The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn eText - eText

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What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has withstood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was born in Hannibal, Missouri, on November 30, 1835. He had two brothers and a sister. A slave named Jenny worked for the family, and it is thought that her storytelling had a strong influence on the young Twain. He traveled extensively, working in various jobs, including a stint on a newspaper and one as a riverboat pilot. He supposedly took his pseudonym from the way a river's depth was measured: a piece of line was dropped into the river, and when the rope hit bottom, the depth was called out to the pilot. Therefore, “Mark Twain” or “two fathoms” literally means “twelve feet.”

In 1864, Twain left for San Francisco where he worked as a reporter. After a trip to Hawaii for The Sacramento Union, he began giving lectures. Later, in 1869, he wrote The Innocents Abroad based on his experiences traveling in France and Italy. The book was immensely popular, and Twain's sharp, humorous barbs set him apart from most other writers of the time.

Twain married Olivia Langdon in 1870, and between 1876 and 1884 he wrote Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Due to bad financial investments and personal family tragedies, however, Twain's early joy for life slowly disintegrated.

Today, he is thought of as both a fine humorist with an uncanny ear for speech and the first truly modern American novelist, adept at pointing out hypocrisy and the inconsistencies in human nature.