift in that line, and he seems to be grateful, seems to. She doesn’t let him see that she is aware of his defect.
Soon, the Garden is lost, but she is content because she found the man. “He loves me as well as he can.” He is not too bright; “he is as God made him, and that is sufficient. There was a wise purpose to it; that I know.” She knows that she loves him, that love is not a logical thing, but it feels good. It cannot be explained, and doesn’t need to.
Forty years later, Eve dies; and at her grave Adam says: “Wherever she was, there was Eden.”