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||Mark Twain (1835-1910) - pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens|
American writer, journalist, and humorist, who won a worldwide audience for his stories of youthful adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Sensitive to the sound of language, Twain introduced colloquial speech into American fiction. In Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway wrote: "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn..."
"When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman." (from 'Old Times on the Mississippi', 1875)
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) was born in Florida, Missouri, of a Virginian family. The family soon moved to Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain was brought up. At school, accroding to his own words, he "excelled only in spelling". After his father's death in 1847, Twain was apprenticed to a printer. Her also started his career as a journalist by writing for the Hannibal Journal. Later Twain worked as a licensed Mississippi river-boat pilot (1857-61). His famous penname Twain adopted from the call ('Mark twain!' – meaning by the mark of two fathoms) used when sounding river shallows. But this isn't the full story: he had also satirized an older writer, Isaiah Sellers, who called himself Mark Twain. In 1861 Twain served briefly as a confederate irregular. The Civil War put an end to the steamboat traffic, and during a period when Twain was out of work, he lived in a primitive cabin on Jackass Hill and tried his luck as a gold-miner. "I would have been more or less than human if I had not gone mad like the rest," he confessed.
Twain moved to Virginia City, where he edited two years Territorial Enterprise. On February 3, 1863, 'Mark Twain' was born when he signed a humorous travel account with that pseudonym. In 1864 Twain left for California, where worked in San Francisco as a reporter. After hearing a story about a frog, Twain made an entry in his notebook: "Coleman with his jumping frog – bet a stranger $50. – Stranger had no frog and C. got him one: – In the meantime stranger filled C's frog full of shot and he couldn't jump. The stranger's frog won." From these lines he developed 'Jim Smiley and his Jumping Frog' which was published in The Saturday Press of New York on the 18th of November in 1865. It was reprinted all over the country and became the foundation stone of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1867). This work marked the beginning of Twain's literary career.
In 1866 Twain visited Hawaii as a correspondent for The
Sacramento Union, publishing letters on his trip. He then set out
world tour, travelling in France and Italy. His experiences Twain
recorded in The Innocents Abroad
(1869). The work, which gained him
wide popularity, poked fun at both American and European prejudices and
manners. When William Dean Howells praised the
author in The Atlantic Monthly, Twain thanked him by
saying: "When I read that review of yours, I felt like the woman who
was so glad her baby had come white."
Throughout his life, Twain frequently returned to travel writing – many of his finest novels, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), dealt with journeys and escapes into freedom. The success of The Innocents Abroad gave Twain enough financial security to marry Olivia Langdon in 1870, after writing about 189 love letters during his courtship. Twain had seen her picture on the Quaker City cruise in the summer of 1867 and had fallen immediately in love with her. To to improve his reputation in the eyes of Mr. and Mrs. Langdon, Twain gave up drinking, smoking, swearing, and even attented church for a time.
Olivia, Twain's beloved Livy, served and protected her husband
devotedly. They moved to Hartford, where the family remained, with
occasional trips abroad, until 1891. Twain continued to lecture in the
United States and England. Between 1876 and 1884 he published several
masterpieces. Tom Sawyer was originally intended for adults.
Twain had abandoned the work in 1874, but returned to it in the
following summer and even then was undecided if he were writing a book
for adults or for young readers. Eventually he declared that it was
"professedly and confessedly a boy's and girl's book". The Prince and the Pauper (1881)
was about Edward VI of England and a little pauper
who change places. The book was dedicated "to those good-mannered and
agreeable children, Susie and Clara Clemens." Life on the Mississippi
(1883) contained an attack on the influence of Sir Walter Scott, whose
romanticism have caused according to Twain 'measureless harm' to
From the very beginning of his journalistic career,
Twain made fun with the novel and its tradition. Although Twain enjoyed
magnificent popularity as a novelist, he believed that he lacked the
analytical sensibility necessary to the novelist's art. As a public
speaker, he was exceptional. "Every word, almost," a reviewer said,
"was a joke." The English actor Sir Henry Irving told Twain once that
he had missed his true calling he chose writing over acting.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), an American Odysseus and a powerful indictment of slavery, was first considered adult fiction. Huck, who could not possibly write a story, tells us the story: "You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain and he told the truth, mainly." Both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn stand high on the list of eminent writers like Stevenson, Dickens, and Saroyan who honestly depicted young people. Huck's debate whether or not he will turn in Jim, an escaped slave and a friend, probed the racial tensions of the national conscience. Later Twain wrote in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (1900): "I have no race prejudices... All that I care to know is that a man is a human being—that is enough for me; he can't be any worse." A new and politically correct edition of the novel, that replaced the notorious N-word with "slave", appeared in 2011 with a wave of negative comments. The 200-year old racial slur appears in the book over 200 times.
One of Twain's major achievements is the way he narrates Huckleberry Finn, following the twists and turns of ordinary speech, his native Missouri dialect. Shelley Fisher Fishkin has noted in Was Huck Black? (1993) that the book drew upon a vernacular formed by black voices as well as white. The model for Huck Finn's voice, according to Fishkin, was a black child instead of a white one. The character of Huck was based on a boy named Tom Blankenship, Twain's boyhood friend.
'"Who is your folks?" he questions me.
