Mark Twain Biography

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Author/Context

The man who would become known as Mark Twain was born Samuel Clemens in Florida, Missouri, on November 30th, 1835. His father was a judge who had lived in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. His mother was from Kentucky. When Clemens was still a small child, the family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi River. In Hannibal, the young Clemens experienced life on the river firsthand, both the good and the bad. He experienced small town society, and witnessed the violence perpetrated by the men who wandered up and down the river.

When Clemens was twelve, his father died and Clemens went to work as a printer's apprentice. There, he took his first steps into writing and journalism. In 1852, at age seventeen, he published his first story, "The Dandy Frightening The Squatter." A year later, he left Hannibal for St. Louis, and from here traveled east to New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. He eventually wandered to Iowa, and then Cincinnati, Ohio, where his boyhood interest in the river returned. In 1857, he took a job on a riverboat, planning to travel to South America while reporting his experiences for the Evening Post. He only wrote three pieces, however. Instead, he threw himself into river boating with all his energy. There he heard the term "Mark Twain," which was the riverboat warning for shallow, barely manageable water (roughly two fathoms) ahead. Soon after, he began using Mark Twain as his pen name.

In 1861, Twain served for a short period of time with the Confederate Army, and then traveled west to Nevada and California. He worked as a journalist there, primarily in San Francisco, until 1867, when he returned once again to New York City. In 1870, he married Olivia Langdon and settled in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1876, after establishing himself as a renowned lecturer, he published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Set in a fictional town on the Missouri bank of the Mississippi River, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was, in many ways, a tribute to Clemens' own childhood in Hannibal. Episodes, characters, and settings from his own childhood-the cave, Injun Joe, Aunt Polly, the Cadets of Temperance-became important parts of Tom's story. In fact, Twain's original plan for the book was to cover the span of Tom's life well into adulthood, when he would return to visit St. Petersburg a grown man, the same way Twain himself had done during a lecture-tour. During the writing process, however, he decided that Tom shouldn't grow up in the book, and focused specifically on Tom's boyhood. Within the framework of the novel, however, he managed to create a story that, while upbeat, managed to be critical of the small-town society he grew up in.

After Tom Sawyer, Twain went on to write several other books, including The Prince and The Pauper, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, as well as two more, lesser-known Tom Sawyer books. As a writer, he was highly regarded and became quite rich, but his personal life was marred by tragedy. His baby son, Langdon, died in 1872. Poor investments drove his family into debt and forced them to live in exile in Europe until 1900. Susy, his second child, died in 1896, during their stay in Europe. Olivia died in 1904, and Jean, his youngest daughter, died in 1909. When Twain died on April 21st, 1910, he left only his daughter Clara behind.


Emerson, Everett. The Authentic Mark Twain: A Literary Biography of Samuel L. Clemens. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.

Kaplan, Justin. Mr. Clemens And Mr. Twain: A Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966.

Twain, Mark. Mark Twain's Own Autobiography: The Chapters From the North American Review. (Introduction and Notes by Michael J. Kiskis.) Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.

Unger, Leo, ed. American Writers-Collected Literary Biographies, p. 190-212. New York: Scribner, 1974.

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