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Mark Twain: The First All-American Author

December 4th, 2014
Judith · Staff Recommendations

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

This quote by Ernest Hemingway, one of the most famous American authors of the 20th Century and the winner of the Noble Prize in Literature describes in a nutshell the importance and the continuing importance of Mark Twain as both an American author and also an American humorist.

Mark Twain was born in 1835 when Halley’s Comet was making its way across the sky and he died in 1910 when that comet appeared in the sky after an absence of 75 years.

Like many Americans, Mark Twain reinvented himself but Mark Twain was a master of reinventing himself. Before he became the most famous American author and humorist of the late 19th century and early 20th century, he was first Samuel Clemens who was an apprentice printer. Then he became a Mississippi river boat pilot. “Mark Twain” means the river is safe for the boat in pilot lingo and Samuel Clemens took “Mark Twain” as his literary name.

When the Civil War began in 1861, he joined a Confederate militia in Missouri but left after two weeks. Mark Twain never did like slavery. He left for Nevada and California where he worked as a miner but he never found gold or silver. After some time in San Francisco he became a newspaper reporter and eventually made his way to New York.

In 1869, his newspaper paid for him to go on a tour of Europe and the Holy Land. Innocents Abroad resulted from his experiences on that tour. It is still considered one of the best travel books and it has been enjoyed by many Americans and people all over the world. Many people have enjoyed his witty and sometimes caustic comments about his fellow travelers and the places they visited.

In 1873, he coauthored with Charles Dudley Warner The Gilded Age which was an indictment of the excesses and corruption in the United States after the Civil War. The Gilded Age satirized greed and political corruption.

In 1876, he wrote one of his most famous books: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This book is considered to be partly autobiographical and it is introduction to what life was like for many American boys living in the old West; now the Middle West.

In 1883, he published Life on the Mississippi. This book is partly a memoir of his days as a river boat pilot. It is also a good introduction to the history and geology of the Mississippi River.

In 1884 in Great Britain and in 1885 in the United States, he published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Some people considered it controversial because of some of its language but it really is the story of the growth of a young white Southern boy and his awareness that Jim was a person just like him.

Pudd’nhead Wilson was published in 1894. It is also considered one of his best books. It is a darkly comedic short novel which takes place in the South before the Civil War and it deals with racial inequality.

There is no question that Mark Twain was one of America’s greatest authors and he was also a great humorist who spoke before sold-out crowds not just in the United States but also in many other English-speaking countries. However, he was not a good investor and he lost practically all his savings in many bad financial investments. By the 1890’s he was almost bankrupt. In order to repay his debts he went on a tour around the world. His wife and one of his daughters accompanied him. He spoke to huge crowds wherever he went. He was especially popular in Australia and Great Britain.

In 1897, he published Following the Equator which is a very vivid description of his experiences during his literary tour around the world.

Mark Twain wrote so many books and it really is impossible to list and describe all of his books. He is also famous for his witty quotes such as “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain is a good source for his quotes and wit.

Mark Twain by Geoffrey Ward is a biography of Mark Twain and it is the companion to Ken Burns’ PBS series from 2001. It is extremely well illustrated and it contains a lot of interesting information about Mark Twain’s life.

In conclusion, I feel Mark Twain is an American author for all ages and all people.

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