Often lauded as the “greatest American humorist of his age,” and the father of American literature, Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was born on this day November 30, in 1835.
Most noted for his novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often called “the Great American Novel.” Mark Twain was born during a visit by Halley’s Comet, and he predicted that he would “go out with it” as well, he grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, which would later provide the setting for Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.
At first He apprenticed with a printer. Where He also worked as a typesetter and contributed articles to his older brother Orion’s newspaper. After toiling as a printer in various cities, he became a master riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River. He then turned to journalism and while a reporter, he wrote a humorous story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, which became very popular and brought nationwide attention. His travelogues were also well-received. Twain had found his calling.
Twain began his career writing light, humorous verse, but evolved into a chronicler of the vanities, hypocrisies and murderous acts of mankind. At mid-career, with Huckleberry Finn, he combined rich humour, sturdy narrative and social criticism. Twain was a master at rendering colloquial speech which helped to create and popularize a distinctive American literature built on American themes and language. Many of Twain’s works have been suppressed at times for various reasons. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has repeatedly been restricted in American high schools, for its frequent use of words now considered racist which were in common usage in the pre-Civil War period in which the novel was set.
Although He achieved great success as a writer and public speaker, with his wit and satire earning him praise from presidents, artists, industrialists, European royalty, critics and peers alike, he lacked financial acumen, and although he made a great deal of money from his writings and lectures, he squandered it on various ventures,and was often forced to declare bankruptcy.
Twain’s first important work, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” was first published in the New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. Next, he was commissioned to write letters about his travel experiences, chronicling his experiences with his burlesque humour. The first journey he took was to ride the steamer Ajax in its maiden voyage to Hawaii. These humorous letters proved the genesis to his work with the San Francisco Alta California newspaper, which designated him a traveling correspondent for a trip from San Francisco to New York City via the Panama isthmus. This trip resulted in The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims’ Progress. This is a record of a pleasure trip, written as If it were a record of a solemn scientific expedition having the gravity, profundity, and impressive incomprehensibility which are so proper to works of that kind.
In 1872, Twain published a second piece of travel literature, Roughing It, as a semi-sequel to Innocents. This was a semi-autobiographical account of Twain’s journey to Nevada and his subsequent life in the American West. The book lampoons American and Western society in the same way that Innocents critiqued the various countries of Europe and the Middle East.
Twain’s next work. Entitled The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today was not a travel piece, as his previous two books had been, it focused more on the events of the day in American society, and was his first attempt at writing a novel. The book is also notable because it is Twain’s only collaboration; it was written with his neighbor Charles Dudley Warner.
Twain’s next two works drew on his experiences on the Mississippi River. Old Times on the Mississippi, was a series of sketches published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1875, which featured Twain’s disillusionment with Romanticism. It eventually became the starting point for Life on the Mississippi.
Twain’s next major publication was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which drew on his youth in Hannibal. Modelled on Twain as a child, with traces of two schoolmates, John Briggs and Will Bowen. The book also introduced Huckleberry Finn, based on Twain’s boyhood friend Tom Blankenship.
His next book, The Prince and the Pauper, was not as well received. It Tells the story of two boys born on the same day who are physically identical, who switch places. Pauper was Twain’s first attempt at historical fiction, and blame for its shortcomings is usually put on Twain for having not been experienced enough in English society, and also on the fact that it was produced after a massive hit.
Twain’s next major published work, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, solidified him as a noteworthy American writer. Some have called it the first Great American Novel, and the book has become required reading in many schools throughout the United States. Huckleberry Finn was an offshoot from Tom Sawyer and had a more serious tone than its predecessor. The main premise behind Huckleberry Finn is the young boy’s belief in the right thing to do, even though most believed that it was wrong.
Near the completion of Huckleberry Finn, Twain wrote Life on the Mississippi, this recounts Twain’s memories and new experiences after a 22-year absence from the Mississippi. Twain’s last work was his autobiography, which he dictated and thought would be most entertaining if he went off on whims and tangents in non-chronological order. Some archivists and compilers have rearranged the biography into more conventional forms, thereby eliminating some of Twain’s humour and the flow of the book.
The continuing popularity of Mark Twain’s novels has helped him become one of very few authors publishing new best-selling volumes in all 3 of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries