The Autobiography of Mark Twain

by Mark Twain

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Olivia Langdon Clemens

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Olivia Langdon Clemens is Twain's wife. Often referred to as "Livy," or ‘‘Mrs. Clemens,’’ Olivia is an invalid most of her life due to a partial paralysis from a fall on the ice at age sixteen. Twain first learns of Olivia from her brother Charley, one of Twain's shipmates on the Quaker City excursion.

Twain meets Olivia for the first time following the Quaker City excursion. He begins to court Olivia, and proposes to her on several occasions, but she initially denies his proposals. Twain then fakes an injury following an accident at Olivia's house, and she ends up nursing him back to health. The next time he proposes, she accepts. As a wedding gift, Olivia's father buys the young couple a house in Buffalo, New York. Olivia's father tells Olivia about the house, but she and her father hide the fact from Twain for a time, using it as the basis to play a joke on him.

Olivia is much more affectionate than Twain, who was brought up to be reserved. She acts as Twain's inspiration through their many years of poverty and debt, and edits most of his written works. Olivia helps preserve her husband's literary reputation in other ways as well. When his publishing company fails, Olivia is the one who first suggests to her husband that he pay back everything that is owed to the company's creditors, so that Twain's character is not stained. She also supports Twain's decision to destroy lower quality manuscripts before he is tempted to sell them and discourages him from lending his name as editor to a humorous periodical, which would pay a large salary but would be a step down for a writer of his stature.

Olivia and Twain have several children together. Their firstborn, Langdon, dies as a baby after complication stemming from a cold. They also bury their second child, Susy, after Susy contracts meningitis at age twenty-four.

Olivia herself becomes ill on several separate occasions during the last decade of her life, when she and Twain are doing a lot of traveling. However, she recovers from these maladies. During the last two years of her life, she falls seriously ill and ultimately dies of heart failure at Twain's villa.

Orion Clemens

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Orion Clemens is Twain's oldest sibling. He is an enterprising individual with many optimistic ideas, but his bad business sense gets him into trouble when he puts money into a string of ill-fated investments. He is so honest that as soon as he buys a business, he reduces the price of the product so far that he cannot afford to pay his overhead.

Orion has other misadventures. He gets engaged to two Illinois girls, until one of them forces him to break off the other engagement and marry her. He and his new wife move to her hometown and buy a newspaper office. Twain often helps out Orion, such as when he works in Orion's newspaper office after leaving his printer's apprenticeship.

Through a friend, Orion secures the office of secretary of the new territory of Nevada, working under Governor Nye. His extreme honesty makes him popular with the legislature, who cannot trust one another. Nye is often absent from the territory, leaving Orion to act as governor. When Nye lobbies to turn the territory of Nevada into an official state, it is assumed that Orion will become secretary of state. However, on the day that he is to be nominated, Orion suddenly shifts his views from supporting alcohol to banning it, and the pro-alcohol community refuses to nominate him.

Jobless, Orion and his wife sell their Nevada...

(This entire section contains 306 words.)

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house at a reduced price, squander the money on a vacation in New York, then eventually settle in Hartford, Connecticut, where Twain helps Orion trick his way into an editing job. Against Twain's advice, Orion takes a better-paying editorial job in Virginia, from which he is eventually fired. Orion tries his hand at several more careers, including law, chicken farming, and inventing, but he does not find success, and repeatedly has to borrow money from Twain to survive.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens is the author and main character in his autobiography, in which he is referred to by both his real name, Clemens, and by his pseudonym, Mark Twain. In his autobiography, Twain sometimes paints himself in a positive light and sometimes not. He admits that he does not get all of his facts right, and states that he does not care, because the facts he presents will do just as well. He also jumps from topic to topic, talking about experiences when and how it pleases him. He notes that his intentions are to tell his story the way he wants to tell it, and not to censor himself.

A fiery, independent temperament is characteristic of Twain, who shares many of his experiences as a troublemaking child. After his father dies and the family is plunged into poverty, Twain is sent to work as a printer's apprentice, learning a trade that will serve him well in various other jobs throughout the United States.