The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1884) was a murder mystery and a case of transposed identities, but also an implicit condemnation of a society that allows slavery,. Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1895) was published under the pseudonym of Sieur Louis de Conte. In the 1890s Twain lost most of his earnings in financial speculations and in the downhill of his own publishing firm, C.L. Webster, which he had established in 1884 in New York City. In 1894 he had invested in the infamous Paige typesetter, which never worked. "Paige and I always met on elusively affectionate terms," Twain said, "& yet he knows perfectly well that if I had him in a steel trap I would shut out all human succor & watch that trap until he died..." Twain closed Hartford house. To recover from the bankrupt, he started a world lecture tour. By 1898 he had repaid all debts. From 1896 to 1900 he resided mainly in Europe. During the tour Susy, his favorite daughter, died of spinal meningitis.
Twain traveled New Zealand, Australia, India, and South Africa, and returned to the U.S. in 1900. Twain's travel book, Following the Equator, came out in 1897. In 1902 Twain made a trip to Hannibal, his home town which had inspired several of his works. His plans for a peaceful and quiet visit were ruined when more than 100 newspapers chronicled his every move. Between 1870 and 1905 Twain tried repeatedly to write or dictate his autobiography. His dictations to a stenographer formed the bulk of the Autobiography of Mark Twain, but he insisted that it should not be published in its entirety until a hundred years after his death. "A book that is not to be published for a century gives the writer a freedom which he could secure in no other way," Twain said. However, parts of the text appeared in 1924, then in 1940 and 1959.
The death of his wife in 1904 in Florence and his second
daughter darkened the author's view of the world, which is also seen in
his posthumously published autobiography (1924). In fact he embraced atheism. Twain's view of the
human nature had never been very optimistic, but during final years,
in his bitterness, he began to sound like Ambrose Bierce
(1842-1914). Bierce allegedly characterized Twain as "a clown, clever
enough to assume at time[s] the dignity of a blunder in letters." (An Ambrose Bierce Companion by Robert L. Gale, 2001, p. 288)
Moreover, Twain had grave doubts about the nature of reality. When he revisited his old Hartford house, he imagined the event as a "homecoming fantasy," one in which he found himself "still at home with his family." (Beyond the Frontier: Writers, Western Regionalism, and a Sense of Place by Harold P. Simonson, 1989, pp. 128-129) In The Mysterious Stranger (1916), Twain's uncompleted novella published posthumously, Satan argues: "It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaved. no hell. It is all a dream – a grotesque and foolish dream." Set in the 16th-century Austria, Satan reveals that the "first man was a hypocrite and a coward, qualities which have not yet failed in his line; it is the foundation upon which all civilizations have been built." Twain composed the work between 1897 and 1908 in several, quite different versions, one of which was set in Hannibal, another in a print shop. Albert Bigelow Paine, Twain's authorized biographer, apparently added to it a concluding chapter from another version altogether.
Much of his life, Twain was against conventional religion, but especially hostile he was towards Christianity: "If men neglected 'God's poor' and 'God's stricken and helpless ones' as He does, what would become of them? The answer is to be found in those dark lands where man follows His example and turns his indifference back upon them: they get no help at all; they cry, and plead and pray in vain, they linger and suffer, and miserably die." (from 'Thoughts of God') Twain died on April 21, 1910. His autobiography Twain dictated to his secretary A.B. Paine; various versions of it have been published. Twain's colorful life inspired the film The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944), directed by Irving Rapper and starring Fredric March. In Philip José Farmer's Riverworld epic Mark Twain was one of the central characters.
During his long writing career, Twain produced a considerable number of essays, which appeared in various newspapers and in magazines, including the Galaxy, Harper's, the Atlantic Monthly, and North American Review. In his 'Sandwich Islands' letters (1873) Twain described how the missionaries and American government have corrupted the Hawaiians, 'Queen Victoria's Jubilee' (1897) presented the pomp and pageantry of an English royal procession, and 'King Leopold's Soliloquy' (1905) revealed in a dramatic monologue the political evils caused by despotism. The King complains: "Blister the meddlesome missionaries! They write tons of these things. They seem to be always around, always spying, always eye-witnessing the happenings; and everything they see they commit to paper... One of these missionaries saw eighty-one of these hands drying over a fire for transmission to my officials – and of course they must go and set it down and print it... nothing is too trivial for them to print..." Twain's finest satire of imperialism was perhaps 'To the Person Sitting in Darkness' (1901), in which the author wrote that the people in darkness are beginning to see "more light than... was profitable for us."
Biographies and other information: Mark Twain by Albert Bigelow Paine (1912); Mark Twain by Edgar Lee Masters (1938); Mark Twain: Social Critic by Philip Foner (1958); Mark Twain: Social Philosopher by Louis J. Budd (1962); Mark Twain Himself by Milton Meltzer (1960); Mark Twain: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by Henry Nash Smith (1963); Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain by Justin Kaplan (1966); Mark Twain by Charles Neider (1967); Mark Twain as Critic by Sydney J. Krause (1967); Plots and Characters in the Works of Mark Twain by Robert L. Gale (1973); The Art of Mark Twain by William H. Gibson (1976); Mark Twain's Last Years as a Writer by William R. Macnaughton (1979); Mark Twain by Robert Keith Miller (1983); The Connecticut Yankee in the Twentieth Century by Bud Foote (1990); Mark Twain and the Art of the Tall Tale by Henry B. Wonham (1993); The Singular Mark Twain: A Biography Fred Kaplan (2003); Dangerous Intimacy: The Untold Story of Mark Twain's Final Years by Karen Lystra (2004); Mark Twain's America: A Celebration in Words and Images by Harry L. Katz & The Library of Congress (2014); Mark Twain: A Christian Response to His Battle With God by Ray Comfort (2014); Huck Finn's America: Mark Twain and the Era That Shaped His Masterpiece by Andrew Levy (2014)