Mark Twain Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 19th Century)

0111206143-Twain2.jpg(Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Twain gave America the prototypical initiation novel, but his humor and nostalgia for the past increasingly gave way to his pessimism about man’s technological “progress.”

Early Life

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri. The ancestors of his mother, née Jane Lampton, and his father, John Marshall Clemens, were mostly English and Irish and had lived in Virginia and Kentucky. While both sides of his family claimed distinguished English ancestors, those aristocratic ties were never clearly identified, and the Clemens family was hardly affluent when Samuel was born. Nevertheless, Samuel’s father was a cultivated, educated man (he had studied law) who was determined to be successful financially. Consequently, because there appeared to be more opportunity, in 1839 the elder Clemens moved his family to Hannibal, located on the banks of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, John’s financial dreams did not materialize, and he died in 1847, when Samuel was eleven. Partly by default and partly because of her personality, Jane Clemens became a central influence in Samuel’s life. In fact, the similarities between his mother and Olivia Langdon, his wife, were so pronounced that one could speculate that his mother’s influence subconsciously affected his choice of a wife.

Shortly after his father’s death, Samuel, probably for financial reasons, was apprenticed to a local printer, and his newspaper career was launched. In 1850, he went to work for his older brother, Orion, on the Hannibal Western Union, and until 1857, he worked as a typesetter for various newspapers. During this period, he also wrote sketches and published his first story. His newspaper career was fortuitously interrupted in 1857, when he learned to be a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi. Those experiences formed the basis for his Life on the Mississippi (1883) and also deepened the influence that the Mississippi had on the body of his work. In 1862, he first used the pen name “Mark Twain,” taken from the river boatmen’s cry to indicate two fathoms of safe water. When the outbreak of the Civil War brought his piloting career to an end, Twain served briefly with some Confederate “irregulars,” but he gladly accepted Orion’s offer to accompany him to Nevada, where Orion served as “secretary” to that territory.

During his Nevada years, Twain unsuccessfully prospected for gold and silver and successfully returned to the newspaper world, writing for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, where he developed, partly through emulating humorist Artemus Ward, his lecturing persona. In 1864, he moved to San Francisco, where he continued his newspaper work on the Morning Call and also contributed work to the Californian, a literary magazine. Among his California works was “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a short story that catapulted him to national prominence and established him as a spokesman for the vanishing American frontier. After a trip to Hawaii, about which he wrote and lectured, he left California in 1866 and went East to New York City.

Life’s Work

Twain’s decision to go east was a significant one. Despite his “frontier” humor and Southern speech, he became an Easterner who looked nostalgically to the South for his literary landscape and to the West for his values. In effect, Twain was split between the progressive, materialistic East of the future and the reactionary, individualistic Southwest of the past. Even Twain’s appearance seemed a contradiction: A handsome man given to elegant clothes (white suits became his trademark in his later years), he was also a cigar-smoker and whiskey-drinker who never became “genteel” in manner. Far from subscribing to the notion of “art for art’s sake,” he made writing his business and was ambitious both financially and socially. In fact, it was the split between art and business that produced works that appear inconsistent, contradictory, and careless. The pressure to make money did cause him to produce inferior work, as Twain himself acknowledged.

Shortly after moving to New York, Twain met Henry Ward Beecher, a prominent preacher and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). When he learned that Beecher’s congregation was planning a Mediterranean steamboat excursion to Europe and the Holy Land, he persuaded the Alta California to finance his trip in exchange for providing the newspaper with travel letters, which were popular at the time. The revised travel accounts eventually became The Innocents Abroad (1869), a book that enabled him to abandon his newspaper work and to devote his full attention to writing. The trip was also significant because it resulted in his marriage, in 1870, to Olivia Langdon, whose brother had met Twain on the voyage and had showed the author Olivia’s picture. During their thirty-three years of marriage, Olivia was the ideal wife and confidante, but she also served as an unofficial “editor” whose moral views tempered Twain’s writing.

After his marriage, Twain embarked on what was to become a typical divided course of action: He began to write Roughing It (1872), and he acquired part ownership of the Buffalo Express, the first of a series of unsuccessful business ventures. Another pattern was also established during the early years of the marriage: depression caused by sickness and death. Olivia’s father died in 1870; Olivia herself was sick and gave birth prematurely to their first child, Langdon, who died in 1872. Despite these setbacks, Twain moved his family to Hartford, Connecticut, where he built an impressive mansion, a symbol of his ambition and materialism.

Twain’s Hartford years were his most productive artistically and financially. In 1873, he published, in collaboration with his Hartford neighbor, Charles Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age, his first attempt at an extended work of fiction. After successfully adapting the novel to the stage (1874), he published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876 and, in 1880, published another travel book, A Tramp Abroad. In 1882, The Prince and the Pauper appeared, and in 1884, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, his most artistic and significant novel, was published. Within a month, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was embroiled in censorship problems that continued to plague the novel, but the novel also quickly became a best-seller and has become one of the most widely read and taught novels in American literature.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was the first publication of the Charles L. Webster Publication Company, which Twain formed after having problems with his previous publishers. Like his father, Twain believed that he had business acumen, and the financial success of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (1885-1886), which Twain published in his publishing company, Charles L. Webster and Company, confirmed his belief that he was both a financial and artistic genius. In 1886, an overconfident Twain, who optimistically believed in technology and in the promise of a typesetting machine, acquired half ownership of the Paige Typesetter; in 1889, he purchased all rights to the machine. By the time Twain ended his futile speculation in the ill-fated invention, he had accumulated debts of $100,000. In an effort to economize, he closed his Hartford house in 1891 and moved to Europe, but he was bankrupt by 1894. Even his substantial earnings from the publication of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) and Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894) could not compensate for the financial strain caused by his obsession with the typesetting machine.

