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Mark Twain  

S.L. Clemens aka Mark Twain is perhaps one of America's best known writers. A product of the Midwest and the Mississippi River, Twain wrote such great novels as Tom Sawyer and of course Huckleberry Finn.
Last Updated: Jun 29, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Mark Twain


Brief Biography of Mark Twain

Born in Florida, Missouri in 1835 with the arrival of Halley's Comet,  young Clemens and his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri in 1839.   While a child, Clemens spent happy summers at his uncle's farm, swimming and playing with his friends.   The memories of these idyllic summers never left him and they found their way into his novels and other writings.  He also remembered the bad things: shootings, the deaths of his father and two siblings, the injustices of slavery.   All were grist for his imagination.  He especially loved the Mississippi River and considered himself very fortunate to become a licensed riverboat pilot in 1859.  On the river he heard the soundman yell "mark twain" the call meaning the depth of the river  ( two fathoms or twelve feet).  That call became his pseudonym.    In 1861 he traveled with his older brother to the Nevada Territory.  After a failed attempt at mining, he worked for a Virginia City newspaper before moving to San Francisco in 1864.  His first real success as a writer came in 1865 with the publication of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."   In 1867 he toured Europe and met his future brother-in-law, Charles Langdon.  After a two year courtship, Twain married Olivia Langdon of Elmira, New York, his wife of 34 years.   The union produced 4 children.  Their son Langdon died at 19 months.   Susy died in 1896, and Jean in 1909.  Only their daughter Clara lived until 1962.   Twain's beloved wife died in 1904.  These heartbreaking deaths, along with   Twain's bankruptcy left him a lonely, somewhat bitter man.   Twain predicted that he would die with the arrival of Halley's comet and he did so in 1910, a day after the comet's return.    He is buried with his family in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira.

Twain's place among the great writers of American literature is assured.   His novels "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" are classics of American Literature.  His work "Life on the Mississippi" describes his experiences as a rookie riverboat pilot.  His travel books are still enjoyable to read.  His essays on the foibles of the human race are both humorous and biting.  His many lectures to groups around the world made him a celebrity.  He was a master at using colloquial speech.  Indeed writers like  William Faulker and Ernest Hemingway would regard him as the father of a distinctive American literature.   Hemingway once wrote that "all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called "Huckleberry Finn."   The Mississippi River that Twain knew, with its steamboats and rough humor is long gone, but thanks to Twain we can get a sense of what life was like over 150 years ago.

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