About Mark Twain

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nineteenth century author born Samuel Langhorne Clemens -- (pen-named Mark Twain) -- is best known for works which are witty, satirical, and, by and large, light-hearted. His protagonists are often young people or children, and he most often writes about American life during the period encompassing his boyhood and young adulthood. Representative novels of this type include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the autobiographical Life on the Mississippi. He would deviate from this pattern in several of his works, including the historical novel The Prince and the Pauper. But a consistent strain in all these works -- as well as in many of Twain’s other novels and short stories -- is his use of an innocent narrator to impart serious messages, the full import of which the narrator may be himself unaware.


Twain was born in Florida, Missouri in 1835, moving to the city of Hannibal (in the same state) when he was four. His formal schooling ended at the age of twelve, when he became apprenticed to a printer. His natural flair for words took him from printing into journalism, and his wanderlust took him from journalism into the life of a Mississippi riverboat pilot (Ousby 946).

Reflecting his own life:

Twain depicts much of his early life in the book Life on the Mississippi. As Albert Bigelow Paine writes, "In Life on the Mississippi we have [Twain’s] story of how he met Horace Bixby and decided to become a pilot instead of a South American adventurer -- jauntily setting himself the stupendous task of learning the twelve hundred miles of the Mississippi River between St. Louis and New Orleans -- of knowing it as exactly and as unfailingly, even in the dark, as one knows the way to his own features. It seems incredible to those who knew Mark Twain in his later years -- dreamy, unpractical, and indifferent to details -- that he could have acquired so vast a store of minute facts as were required by that task. Yet within eighteen months he had become not only a pilot, but one of the best and most careful pilots on the river, entrusted with some of the largest and most valuable steamers. He continued in that profession for two and a half years longer, and during that time met with no disaster that cost his owners a single dollar for damage" (Paine bio1.htm).