Chapters 1-17 Summary
The author explains to his readers that since the publication of his autobiography will happen after he is dead, he is "speaking from the grave,'' and so will not have to censor himself.
Clemens is born in the small village of Florida, Missouri. He remembers an uncle whom he admired, and describes this uncle's general store and the farm where Clemens stayed for a few months each year. Clemens says that he could never be totally equal with his Negro friends on the farm, due to their differences in skin color and social stature.
He recalls his mother and father, and explores his ancestral connection to Geoffrey Clement, who helped to sentence England's King Charles I to death. Clemens describes his father's purchase of 100,000 acres of then-worthless Tennessee land and the family's move to Hannibal, Missouri. He remembers his mother's death, and discusses her infinite compassion.
Clemens is a troublemaker and has problems at both school and home. As a teenager, he gets into more precarious situations. He fakes a trance for a hypnotist to get the approval of the audience, and has to act like it does not hurt when they stick him with pins. He reflects on various friends from his boyhood who have contacted him as an adult, then introduces his brother Orion.
Chapters 18-28 Summary
Clemens' s father dies in 1847, sending the family into poverty. Clemens becomes a printer's apprentice, then works for his brother Orion's newspaper. Orion is so honest that he lowers prices too far to make a profit, a trend he continues with other businesses.
Clemens decides to travel to South America, then becomes a riverboat pilot instead. In a dream, he predicts his brother Henry's upcoming death. He then joins the Confederate army for two weeks while in Louisiana.
Through a personal connection, Orion becomes secretary of the new territory of Nevada. Clemens moves to Nevada with him, and starts writing for the Virginia City Enterprise, eventually adopting his pseudonym Mark Twain a nautical term meaning two fathoms (twelve feet). When Twain's editor is out of town, Twain is challenged to a duel in the editor's place. The man who challenged Twain to a duel is scared away after one of the other men from the newspaper office creates a lie about Twain's marksmanship.
When Twain moves to San Francisco, he becomes the only reporter on the Morning Call. He covers the courts and the theaters, and creates news when there is not any. The editor hires an assistant to help Twain, and the assistant ends up doing Twain's job to the point where Twain gets fired.
Twain meets Bret Harte, a writer who becomes famous for a style of literature that mimics Dickens. Twain explains how Harte's character changed from honest to dishonest when Harte moved from San Francisco to the East.
Twain is sent by the Sacramento Union to the Sandwich Islands, where he writes about the survivors of a boat accident. Back in the United States, he begins a lecture tour as a result of his growing fame.
Chapters 29-35 Summary
Twain takes a trip around the world, then writes The Innocents Abroad based on his experiences. The book is a rousing success, but Twain gets swindled out of some of his royalties because he is uneducated about the publishing business.
Twain remembers his first lecturing experience and how he got on the national lecturing circuit through James Redpath's bureau in Boston. Twain lectures for three seasons, then retires to his married life.
Chapters 36-42 Summary
Twain discusses his courtship of and marriage to Olivia L. Langdon, an invalid most of her life, who denies Twain's proposals several times before agreeing to marry him. Twain's first child, Langdon, dies from complications due to a cold. His second child, Susy, is an inquisitive and passionate child who troubles over the meaning of human existence and who exhibits a mature sense of fairness. She undertakes a frank biography of her father when she is thirteen years old.
Chapters 43-52 Summary
While in San Francisco, Twain gets two potential...
(The entire section is 1,254 words.)