Twain, to his credit, did not attempt to take advantage of bankruptcy laws and instead set about paying off his debts by undertaking an exhausting round-the-world lecture tour in 1895 and by continuing to publish books: Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896), and Following the Equator (1897), a travel account prompted by his 1895 lecture tour. These sales, coupled with a lucrative contract with Harper and Row for rights to his collected works, enabled Twain to pay off his debts in full by January of 1898. Although he recovered financially, Twain suffered several setbacks from which he never fully recovered. While he was in England in 1896, his favorite daughter died of meningitis; his already frail wife died in 1904, after suffering from physical and mental problems; his daughter Clara married and settled in Europe in 1909; Jean, his other daughter, died scarcely two months after Clara’s marriage.

Despite the misfortunes that plagued him after 1898, Twain continued to write prolifically, but most of this material, because of its nihilistic philosophy, was not published until after his death. Olivia, who was concerned about his image and who served as his literary editor/censor, opposed the publication of the deterministic tract What Is Man? (1906). The Mysterious Stranger, which occupied Twain for several years and which existed in various versions, was not published until 1916, when Albert Bigelow Paine, Twain’s official biographer, conflated the versions and published his reconstruction as Twain’s own work. Twain, who had been left quite alone by Clara’s marriage and the deaths of his wife and other children, died April 21, 1910, long before the American public had been made aware of the “literary Lincoln’s” darker side.

Summary

In many ways, Mark Twain was as contradictory a person as his real name and pen name suggest. The adoption of the pen name indicates, to some extent, a person not content with himself but determined to forge a new personality, to create a new person—in effect, not unlike James Gatz/Jay Gatsby, to be both creator and creature. Like Gatsby, too, Twain was caught up in the American dream of material success, social ascent, and technological progress; unlike Gatsby, however, he came to satirize and scorn many of the values to which he subscribed.

For most Americans, Mark Twain is indelibly associated with Huckleberry Finn, the youthful protagonist who “lights out for the territory” rather than return to the “civilization” represented by Aunt Sally. Yet The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains another juvenile persona who only “plays” at nonconformity and rebellion: Tom Sawyer. There is as much Tom Sawyer in Twain as there is Huckleberry Finn. Even The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is more than it appears to be, juvenile fiction in the vein of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; it is also an initiation novel which depicts a boy’s adventures and his inner growth, presents the conflict between appearance and reality, and satirizes Southern gentility and aristocratic pretension. Because The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is such an enjoyable story, however, many readers ignored the Colonel Sherburn incident, with its scathing indictment of mankind. For many readers, Mark Twain was the lecturer-writer of juvenile fiction and travel books, a humorous teller of frontier tales.

Twain’s humor was considerably blacker than the general public, which lionized him, believed. In some ways, his humor was similar to Ambrose Bierce’s, but that similarity was overlooked by a public which dubbed the latter “Bitter Bierce.” As his ambitious entrepreneurial schemes failed and his loved ones died, Twain became increasingly pessimistic about men and about institutions, and his later works are marked by pessimism, determinism, and nihilism. Although Twain was nostalgic about the innocence of children, the children in The Mysterious Stranger are light-years away from Tom and Huck. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court provides yet another example of public unwillingness to confront the complexity that was Twain. Twain’s novel satirizes the institutions, particularly chivalry and the Church, of medieval England, which is juxtaposed to turn-of-the-century America, represented by Hank Morgan, a believer in progress and technology. Morgan’s well-intentioned technology, however, ultimately produces only death. When Twain’s novel was adapted to film, it was bowdlerized into a musical starring Bing Crosby.

Twain was very much a product of his age. As a spokesman for an already vanishing frontier, he lampooned the pretense and the institutions of the East while he yearned for the lost values of youth and individualism. These nineteenth century values were in conflict with the twentieth century technology he first embraced and then, like Henry Adams, came to despise.

Bibliography

Brooks, Van Wyck. The Ordeal of Mark Twain. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1920. A seminal book on Mark Twain in which Twain is seen as a victim of his environment. Brooks’s book criticizes the role that Eastern respectability had in neutering Twain’s work and discusses the frontier as a negative influence.

DeVoto, Bernard. Mark Twain’s America. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1932. DeVoto’s book attacks the thesis espoused by Brooks and insists that the frontier, particularly frontier humor, actually made Twain a better writer. DeVoto’s book is seen as a healthy corrective to Brooks’s book.

Ferguson, John De Lancey. Mark Twain: Man and Legend. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1943. A well-written study that takes into account previous Twain scholarship. Contains some particularly interesting commentary on the significance of the river in Twain’s fiction.

Geismar, Maxwell. Mark Twain: An American Prophet. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1970. Geismar opposes the view that commercial interests and censorship weakened Twain’s work and claims that Twain’s greatness was partly a result of his lifelong interest in the past and in childhood.

Lynn, Kenneth S. Mark Twain and Southwestern Humor. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1959. A sympathetic treatment of Twain’s use of Southwestern folk humor in which Lynn discusses Twain’s artistic use of that humor.

