With a number of prior biographies to her credit, Eaton applies her skill as a biographer to presenting succinctly the character and life of the United States’ pre-eminent humorist of the nineteenth century. Unlike some biographers who tend to glorify their subject, she presents Twain realistically through an objective recounting of the major episodes in his life and by an honest appraisal of his character. Eaton shows that “he cared deeply how his country was governed and how his fellow men fared,” but she also admits that even Twain knew “he had placed worldly success above his responsibility as an artist.” More than once, his greed and stubborn ambition, she writes, had brought ruin to the family; on the other hand, he was a man who loved deeply and let that love shine through his writings.
Because her book is intended for young readers, Eaton dedicates more than a fourth of the story to Twain’s boyhood activities. The first three chapters tell of exciting adventures that not only appeal to young boys in particular but also parallel events chronicled in the Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn books. Description is held to a minimum, while episodic excitement is emphasized.
While Eaton’s focus is consistently on creating a story, it is a story that reveals character. The childhood section, for example, reveals Twain’s love for children, his understanding of that which drives them, and his acceptance of their normal, child-like preoccupation with play and mischievous fun....
(The entire section is 613 words.)
While many of Twain’s writings address an adult audience, few Americans enter adulthood without having read one or more of Twain’s books about the ingenuous Tom Sawyer or the inscrutable Huckleberry Finn. Therefore, this biography of the creator of these engaging characters is quite appropriate for young readers, especially because it discloses the close parallels between the real life of the creator and the fictional life of the creations. Eaton’s biography of Twain elucidates the magnetic personality, sharp wit, and dramatic skill of an author who has delighted and sparked the imagination of generations of young readers.
The readers of this book are treated to more than a well-written biography, however; they will also find brief, honest appraisals of the literary qualities of Twain’s major books. For example, Eaton notes that the efforts of the two boys in The Prince and the Pauper (1882) to better conditions for the poor and to revoke unjust laws “add purpose to the sweep of action.” She admits that, to fill the required two volumes of Life on the Mississippi (1883), Twain padded the script with stories and dated facts. Nevertheless, in spite of this weakness, the uproarious tales of his training to be a pilot give the book “high value as entertaining history.” About A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) she opines that the tale reveals Twain’s “deep humanity” and “the sweep of his imagination,” but unfortunately the episodes and humor “are apt to turn into preposterous burlesque.” Thus, Eaton’s work is lifted above mere biography, becoming also narrative, character analysis, and literary criticism.