Twain devotes his considerable energies towards many jobs as a young man, including working as a riverboat pilot, laborer, reporter, and lecturer. Eventually Twain's fiery spirit manifests itself in his sharp sense of humor—demonstrated throughout his autobiography—for which he becomes famous. Twain is also adventurous and travels extensively throughout his life, producing many lectures and books as a result of his travels. He mentions these works throughout his autobiography, and also notes the various people—celebrities and unknowns—that he meets in his lifetime.

While he is uncensored in his discussion of people he does not like, the people in his life who truly invoked his ire receive a special roasting in his autobiography. The people who most irritated him include: the writer, Bret Harte; a series of publishers who swindle him out of profits when he is a young, naïve author; and Charles Webster, Twain's neph-ew-in-law, whose deceptive and irresponsible behavior at his uncle's publishing company ruins Twain's fortune.

Twain is a family man and a significant portion of his autobiography is devoted to talking about his family life. During the last decade of his life, it greatly distresses him when he loses his oldest daughter Susy, his wife Olivia, and his youngest daughter Jean.

General Ulysses S. Grant

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General Grant is the Union general who eventually defeats Robert E. Lee and the Confederate army, thus winning the Civil War for the North. He also serves as President of the United States from 1869 to 1877.

Twain notes that during his two weeks in the Confederate army, he was almost captured by Grant, who was then a colonel. Twain meets Grant briefly on two separate occasions. Twain's literary status earns him an invitation to give a toast on Grant's behalf. During his toast, Twain tells a slightly irreverent joke about the general, who finds it very funny. From this point on, Twain and Grant become friends.

When Twain hears that Grant is going to publish his memoirs, he visits Grant to see what kind of deal Grant is getting from his publisher. When Twain realizes that the publisher is trying to swindle Grant, Twain offers to publish Grant's book himself, offering Grant a much better deal in the process.

Grant is hesitant at first, concerned that Twain will lose money on the deal. After one of Grant's friends examines Twain's publishing operation and finds it sound, the general relents and Twain publishes the book.

Grant's book is a huge success, and nets Grant's heirs about a half-million dollars, although Grant does not live to see it. On Grant's deathbed, his last request—to die as a general and not a president—is granted by Congress, even though Congress is officially out of session.

Bret Harte

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Bret Harte is one of Twain's writer friends, who becomes famous for his story "The Luck of the Roaring Camp.’’ Twain meets Harte in San Francisco, when Harte is the private secretary of the superintendent of the United States Mint, a position with very few duties that leaves him much free time to write.

Twain says that once Harte went east, all of Harte's good qualities departed. Twain goes on at length about Harte's vanity and the injustices that Harte has visited upon others, including Twain. Harte generally lives beyond his means—especially when it comes to his fashionable clothes—at the expense of his family, whom he has abandoned. At one point, Harte deliberately encourages his son to seek out the help of one of Harte's friends, then tries to stab him in the back.

Harte secures assignments that he does not complete, such as when he receives ten thousand dollars from the Atlantic Monthly for a year's worth of writings, then produces almost nothing. He goes on a streak of borrowing money from friends and acquaintances, most of whom he never pays back.

Harte's literary fame turns sour when he deliberately antagonizes his critics, after which time they give his works bad reviews. As a rule, he generally does not line up writing work until he is desperate for money, and he seems to only be able to write under deadline pressure.

Charles L. Webster

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Charles L. Webster is Twain's nephew-in-law, whom Twain initially hires to manage one of his investments. Twain loses forty-two thousand dollars on the investment, but does not hold Webster responsible for the loss.

Later, when Twain forms his own publishing company, he offers to put Webster in charge of it. Webster demands a large salary, which Twain thinks is very bold, since Twain himself never got paid to learn a new trade. Twain believes that Webster's initiative will make him rich, and even names the company after him.

The first book from Webster and Company, Twain's Huckleberry Finn, is a success. Although he had intended to use the company only to publish his own books, Twain does end up publishing General Ulysses S. Grant's memoir.

However, by signing a series of bad contracts that Webster's lawyer creates, Twain inadvertently gives away his decision-making power and profits to Webster. Eventually, Webster's mismanagement weakens the business. In an ironic twist, Webster places his trust into another employee, who ends up swindling Webster out of his profits. When Webster experiences problems from his increasing drug habit, Twain steps in and buys Webster's share of the business for twelve thousand dollars, although the company fails shortly thereafter.