Miller, Robert K. Mark Twain. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1983. Miller’s book contains a biography and helpful critical analyses of Twain’s major works.

Salomon, Roger B. Twain and the Image of History. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1961. One of the best treatments of Twain’s conceptions of history and of human nature, Salomon’s book explores the role of the dream as a means of escaping the implications of Twain’s nihilism.

Smith, Henry Nash. Mark Twain: The Development of a Writer. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962. Smith traces Twain’s problems with style and structure in several of his novels, examines his ethical ideas, and discusses the conflict between contemporary culture and native American humor.

Tenney, Thomas Asa. Mark Twain: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall and Co., 1977. The most comprehensive bibliography of Mark Twain scholarship, the book is indispensable to the Twain scholar.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Mark Twain: The Man and His Work. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1935. Reprint. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967. A good overview of Twain and his work. Slightly changed from its first edition and contains a helpful bibliography.

Mark Twain Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Twain showed that literary art of international reputation could be made from the simplicities of rural American life and that the comic representation of that life did not necessarily have to patronize the actions and ideas of simple people trying to lead decent lives in a country still physically and intellectually unformed. He made Americans proud of his celebration of childhood innocence and childhood character and aware of the physical beauty and the psychological greatness of its midwestern landscape. He also showed that a comic writer need not eschew serious ideas and that the imagination of a writer of adventure literature could be used to consider serious human themes.

Mark Twain Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

After his education was cut short by the death of a stern father who had more ambition than success, at the age of eleven Mark Twain was apprenticed to a newspaper office, which, except for the money earned from four years of piloting on the Mississippi, supplied most of his income until 1868. Then, he quickly won eminence as a lecturer and author before his marriage to wealthy Olivia Langdon in 1870 led to a memorably comfortable and active family life which included three daughters. Although always looking to his writing for income, he increasingly devoted energy to business affairs and investments until his publishing house declared bankruptcy in 1894. After his world lecture tour of 1895-1896, he became one of the most admired figures of his time and continued to earn honors until his death in 1910.

Mark Twain Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri, in 1835. He first used the pen name Mark Twain, taken from the leadsman’s cry for two fathoms of water, in 1862. Twain’s father was a Virginia lawyer, and the family was of poor but respectable southern stock. In 1839, the family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, the Mississippi River town that provided the source material and background of some of Twain’s best-known fiction. After his father died in 1847, Twain left school to become an apprentice in the printing shop of his brother, Orion. From 1853 to 1856, Twain worked as a journeyman printer in St. Louis, New York, Philadelphia, Keokuk, and Cincinnati.

Between 1857 and 1860, Twain acquired much of his knowledge of the Mississippi River as a pilot, beginning that short though richly productive career under the tutelage of a senior pilot, Horace Bixby. He was a Confederate volunteer for several weeks after the American Civil War began. In 1861, he left for the Nevada Territory with Orion, where he drifted into prospecting and journalism, beginning his career as a reporter with the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise and continuing it with the San Francisco Morning Call.

Twain’s literary career and the beginning of his fame might be said to have begun in 1865 with the publication in the New York Saturday Press of “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” (later known as “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”). As a journalist, he went to the Sandwich Islands in 1866 and to Europe and the Holy Land in 1867. The latter of the two provided him with the experiences that he shaped into his first book, The Innocents Abroad. Hisnarrative of pioneers striving to establish civilization on the frontier, Roughing It, appeared in 1872, and his first novel-length fiction, The Gilded Age, written with Charles Dudley Warner, came in 1873.

In 1870, Twain married Olivia Langdon. After beginning their married life in Buffalo, New York, they resettled in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1871. Their infant son, Langdon, died in 1872, the year Susy, their first daughter, was born. Her sisters, Clara and Jean, were born in 1874 and 1880, respectively. Twain’s most productive years as a novelist came in this middle period when his daughters were young and he was prospering. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court were all written during this highly productive period.

By 1890, Twain’s financial fortunes were crumbling, mostly owing to bad investment in his own publishing firm and in the Paige typesetter. In 1891, he closed the Hartford mansion, sold the furniture, and went to Europe to economize. In 1896, after he completed a round-the-world lecture tour, his daughter, Susy, died, and his wife shortly afterward suffered a nervous collapse from which she never recovered. Twain blamed himself for bringing on his beloved family the circumstances that led to both tragedies. His abiding skepticism about human nature deepened to cynicism and found expression in those dark stories of his last years, such as “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” “The Mysterious Stranger,” and the essay “What Is Man?” Twain died in 1910 at the age of seventy-four in Redding, Connecticut.

Mark Twain Biography (Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri. Four years later, his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, the fictionalized St. Petersburg of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Dawson’s Landing of The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894). As a youth, Twain learned the printer’s trade, but in 1857 he fulfilled his boyhood dream of becoming a steamboat pilot, which he describes in “Old Times on the Mississippi” (1876) and Life on the Mississippi (1883). After the Civil War (1861-1865) ended commercial steamboat traffic on the Lower Mississippi River, he spent the next five years (1861-1866) as a miner and journalist in California and the Nevada Territory, an experience he later recounted in the highly fictionalized Roughing It (1872). It was during this period that he first used the pseudonym Mark Twain (a nautical term for two fathoms of water).

With the publication of “Jim Smiley and His Frog” (later republished as “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”) in New York’s The Saturday Press in 1865, Twain came to national attention, not as a serious, respectable writer, however, but as a southwestern humorist. He traveled to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), lectured widely, and in 1867 he toured the Mediterranean and Holy Land, culling material for his masterwork of American-style humorous irreverence, The Innocents Abroad (1869).

