The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Biography: Mark Twain
Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835 in Florida, Missouri. The family soon moved to Hannibal, Missouri, where Samuel was brought up. Samuel's father was prosperous and owned a grocery store as well as slaves. He died when Samuel was twelve, and Samuel had to leave school to earn a living. He was apprenticed to a printer. Samuel began his journalistic career by writing for and typesetting the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper which Samuel's brother Orion had bought and which they ran from their home. From 1857-61 Samuel worked as a Mississippi river-boat pilot, an experience that provided material for his writing and gave him his pseudonym. "Mark twain" was a river-boat pilot's call meaning the mark of two fathoms, used when sounding the depth of the river.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, river-boat traffic effectively ceased and Twain was forced to give up his job. He enlisted briefly in the Confederate Army but left after two weeks to go to Nevada with Orion. While working as an editor on a newspaper based in Virginia City, Nevada, Twain upset a fellow journalist, who insisted on a duel. To avoid imprisonment under anti-duelling laws, Twain fled to San Francisco. He upset the San Francisco police by writing critical articles about them, and they retaliated with a libel lawsuit. Twain escaped to the Sierras, where he lived in a primitive cabin on Jackass Hill and panned for gold and silver, without any great success.
After a few months, Twain returned to San Francisco and resumed writing. He achieved fame as a humorist with a story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (1865), about a frog that had been trained to jump but failed to win a wager because the owner of a rival frog had loaded him with shot.
Throughout the 1860s, Twain built a reputation for bitingly funny pieces, which made him popular with readers but unpopular with the targets of his satire. He was also in demand as a public speaker and lecturer. He set out on a world tour of France, Italy and the Middle East, and compiled his articles from the trip in a book called The Innocents Abroad (1869), which poked fun at American and European manners. The book's success gave Twain enough financial security to marry Olivia Langdon, the daughter of a wealthy New York state family, in 1870. They settled in Hartford, Connecticut and had three surviving children: Susy (born 1872), Clara (born 1874) and Jean (born 1880). Olivia became Twain's editor, retaining the position until her death in 1904 in Florence.
In Hartford, Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). His hometown of Hannibal was the model for St Petersburg, the fictional setting for both novels; his own childhood experiences and the people he knew formed the characters and events of the novels. Other works include the children's novel The Prince and the Pauper (1881) and Life on the Mississippi (1883), a memoir of his experiences of the river.
In the 1890s Twain lost most of the money he had earned from his writing in disastrous financial speculations. In 1894 he had invested in the infamous Paige typesetter, which never worked. He started a world lecture tour, and by 1898 he had repaid his debts. From 1896 to 1900 he lived mainly in Europe. In 1896, Susy, his favorite daughter, died of meningitis.
After the death of his daughter and wife, Twain became more bitter and his writings increasingly misanthropic. An example is his statement, "I believe that our Heavenly Father invented man because he was disappointed in the monkey." Always a fierce opponent of oppression and imperialism, he wrote scathing articles and speeches attacking the American government's actions in the Spanish-American and Philippine Wars (1898 and 1899, respectively). Some called Twain a traitor, and many of these works were never published because of publishers' fears that they would make Twain unmarketable.
Always a superstitious man, Twain was born when Halley's comet was passing the earth, and he believed that he would die when it returned. He was proved correct, and died near Redding, Connecticut, in 1910.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Study GuideChoose to Continue
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
- Chapter 1 -3
- Chapter 1 -3
- Chapter 4 - 6
- Chapter 7 - 9
- Chapter 10 - 12
- Chapter 13 - 15
- Chapter 16 - 18
- Chapter 19 - 21
- Chapter 22 - 25
- Chapter 26 - 28
- Chapter 29 - 31
- Chapter 32 - 34
- Chapter 35 - 36
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- Mark Twain
- Essay Q&A