Other Characters

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Elisha Bliss Elisha Bliss, who works for the American Publishing Company, offers Twain the contract for The Innocents Abroad, then delays publication of the book, for fear its humorous quality would offend readers, until Twain threatens a lawsuit. Ironically, the book is a success. Twain publishes several more books with Bliss, and it is only after Bliss's death that Twain finds out from the publishing company how badly Bliss had swindled him in skimming money from the company.

Clara Clemens Clara Clemens is Twain's second-born daughter. In her twenties, Clara is known as being extremely honest, and her mother Olivia believes that she cannot tell a lie. Clara is thus recruited to take care of her mother when her mother falls ill, so that she can lie to her mother about the severity of her illness.

Olivia is a very watchful person, and while she is in her sickbed, she analyzes every report that Clara gives her about the outside world. The lying is painful for Clara, who often has to create more lies to cover up inconsistencies in her stories. It is particularly difficult for Clara when Clara's sister Jean catches pneumonia, and Clara has to hide the illness from her mother. Clara is the only one of Twain's children who survives into adulthood.

Henry Clemens Henry Clemens is Twain's younger brother. He often tells his parents about Twain's many mischievous acts when he and Twain are children, and Twain makes Henry the object of many pranks. Because Henry rarely does anything naughty, Twain usually gets blamed when Henry actually does something bad.

Henry is injured in a steam boiler explosion while working as a mud clerk (a volunteer position) on Twain's riverboat. Although Henry survives the accident and begins to heal, he dies when some inexperienced young doctors give him an overdose of morphine. Twain has a prophetic dream about his brother's funeral a few days before the explosion.

Jean Clemens Jean Clemens is Twain's youngest child. She is energetic and enjoys being outdoors. She catches pneumonia at one point, although she eventually gets better. An epileptic, Jean dies in her father's home after she has an epileptic seizure and her heart fails, one day before Twain's last Christmas in 1909.

John Marshall Clemens John Marshall Clemens is Twain's father. He invests a small fortune in 100,000 acres of Tennessee land, which he thinks will be worth a lot of money to his family some day. Although this prospect gives him hope throughout hard financial times and even on his deathbed, the property becomes a burden to Twain and his brother Orion, who lose most of the property through mismanagement. When John loses several thousand dollars on a bad loan, he and his family are thrown into poverty. His luck changes when he is offered a new job, but he dies before he can start, forcing Twain to start work as a printer's apprentice.

Langdon Clemens Langdon is the firstborn child of Olivia and Twain. He dies as a baby after complications stemming from a cold.

Mrs. ClemensSee Olivia Langdon Clemens

Susy Clemens Susy Clemens is Twain's oldest daughter. A bright, inquisitive child, Susy contemplates the meaning of life at an early age. As a child, her passionate temper often gets her into trouble in fights with her younger sister, Clara. Still, she is very honest, and when she is caught doing something wrong, she always gives herself a just punishment.

At age thirteen, Susy begins writing a frank and honest biography of her father, which is flattering in spots and less so in others. Twain adores Susy's biography, which he reproduces in his own autobiography.

While Twain, his wife, and Clara are in England after Twain's final lecture tour, they receive word that Susy—who is supposed to travel to England to meet her family—is slightly ill. Olivia and Clara take a steamer back to Hartford to be with Susy, but she dies from meningitis (a disease that causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord) while they are in transit.

Jane Lampton Jane Lampton is Twain's mother. She knows that Twain is a troublemaker in his youth and believes that he deserves whatever retaliation his brother Henry dishes out. Her compassion for others is so great that she defends Satan when some townspeople put her to the test to see if she will go that far. On other occasions, she intervenes on behalf of both people and animals in danger of being beaten.

Jervis Langdon Jervis Langdon is Olivia Langdon's father. When Twain proposes to Olivia, Langdon checks out Twain's references, who do not speak well of the writer. In the end, Langdon overlooks this fact and allows the marriage. Out of concern for his daughter's welfare, however, he purchases a house in Buffalo, New York, for the new married couple.

LivySee Olivia Langdon Clemens

Henry H. Rogers Henry Rogers is a friend who saves Twain from many swindlers. He also negotiates with Twain's creditors to keep them from hounding Twain while he is on his lecture tour, earning back the debt incurred by the failure of Twain's publishing company, Webster and Company.

Mark TwainSee Samuel Langhorne Clemens