Twain’s marriage to Olivia Langdon, the daughter of a New York coal baron, in 1870, had a double effect. It not only provided him with the emotional and social stability he craved but also further accentuated the division in his own personality, the split between the frontier humorist whose work and person were not tolerated in polite company and the serious writer who longed for literary and social acceptance. Continuing to mine his own experiences for literary material, Twain produced his two best-known works, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. His business ventures during the 1880’s and early 1890’s, such as the formation of his own publishing firm, Charles L. Webster and Company, and his obsession with new inventions, especially the Paige automatic typesetter, brought about his bankruptcy in 1894.

From mid-1895 to mid-1896, Twain went on a lecture tour around the world in order to pay off his creditors in full. His behavior was a matter of personal obligation rather than legal necessity. Although by 1904 he was once again prosperous and celebrated, the memory of the earlier bankruptcy and the deaths of his wife and daughter darkened his final years and caused him to accentuate the pessimistic strain that had never been very far from the surface of even his most humorous work. His gloom, in particular his growing belief that human life was entirely determined and as entirely devoid of meaning, led him to suppress certain works that he believed were too shocking for publication and to leave others, including his “mysterious stranger” manuscripts, unfinished. “The Lincoln of our literature,” as his friend William Dean Howells called him, died on April 21, 1910.

Mark Twain Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111201282-Twain.jpgMark Twain Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835. His father and mother both came from old Virginia families. His father was trained as a lawyer; somewhat feckless and unsuccessful in business, he moved slowly westward, involving himself in land speculation. In 1839, the family reached Hannibal, Missouri, a small town on the Mississippi River upriver from St. Louis, and it was there that Twain spent his early childhood and developed his love of the great river.

His father died when Twain was twelve years old, and Twain left school to learn the trade of printing, which his brother had entered before him. Twain spent several years as a roving journeyman printer, working as far east as New York City. In 1857, he was taken on by Horace Bixby, who trained him as a Mississippi steamboat pilot, a trade he practiced until the Civil War. The war wrecked the Mississippi River traffic, so in 1861 he went with his brother, Orion, to Carson City, Nevada, where Orion worked as a secretary in the new territorial government. Twain drifted into silver mining and eventually back to journalism with the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. It was in 1862 that he first adopted the pen name Mark Twain. Within a few years, while writing for newspapers in San Francisco, his composition of short sketches and stories was encouraged by Bret Harte.

Twain was developing a minor reputation as a humorist and lecturer in the mid-1860’s, but it was the publication of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” in 1865 in the New York Saturday Press that brought him countrywide attention. He had a further success with a series of articles about a trip to Hawaii, commissioned by the Sacramento Union in 1866, and from then on he was able to make a living on the lecture circuit. The first major work to come out of this was The Innocents Abroad (1869), which was received with considerable praise, tempered by some criticism of the author’s Western lack of polish and discretion.

His experience as a Mississippi pilot and his wandering life as a printer, writer, and jack-of-all-trades gave him the raw material for a successful career as a writer and a lecturer. In 1870, he was able to marry Olivia Langdon of Elmira, New York, the daughter of a respected member of the eastern establishment. In 1870, Twain became joint owner and editor of the Buffalo, New York, newspaper the Express, but two years later he sold his interest, having lost a considerable amount of money in the project. He withdrew from newspaper work to Hartford, Connecticut, where he was to spend the following two decades and where he settled seriously into his career as a novelist. Some critics have suggested that this entrance into genteel social life affected the power of his work, but it was after this date that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and, indeed, all of his major novels were to be written.

Twain was never to forget his past, and his greatest book, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and his greatest nonfiction work, Life on the Mississippi (1883), are directly related to the time and place of his early experiences as a child and a young man. However long he remained away from the Midwest, he was never to lose his allegiance to it, and the somewhat rough-cast quality of his humor, which is often seen as an integral part of his literary gift, has a rural, Western tang to it which no amount of New England gentility could ever expunge.

It is probably fair to say that his best work was done by the end of the 1880’s. Certainly it is true that his work after that time becomes much more pessimistic, and the publications of the 1890’s are his least read, and certainly least popular, titles, although he continued to write into the twentieth century.

The reasons for the change from comic happiness to work of misanthropic gloom are complicated. There were occasional moments of cruelty in his work from the beginning, and he could be satirically sharp, as he showed as early as The Innocents Abroad. There clearly is a quantitative increase in human stupidity and violence from work to work through the period prior to 1890. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, published in 1889, if still ripe with the richness of invention that was one of his gifts, is a much more violent book than anything he had produced previously, and it rejects the happy endings of many of his early novels. So the tendency was there, and the works leading through the period between the late 1860’s to the beginning of the 1890’s show an interesting pattern of slowly increasing seriousness and pessimism.

In the 1890’s, Twain’s life outside literature added to his pessimism. He lost a large amount of money early in the decade in a business proposition. His health began to fail, and the ill health and eventual deaths of his two daughters and his wife plunged him into unmitigated sorrow through the 1890’s and into the early years of the twentieth century. The literature produced in this period clearly reflects not only his increasing pessimism as he grew older but also the unimpeded run of bad luck and personal sorrow that he experienced up to his own death in 1910. This is the Twain known in the main to the critics; it does not detract from his reputation as one of the great comic writers or from his reputation as the writer of, perhaps, the best book ever written about the joys of being a young boy, free at last on the great river.

