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Portrait of M. Twain
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MARK TWAIN
(SAMUEL LANGHORNE CLEMENS)
(1835-1910)


Mark Twain was perhaps only one of the numerous personae Samuel L. Clemens would create to mask his identity. Nom de plume of one of 19th century American literature's giants, Mark Twain carefully constructed an autobiography that transformed real life events into folklore and fiction.

 RAFTSMEN PLAYING CARDS by George Caleb Bingham
RAFTSMEN PLAYING CARDS by George Caleb Bingham
Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in the backwoods town of Florida, MO, he was the sixth of seven children. When Sam Clemens was four, the family moved to Hannibal, MO. His father, a stern would-be-lawyer who was forced to content himself by working as a farmer and shopkeeper, lived perpetually at the edge of bankruptcy until he died in 1847 when his son was eleven.

Withdrawn from formal schooling to help support the family, he held a variety of jobs ranging from printer to Mississippi steamboat pilot to prospector, to journalist and newspaper editor. In this last of his many roles, Clemens won the chance to serve as a foreign correspondent for San Francisco's Alta California in 1867. For three years he roamed Europe and the Middle East, donning the mask of a cigar-smoking, hard-drinking, godless, "Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope," as he christened himself. It was in the course of these travels that he met his future brother-in-law. By 1870 he had married Olivia Langdon, an heiress from Elmira, NY, and the couple had moved to a fine house in Buffalo, where Twain became the editor of the BUFFALO EXPRESS. The marriage, which lasted thirty-four years and produced three daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean, was, for all its seeming improbability, a love match. Twain referred to the proper, lady-like Livy as his angel, and though he continued to delight in wearing the gruff mask of a curmudgeon with the outside world, he was, at least in domestic matters, extraordinarily acquiescent--an indulgent father and a devoted husband.

Go Next Twain in Hartford

With the success of his first book based on his travels, INNOCENTS ABROAD, in 1869, Twain decided to abandon journalism for fiction. In 1871 he moved his family to Hartford where he could be closer to his publisher. Twain built an eccentric, three-storey-twenty-room, red brick, gingerbread mansion (which some say recalls a steamboat in its design) in the artistic-intellectual community of Nook Farm, across the lawn from Harriet Beecher Stowe. Surrounded by like-minded friends, lionized as celebrity, Twain basked in the devotion of his family, became a familiar presence in Hartford civic and charitable life, accommodated Livy's desire for a prominent social life, and continued to earn considerable sums from his literature. It was here in Hartford that he published not only ROUGHING IT in 1871, but also his major novels, THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (1876), HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1884) and A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT (1889).

The prosperous and productive idyll ended, however, when Twain was forced to declare bankruptcy after a series of disastrous financial investments in 1895. The family sold the house and Twain set out on a worldwide lecture tour to repay the money he owed, a goal he achieved by 1898. Further griefs included the deaths of his wife Livy in 1904 and his two daughters: Susy from spinal meningitis (while Twain was still in England) and Jean from epilepsy in 1909. After Livy's death he became a wanderer again, traveling to Europe and the southern hemisphere, (where he denounced American colonialism). Inhabiting a series of rented houses from the White Mountains to the Adirondaks, he accepted countless invitations to lecture or make after-dinner speeches to counter his loneliness. Then, as his energies dwindled, Twain settled into his last home, which he called Stormfield, near Redding CT. There amid neighbors and friends such as the Twichells and Iveses, Helen Keller, Billie Burke, Twain gave his daughter Clara away to pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch and dictated his autobiography to Albert Bigelow Paine. He died at Stormfield on April 21, 1910.

Go Next Huck Finn

Like Stephen Foster in music and William Sidney Mount in art, Mark Twain possessed an uncanny ability to recreate in the vernacular characters as colorful as his own experiences and in so doing to fashion from the colloquial a new American literary voice. Ernest Hemingway asserted in 1935 that all modern literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Arguably HUCKLEBERRY FINN is America's most seminal novel, which makes the continued calls from some factions to ban the book incomprehensible. Considered controversial for its use of dialect and its depiction of blacks through the eyes of Southern whites, HUCKLEBERRY FINN, nevertheless, marked a turning point in American literature. Drawing on his own boyhood in Hannibal, Twain evokes a vivid, often satirical picture of frontier life with its rough-hewn spirit, which he encases in the larger universal context of the journey archetype. HUCKLEBERRY FINN is a Bildungsroman-- a novel whose true theme is the development of the individual's mind and soul. With his "poor white trash" protagonist, the streetwise, tough-talking river urchin, Huck Finn, Twain donned a persona with which to examine not only the politics of slavery and southern life, but their moral implications as well. Humanizing the central character of the runaway slave Jim, Mark Twain makes a black man the vehicle of Huck Finn's maturing realization that all men share a common brotherhood.

Selections

SELECTED PASSAGES FROM MARK TWAIN

From THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (Chapter VIII.
Huck discovers that Jim has run away:)

"How do you come to be here Jim and how'd you get here?"

He looked pretty uneasy and didn't say nothing for a minute. Then he says:

"Maybe I better not tell."

"Why, Jim?"

"Well, dey's reasons. But you wouldn't tell on me ef I'uz to tell you, would you, Huck?"

"Blamed if I would, Jim."

"Well, I believe you, Huck I--I run off."

"Jim!"

"But mind, you said you wouldn't tell--you know you said you wouldn't tell, Huck."

"Well, I did. I said I wouldn't, and I'll stick to it. Honest injun, I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum--but that don't make no difference. I ain't a-going to tell, and I ain't a-going back there, anyways. So, now, le's know all about it."

"Well, you see, it'uz dis way. Ole missus--dat's Miss Watson--she pecks on me all de time, en treats me pooty rough,...."

From the satire, THE WAR PRAYER:
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle--be Thou near them!... O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste to their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolate land in rags and thirst....We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him who is the Source of Love, and who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."


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