About the Author

American writer, journalist, humorist, who won a worldwide audience for his stories of youthful adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Sensitive to the sound of language, Twain introduced colloquial speech into American fiction. In Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway wrote: "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn..."

"When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman." (from 'Old Times on the Mississippi', 1875)

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) was born in Florida, Missouri, of a Virginian family. He was brought up in Hannibal, Missouri. After his father's death in 1847, Twain was apprenticed to a printer and wrote for his brother's newspaper. Twain worked later as a licensed Mississippi river-boat pilot (1857-61), adopting his name from the call ('Mark twain!' - meaning by the mark of two fathoms) used when sounding river shallows. But this isn't the full story: he had also satirized an older writer, Isaiah Sellers, who called himself Mark Twain. In 1861 Twain served briefly as a confederate irregular. The Civil War put an end to the steamboat traffic and Clemens moved to Virginia City, where he edited two years Territorial Enterprise. On February 3, 1863, 'Mark Twain' was born when he signed a humorous travel account with that pseudonym.

"I believe that our Heavenly Father invented man because he was disappointed in the monkey."

In 1864 Twain left for California, and worked in San Francisco as a reporter. During a period when he was out of work, he lived in a primitive cabin on Jackass Hill and tried his luck as a gold-miner. Twain heard a story about a frog, and made an entry in his notebook: "Coleman with his jumping frog - bet a stranger $50. - Stranger had no frog and C. got him one: - In the meantime stranger filled C's frog full of shot and he couldn't jump. The stranger's frog won." He published 'Jim Smiley and his Jumping Frog' in The Saturday Press of New York on the 18th of November in 1865. It was reprinted all over the country and became the foundation stone of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches (1867). This work marked the beginning of Twain's literary career, and set the tone of his subsequent stories. Twain focused not the outcome of the story but the manner of telling.

Twain visited Hawaii as a correspondent for The Sacramento Union, publishing letters on his trip and giving lectures. He set out world tour, travelling in France and Italy. His experiences were recorded in 1869 in The Innocents Abroad, which gained him wide popularity, and poked fun at both American and European prejudices and manners. Its success gave Twain enough financial security to marry Olivia Langdon in 1870. They moved next year to Hartford., where the family remained, with occasional trips abroad, until 1891. Twain continued to lecture in the United States and England. Between 1876 and 1884 he published several masterpieces. Tom Sawyer (1881) the author originally intended for adults. He had abandoned the work in 1874, returned to it in the following summer and even then was undecided if he were writing a book for adults or for young readers. In The Prince and the Pauper (1881) Edward VI of England and a little pauper change places. Life on the Mississippi (1883) contained an attack on the influence of Sir Walter Scott, whose romanticism have caused according to Twain 'measureless harm' to progressive ideas. From the very beginning of his journalistic career, Twain made fun with the novel and its tradition. He believed that he lacked the analytical sensibility necessary to the novelist's art, although he enjoyed magnificent popularity as a novelist. He frequently returned to travel writing - many of his finest novels were thinly veiled travelogues.

Huckleberry Finn (1884) was first considered adult fiction. Huck Finn, which painted a picture of Mississippi frontier life, was intended as a sequel to Tom Sawyer. Huck, who could not possibly write a story, tells us the story. Both works stand high on the list of eminent writers like Stevenson, Dickens, and Saroyan who honestly depicted young people without any condescension or moralizing. Huck's distaste for civilization reflects the ideas of Walden, and his debate whether or not he will turn in Jim, an escaped slave and a friend, probed the racial tensions of the national conscience. Later Twain wrote in The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (1900): "I have no race prejudices... All that I care to know is that a man is a human being - that is enough for me; he can't be any worse."

One of Twain's major achievements is the way he narrates Huckleberry Finn, following the twists and turns of ordinary speech, his native Missouri dialect. Shelley Fisher Fishkin has noted in Was Huck Black? (1993) that the book drew upon a vernacular formed by black voices as well as white. The model for Huck Finn's voice, according to Fishkin, was a black child instead of a white one. Huck, himself, was drawn a boy named Tom Blankenship.

'"Who is your folks?" he questions me.
"The Phelpses, down yonder."
"Oh," he says, "how'd you say he got shot?"
"He had a dream," I says, "and it shot him."
"Funny dream," the doctor says.'

(from Huckleberry Finn)

In the 1890s Twain lost most of his earnings in financial speculations and in the downhill of his own publishing firm. Twain closed Hartford house, and to recover from the bankrupt, he started a world lecture tour, during which Susy, his favorite daughter, died of meningitis. Twain toured New Zealand, Australia, India, and South Africa, and returned to the U.S. in 1900. He wrote such books as The Tragedy of Pudd'head Wilson (1884), a murder mystery and a case of transposed identities, but also an implicit condemnation of a society that allows slavery, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1885), and the travel book Following the Equator (1897). In 1902 Twain made a trip to Hannibal, his home town which had inspired several of his works. His plans for a peaceful and quiet visit were ruined when more than 100 newspapers chronicled his every move.

The death of his wife in 1904 in Florence and his second daughter darkened the author's later years, which is also seen in writings and his posthumously published autobiography (1924). Twain died on April 21, 1910. He dictated his autobiography during his last years to his secretary A.B. Paine, and various versions of it have been published. In 1916 appeared The Mysterious Stranger, set in the 16th-century Austria, in which Satan reveals the hypocrisies and stupidities of the village of Eseldorf. "The first man was a hypocrite and a coward, qualities which have not yet failed in his line; it is the foundation upon which all civilizations have been built." The work was composed between 1897 and 1908 in several, quite different versions, one of which was set in Hannibal, another in a print shop. Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain's authorized biographer apparently added to it a concluding chapter from another version altogether - hence creating contradictions and inconsistencies.

"If men neglected 'God's poor' and 'God's stricken and helpless ones' as He does, what would become of them? The answer is to be found in those dark lands where man follows His example and turns his indifference back upon them: they get no help at all; they cry, and plead and pray in vain, they linger and suffer, and miserably die." (from 'Thoughts of God')

During his long writing career, Twain produced a considerable number of essays. His essays appeared in various newspapers and in magazines, including the Galaxy, Harper's, the Atlantic Monthly, and North American Review. In his "Sandwich Islands" letters (1873) Twain described how the missionaries and American government have corrupted the Hawaiians, "Queen Victoria's Jubilee" (1897) presented the pomp and pageantry of an English royal procession, and "King Leopold's Soliloquy" (1905) revealed in a dramatic monologue the political evils caused by despotism. Twain's finest satire of imperialism was perhaps "To the Person Sitting in Darkness" (1901), in which the author wrote that the people in darkness are beginning to see "more light than... was profitable for us."

Most author biographies courtesy of Author's Calendar. Used with permission.