Twain did, however, write a considerable amount of material during the l890’s. His financial difficulties hardly allowed him to stop working, and he spent a lot of time both in the United States and internationally on the lecture circuit, amusing audiences. Following the Equator (1897) reveals his feelings about the experience of appearing publicly as the smiling, professional humorist at a time when his personal life was so unhappy. The book that is best known from this period is The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), and it carries the stamp of Twain’s deepening pessimism. He wrote a further handful of books, but the gloom was undiminished in all of his later work. He died in 1910, having lost his wife in 1904, as something of an enigma, a man of sometimes fierce misanthropic impulses who had begun his career as the sunniest of men.

Mark Twain Biography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Author Profile

Mark Twain’s most famous work, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, has been banned in classrooms and libraries since its first year of American publication, 1885. At the prodding of Louisa May Alcott, the public library of Concord, Massachusetts, banned the book, charging that it was unsuitable for impressionable young people. Such criticism died down until the racially charged environment of the 1960’s, when African Americans began calling the novel “racist trash.” Attempts to ban the book achieved prominent attention as in 1989, when a black administrator of an intermediate school named after Mark Twain in Fairfax, Virginia, pushed to ban the book.

Other censored works by Mark Twain include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), which the Brooklyn Library in New York banned on its publication, calling it too coarse for young readers. During Mark Twain’s brief 1864 stint as a news reporter for the San Francisco Call, his editor censored and suppressed his articles exposing social problems and police misconduct in order not to offend the paper’s largely white and working- class readers. Anti-British sentiments expressed in the novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) and the travel book Following the Equator (1897) provoked mild attempts to ban these books in Great Britain. Communist nations, particularly the Soviet Union and China, have banned some of Mark Twain’s work as “bourgeois” literature, while simultaneously lionizing his antireligious and anti-imperialistic writings.

Family and Friends

As a printer’s apprentice on Missouri newspapers, the young Sam Clemens wrote occasional articles, but felt constrained by his older brother, Orion Clemens, who restricted his humorous jibes. Conflicts with Orion contributed to his leaving Hannibal in 1853 for the East Coast, where he worked as a printer. Mark Twain’s real career as a writer began in Nevada in 1862, when he became a reporter for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. After one of his irreverent sketches that was reprinted in an Iowa newspaper offended his mother and sister, he asked to have his initials removed from later sketches republished in the East so not to upset his female relatives.

In later years friends such as fellow writer and Atlantic Monthly editor William Dean Howells and Mary Mason Fairbanks both provided editorial suggestions and cuts to his works they felt might offend potential readers. Fairbanks persuaded Mark Twain to tone down his barbs at religion in the 1867 travel letters he wrote from Europe and the Holy Land that became the basis for his hugely popular book Innocents Abroad (1869). In later years, when he became concerned with maintaining appearances of propriety, Mark Twain himself allowed friends and family members to suggest deletions and changes in his writings. However, he often rankled under their suggestions, which he did not always accept.

His wife, Livy, was particularly concerned about his use of coarse language. For example, she persuaded him to rephrase “combed it all to hell” to “combed it all to thunder” in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Despite later claims that Livy’s censorship blunted Mark Twain’s satirical potential, her suggestions helped him to improve his literary style and to retain his reading audience, and he was grateful for her assistance.

During Mark Twain’s last years, his daughters provided editorial advice, particularly when his political essays grew too brutal and harsh. His polemic King Leopold’s Soliloquy (1906), for example, was found so scathing it was determined unsuitable for magazine publication, and was instead issued as a pamphlet. His daughter Jean helped persuade him not to publish his bitter antiwar polemic, “The War Prayer.” After Mark Twain died, another daughter, Clara, instructed the author of a short book about his time in Bermuda not to include potentially compromising photographs of him with young girls. She believed that readers might misconstrue his affection for the children.

Sex

As a Victorian era male, Mark Twain was uneasy about publishing overtly sexual material in his writings. He effectively censored himself by simply avoiding the subject. For example, his books Roughing It (1872) and Life on the Mississippi (1883) do not even hint at the existence of prostitution in western mining towns or on Mississippi steamboats. His autobiographical pieces, such as a memoir of Hannibal village residents that he wrote in 1897, deliberately sentimentalized his childhood, avoiding references to adultery and sexual practices of which he was clearly aware.

Mark Twain did, however, occasionally write scatological pieces privately, such as 1601 (written in 1876), a bawdy parody on Elizabethan manners. In 1879 he delivered a speech on masturbation, “Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism,” in Paris. Mark Twain had 1601 privately printed in the 1880’s and many unauthorized editions followed, but his “Onanism” speech was not published until 1964—in Fact and Playboy magazines.

Philosophical Issues

Throughout his life, Mark Twain was interested in censorship. He observed the censorship of other authors, repeatedly decrying attackers of his philosophical mentor, essayist Thomas Paine. He defended poet Walt Whitman while advising that Whitman’s Leaves of Grass be kept out of children’s hands because of its sexual frankness. A “Pudd’nhead Wilson” maxim in Following the Equator summed up his feelings on free expression:

It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.

Central to Mark Twain’s experiences with censorship were his views on Christianity. His attacks on religion resulted in a series of suppressions that continued fifty years after his death. For example, his anonymously published book What Is Man? (1906)—which he called his “Bible”—was tightly restricted; Mark Twain issued only 250 copies during his lifetime. He began writing Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven in 1881, but did not publish it until 1909 because he believed it could never be published “unless I trim it like everything.”

One of the most egregious examples of censorship of Mark Twain’s writings was his literary executor Albert Bigelow Paine’s publication of The Mysterious Stranger in 1916. Although Paine represented this book as a novel written by Mark Twain, the published book was in fact a heavily edited and substantially rewritten version of two different manuscripts that Mark Twain had left unpublished. Among the many changes that Paine and Harper editor Frederick Duneka made was replacing an evil Roman Catholic priest with a nonsectarian astrologer and removing all direct references to the Catholic church.

Five chapters of his autobiography that Mark Twain dictated in 1906 that were titled “Reflections on Religion” were suppressed by Mark Twain himself, Paine, and sole surviving daughter, Clara Clemens, until 1963. The selections finally appeared in the Hudson Review after two other magazines rejected them as too inflammatory. Mark Twain himself had directed that the passages not be published until a hundred years after his death. At the time he dictated them, he wrote to his friend Howells saying, “Tomorrow I mean to dictate a chapter that will get my heirs and assigns burnt alive if ever they venture to print it this side of 2006 a.d.—which I judge they won’t.” On some manuscripts, he prohibited publication for five centuries. These directives, which converged with the desires of his family and literary heirs, created one of the most interesting episodes of censorship in American literary history.

Posthumous Censorship

After Mark Twain died, his daughter Clara and his literary executor, Paine, suppressed and selectively edited for publication many of his previously unpublished manuscripts in order to preserve his image as a wholesome, kindly funnyman. Some of their efforts followed Mark Twain’s own instructions. In other cases, however, decisions to censor arose from Clara’s and Paine’s own biases. For example, Paine’s authorized biography of Mark Twain virtually ignores Mark Twain’s personal secretary Isabel Lyon, whom Clara disliked. More often, however, Paine—who controlled publication of Mark Twain’s manuscripts until his own death in 1935—was simply reluctant to publish anything negative about Mark Twain.

After Paine died, Clara frequently quarreled with Bernard DeVoto, who succeeded Paine as her father’s literary editor. DeVoto—an accomplished scholar in his own right—wished to publish manuscripts that Clara feared might offend relatives of persons Mark Twain criticized in his autobiographical passages. DeVoto had earlier been hindered by Paine’s refusal to let him inspect unpublished manuscripts. Unlike Paine or Clara, DeVoto understood the purely commercial value of keeping Mark Twain scholarship alive and controversial. He believed that Mark Twain’s autobiography manuscripts—which he had composed with publication in mind—should not be edited or suppressed. After DeVoto published a selection of his material in Mark Twain in Eruption (1940), he discovered that Clara had suppressed passages without his knowledge. For this and other reasons, he resigned his position as editor of the Mark Twain Papers in frustration.

Clara also rigorously opposed publication of her father’s Letters from the Earth, a savage satire on Christian beliefs that DeVoto prepared for publication in 1939. Mark Twain himself had worried about publishing this material. In 1909 he wrote to a friend saying that the book “will never be published—in fact it couldn’t be because it would be a felony.” Shortly before her own death in 1962, Clara finally consented to publication of Letters from the Earth. By then she realized that her father’s religious ideas were well known, and that Americans were more tolerant of dissenting views of religion than in her father’s time.

Meanwhile, Clara had refused to allow publication of the “Reflections on Religion” passages in Charles Neider’s 1959 edition, Autobiography of Mark Twain. She believed that communists might find support for their ideology in her father’s attacks on the Christian god, and she feared his sacrilegious opinions might provoke social turmoil and invite attacks on his reputation. She told Neider that publication of The Mysterious Stranger had already established her father’s darker philosophical side, and that she did not want him perceived as “a dark angel.” Clara was also privately unhappy with her father’s negative writings on Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, as she was a member of that denomination.

After Neider noted Clara’s refusal to publish the religion passages in the introduction to his edition of the autobiography, the Soviet Union’s Literary Gazette published an editorial claiming that Mark Twain was being officially censored in his home country. These charges finally moved Clara to permit Neider to publish the “Reflections” passages—but not as part of the autobiography. Neider’s publisher, Harper & Row, agreed that the material did not belong in a “family book.” Even after Clara’s death, and after publication of “Reflections” in the Hudson Review in 1963, another twenty-three years elapsed before the passages appeared in book form, in Neider’s, The Outrageous Mark Twain (1987). A number of clergymen reacted against the piece, including Roman Catholic bishop Norman Vincent Peale, who accused Mark Twain of cowardice for not having published the material in his own lifetime.

After Clara’s death, other long-suppressed Mark Twain works—including many he had never intended for publication—began appearing in books edited by the Mark Twain Papers project at the University of California at Berkeley. Such project publications as What Is Man? and Other Philosophical Writings (1973), Which Was the Dream? and Other Symbolic Writings of the Later Years (1967), Fables of Man (1972), and The Devil’s Race-Track: Mark Twain’s Great Dark Writings (1980) contain unfinished novels, sketches, and literary fragments that had either never been previously published or that had appeared only in magazines or newspapers.

Bibliography

Briden, Earl F. “Twainian Pedagogy and the No- Account Lessons of ‘Hadleyburg.’” Studies in Short Fiction 28 (Spring, 1991): 125-234. Argues that within the context of Twain’s skepticism about man’s capacity for moral education “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” is not a story about a town’s redemptive lessons of sin but rather an exposé about humanity’s inability to learn morality from either theory or practice, abstract principle or moral pedagogy.

Camfield, Gregg. The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Collection of original essays, including several by other scholars, on diverse aspects of Twain’s life and writing, with encyclopedia reference features.

Emerson, Everett. Mark Twain: A Literary Life. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. A complete revision of Emerson’s The Authentic Mark Twain (1984), this masterful study traces the development of Twain’s writing against the events in his life and provides illuminating discussions of many individual works.

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. A broad survey of Mark Twain’s influence on modern culture, including the many writers who have acknowledged their indebtedness to him; discusses Twain’s use of Hannibal, Missouri, in his writings; charts his transformation from a southern racist to a committed antiracist.

Fulton, Joe B. Mark Twain in the Margins: The Quarry Farm Marginalia and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Alabama, 2000. An examination of the marginalia that Fulton finds revealing of the development of Twain’s Connecticut Yankee.

Kaplan, Justin. Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1966. Pulitzer Prize-winning biography is a superior general work on Twain’s life after 1861.

Lauber, John. The Inventions of Mark Twain. New York: Hill and Wang, 1990. Very well-written and often humorous, this biography reveals Twain as an extremely complex, self-contradictory individual. Includes an annotated bibliography.

LeMaster, J. R., and James D. Wilson, eds. The Mark Twain Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1993. Comprehensive reference work broadly similar in organization to Rasmussen’s Mark Twain A to Z, differing in devoting most of its space to literary analysis.

Leonard, James. S., ed. Making Mark Twain Work in the Classroom. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999. Collection of essays by leading Twain scholars designed for students and teachers. Special attention is given to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Joan of Arc, Innocents Abroad, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Messent, Peter B. Mark Twain. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. A standard introduction to Twain’s life and works. Provides bibliographical references and an index.

Messent, Peter B. The Short Works of Mark Twain: A Critical Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Detailed exploration of Twain’s shorter works that takes the innovative approach of examining how Twain planned the individual collections in which they were first published in book form.

Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain: A Biography. 3 vols. 1912. Reprint. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997. Often reprinted, this immense study by Twain’s authorized biographer and editor remains the fullest study of Twain’s life and benefits from Paine’s close personal acquaintance with Twain and his access to sources that no longer exist.

Rasmussen, R. Kent. Mark Twain A-Z. New York: Facts on File, 1995. (See Magill’s Literary Annual review) The most impressive reference tool available. Virtually every character, theme, place, and biographical fact can be researched in this compendious volume. Contains the most complete chronology ever compiled.

Sanborn, Margaret. Mark Twain: The Bachelor Years. New York: Doubleday, 1990. This biography covers the adventure-filled years from the author’s boyhood to marriage in 1870 at age thirty-four. Based on extensive research into letters written to Twain’s mother, sister, brothers, and close friends. Includes many letters not referenced by Twain’s official biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine. Also includes valuable insights gained from 184 letters written between 1868 and 1870, while courting Olivia Langdon, whom Twain eventually married.

Sloane, David E. E. Student Companion to Mark Twain. New York: Greenwood Press, 2001. Essays on aspects of Twain’s life, with special chapters on individual books.

Smith, Henry Nash. Mark Twain: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963. A collection of essays with an introduction by Smith. Among the contributors is W. H. Auden. A chronology of important dates in the author’s life is also included.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. University of California, 2001. The complete original manuscript, including more than six hundred excised pages.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Mark Twain: The Man and His Work. 3d ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967. A thorough revision of the 1935 work in which Wagenknecht considers the vast historical and critical study conducted between 1935 and 1960. He has modified many of his original ideas, most notably, that Mark Twain was “The Divine Amateur.” The original chapter with that title has been rewritten and renamed “The Man of Letters.”

Ward, Geoffrey C., and Dayton Duncan. Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. A heavily illustrated companion to the PBS television documentary. More than a picture book, however, this volume provides ample biographical information that is well researched and thoughtfully presented.

Wieck, Carl F. Refiguring “Huckleberry Finn.”Georgia, 2000. A novel approach to the meaning and influence of Twain’s best-known work; Wieck concentrates on certain key words to decipher the text.

Wilson, James D. A Reader’s Guide to the Short Stories of Mark Twain. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. Detailed summaries and analyses of sixty-five stories, including several that appear within Twain’s travel books.

Wonham, Henry B. Mark Twain and the Art of the Tall Tale. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Discusses how Twain used the tall-tale conventions of interpretive play, dramatic encounters, and the folk community. Focuses on the relationship between storyteller and audience in Twain’s fiction.

Mark Twain Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mark Twain is both the greatest humorist American literature has produced and one of its most important novelists. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the son of John Marshall and Jane Lampton Clemens, in the small town of Florida, Missouri, he spent his boyhood in nearby Hannibal on the banks of the Mississippi River, a setting that would figure prominently in many of his best works. His father died before he turned twelve, and he quit school and went to work as a printer’s apprentice a few years later. While working on his older brother’s newspaper, he began writing humorous sketches. In 1852, he published his first piece in the East, “The Dandy Frightening the Squatter,” which appeared in a Boston magazine. A year later, he left Hannibal and found work as a printer in several eastern cities before deciding, at the age of twenty-one, to set out for South America. While traveling down the Mississippi River by steamboat, however, he altered his plans and persuaded a steamboat pilot to teach him his trade.{$S[A]Clemens, Samuel Langhorne;Twain, Mark}

Twain’s career as a pilot was cut short by the Civil War, and after a two-week stint in a Missouri militia unit, he went with his brother to Nevada. There, he made unsuccessful forays into silver mining and adopted the pseudonym “Mark Twain”—a nautical phrase meaning two fathoms deep—while working for a Virginia City newspaper. After relocating to San Francisco, he wrote the story that would win him national recognition, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (early titles vary). The story shows Twain already a master of the deadpan, Western-flavored tall tale, and its use of dialect introduces the idiomatic style that would help earn him a place among the giants of American literature.

As a reporter for the Sacramento Union, Twain traveled to Hawaii in 1866 and sent home humorous travel sketches in the form of letters. In 1867, he embarked for Europe and the Holy Land as a newspaper travel correspondent, and his revised and expanded sketches were published in his first major book in 1869, The Innocents Abroad. That book’s immense popularity soon made its author a familiar figure on the lecture circuit. In 1870, Twain married Olivia Langdon, with whom he had four children, only one of whom outlived him. The couple eventually resettled in Hartford, Connecticut, where they remained for twenty years. Roughing It, Twain’s comical recollections of his time in the West, was published in 1872 and was followed the next year by The Gilded Age, a social and political satire that he cowrote with his friend Charles Dudley Warner.

In 1876, Twain published what would become one of his best-loved novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Drawing on his memories of his childhood in Hannibal, Twain created a rollicking portrait of an American boyhood characterized by high spirits, a thirst for adventure, and an irrepressible talent for mischief. The book became a classic and has never been out of print.

In 1884, Twain completed a novel he had begun eight years earlier. Generally acknowledged as his greatest work, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a scathing social satire disguised as a young boy’s adventure. During the course of Huck’s trip downriver with the runaway slave Jim, he encounters the hypocrisy, greed, and cruelty of “civilized” society and notes, in the book’s famous final passage, “I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.” Criticized as crude and vulgar by some at the time of its publication, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has since entered the ranks of the most important and influential American novels; it was praised by Ernest Hemingway as the beginning of modern American fiction.

Although Twain’s final years were marred by business failures and personal sorrow (the deaths of his wife and two daughters), Twain found himself a celebrated and beloved public figure, recognized throughout the world and a legend in his own time. His last years were devoted to philosophical works, often dark and bitter in tone, and to his autobiography, a portion of which was edited and published after his death by his official biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine. When Twain died of heart disease in 1910, he left an immense body of unpublished writings in various stages of completion.

Mark Twain’s reputation as a writer has grown in the years since his death as the richness of his legacy has come to be appreciated by subsequent generations of readers and critics. He is often credited with giving American literature its first uniquely American voice, and the color and vibrancy of his work stand in stark contrast to the elegant language and seriousness of tone that mark other nineteenth century novels. Yet Twain’s command of language was one of his chief strengths, and his genius lay in his ability to make even the roughest of dialects serve his purposes as eloquently as the most refined and educated of accents. Twain brought the energy and truth-stretching humor of the West to his work and used it to entertain society with an account of its own foibles and vices.

Mark Twain Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Mark Twain's life is important to his writing, for his major works rely upon materials from his Hannibal, Missouri, boyhood and his careers...

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Mark Twain Biography (Short Stories for Students)

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The son of John Marshall Clemens, a judge, and Jane Lampton Clemens in Hannibal, Missouri, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910) adopted the...

(The entire section is 459 words.)

Mark Twain Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri, on November 30,1835, the sixth child of John and Mary Clemens. In 1839,...

(The entire section is 1186 words.)

Mark Twain Biography (Short Stories for Students)

Mark Twain is the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who was born November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri, the youngest of six children....

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Mark Twain Biography (Novels for Students)

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, more commonly known by his pseudonym, Mark Twain, was born in 1835 in what he later called "the almost invisible...

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Mark Twain Biography (The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County: Literary Touchstone Classic)

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 with knots at three-foot intervals was dropped into the river, and when the rope hit bottom, the depth was called out to the pilot. Therefore, “Mark Twain” or “two knots” literally means “six 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. Twain also became a very popular lecturer, drawing huge crowds to hear him read his own works.

Family tragedies, including the death of his beloved daughter, and a series of bad financial investments left him bitter and depressed in his old age. His later writings, most of which were published posthumously, reflect his disappointment at what he saw were grave weaknesses and flaws in human nature.

Mark Twain died in 1910; his death, like his birth, coincided with the appearance of Halley's Comet.

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.

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Mark Twain Biography (Novels for Students)

Mark Twain (the most well-known pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemons) was born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835, and grew up in...

(The entire section is 475 words.)

Mark Twain Biography (Novels for Students)

Mark Twain Published by Gale Cengage

Best known as Mark Twain Samuel Clemens was born 30 November 1835 and raised in Hannibal, Missouri. There he...

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Mark Twain Biography (Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Mark Twain Published by Gale Cengage

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in the village of Florida, Missouri. When his father died in 1847,...

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Mark Twain Biography (Short Stories for Students)

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in the village of Florida, Missouri. Although his early life was spent in...

(The entire section is 409 words.)

Mark Twain Biography (Short Stories for Students)

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835 in Florida, Missouri. He spent much of his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri, a town...

(The entire section is 401 words.)