Who Is Mark Twain?

Overview

"You had better shove this in the stove," Mark Twain said at the top of an 1865 letter to his brother, "for I don't want any absurd ‘literary remains' and ‘unpublished letters of Mark Twain' published after I am planted." He was joking, of course. But when Mark Twain died in 1910, he left behind the largest collection of personal papers created by any nineteenth-century American author. Who Is Mark Twain? presents twenty-six wickedly funny, disarmingly relevant pieces by the American master—a man who was well ...

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Who Is Mark Twain?

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Overview

"You had better shove this in the stove," Mark Twain said at the top of an 1865 letter to his brother, "for I don't want any absurd ‘literary remains' and ‘unpublished letters of Mark Twain' published after I am planted." He was joking, of course. But when Mark Twain died in 1910, he left behind the largest collection of personal papers created by any nineteenth-century American author. Who Is Mark Twain? presents twenty-six wickedly funny, disarmingly relevant pieces by the American master—a man who was well ahead of his time.

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Editorial Reviews

Walter Mosley
“As funny and insightful as any of [Twain’s] published and well-known works, these essays take on the federal government, religion, race, fame, and even the literary canon with a sharp-eyed clarity we can chuckle over as we read while feeling uncomfortable knowing that they feel all too contemporary.”
Washington Post
“[Twain] was, in the phrase of his friend William Dean Howells, ‘the Lincoln of our literature’…At the heart of his work lies that greatest of all American qualities: irreverence.”
Vanity Fair
“More than 100 years after [Twain] wrote these stories, they remain not only remarkably funny but remarkably modern….Ninety-nine years after his death, Twain still manages to get the last laugh.”
Los Angeles Times
“Who Is Mark Twain? is a refreshing reintroduction to both [Twain’s] critical analytical thought and his playful sense of humor.”
Maud Newton
“Twain’s wit and lethally precise powers of description are on full display in Who Is Mark Twain?”
Walter Mosley
“As funny and insightful as any of [Twain’s] published and well-known works, these essays take on the federal government, religion, race, fame, and even the literary canon with a sharp-eyed clarity we can chuckle over as we read while feeling uncomfortable knowing that they feel all too contemporary.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061735004
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/21/2009
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 796,588
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Twain was born Samuel Clemens in Missouri in 1835. He wrote some of the most enduring works of American fiction, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He died in 1910.

Biography

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri; his family moved to the port town of Hannibal four years later. His father, an unsuccessful farmer, died when Twain was eleven. Soon afterward the boy began working as an apprentice printer, and by age sixteen he was writing newspaper sketches. He left Hannibal at eighteen to work as an itinerant printer in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. From 1857 to 1861 he worked on Mississippi steamboats, advancing from cub pilot to licensed pilot.

After river shipping was interrupted by the Civil War, Twain headed west with his brother Orion, who had been appointed secretary to the Nevada Territory. Settling in Carson City, he tried his luck at prospecting and wrote humorous pieces for a range of newspapers. Around this time he first began using the pseudonym Mark Twain, derived from a riverboat term. Relocating to San Francisco, he became a regular newspaper correspondent and a contributor to the literary magazine the Golden Era. He made a five-month journey to Hawaii in 1866 and the following year traveled to Europe to report on the first organized tourist cruise. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches (1867) consolidated his growing reputation as humorist and lecturer.

After his marriage to Livy Langdon, Twain settled first in Buffalo, New York, and then for two decades in Hartford, Connecticut. His European sketches were expanded into The Innocents Abroad (1869), followed by Roughing It (1872), an account of his Western adventures; both were enormously successful. Twain's literary triumphs were offset by often ill-advised business dealings (he sank thousands of dollars, for instance, in a failed attempt to develop a new kind of typesetting machine, and thousands more into his own ultimately unsuccessful publishing house) and unrestrained spending that left him in frequent financial difficulty, a pattern that was to persist throughout his life.

Following The Gilded Age (1873), written in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner, Twain began a literary exploration of his childhood memories of the Mississippi, resulting in a trio of masterpieces --The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and finally The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), on which he had been working for nearly a decade. Another vein, of historical romance, found expression in The Prince and the Pauper (1882), the satirical A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), while he continued to draw on his travel experiences in A Tramp Abroad (1880) and Following the Equator (1897). His close associates in these years included William Dean Howells, Bret Harte, and George Washington Cable, as well as the dying Ulysses S. Grant, whom Twain encouraged to complete his memoirs, published by Twain's publishing company in 1885.

For most of the 1890s Twain lived in Europe, as his life took a darker turn with the death of his daughter Susy in 1896 and the worsening illness of his daughter Jean. The tone of Twain's writing also turned progressively more bitter. The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), a detective story hinging on the consequences of slavery, was followed by powerful anti-imperialist and anticolonial statements such as 'To the Person Sitting in Darkness' (1901), 'The War Prayer' (1905), and 'King Leopold's Soliloquy' (1905), and by the pessimistic sketches collected in the privately published What Is Man? (1906). The unfinished novel The Mysterious Stranger was perhaps the most uncompromisingly dark of all Twain's later works. In his last years, his financial troubles finally resolved, Twain settled near Redding, Connecticut, and died in his mansion, Stormfield, on April 21, 1910.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Samuel Langhorne Clemens (real name); Sieur Louis de Conte
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1835
    2. Place of Birth:
      Florida, Missouri
    1. Date of Death:
      April 21, 1910
    2. Place of Death:
      Redding, Connecticut

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Twain from the archives: the basement letters

    This book is not Mark Twain at his best. Anyone who expects this will be disappointed. Instead, it is a collection of unfinished and unpublished pieces that give us a glimpse into Twain's mind and his creative processes. The hardcore Twain fans will enjoy this book.
    From a historical perspective, the story "Happy Memories of the Dental Chair" is unmatched. This is perhaps one of his best short pieces. I will be using it to teach dental history.
    The other stories, letters and essays give us a good look at Twain, but he might not be too thrilled that we are reading them.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 6, 2009

    Twain's thought pour out almost at random over a variety of subjects and we can see why the material went unpublished in his lifetime. Ignoring rigid structure, he rambled on joyfully, entertaining himself and the Twain-lovers among us.

    This reader was taken aback by the applicability of many Twain themes to our own present day. For example, his opinion was that truly free speech is available only to the dead, for when the living exercise the privilege, they are attacked, excoriated and driven from the dais. He concludes that writing down one's thoughts and having them read only after his death can one say what he actually thinks due to the custom that excoriating the dead is considered poor taste.

    Also remarkable, considering the current state of affairs in Washington, is "The Snow-Shovelers" episode when two negro shovelers meet one morning and begin to discuss anarchists and socialists from the laboring man's viewpoint. Aleck explains to Hank that the Socialists are going to Congress and pass laws dividing up "all the land and truck mongst everybody" to that no one is obliged to work. Hank responds that such makes nim sick and 'what is the world coming to when the most honorable thing in the world, work, is being disrespected.'

    Twain has the opportunity to exhibit his irreverant cynicism a when he is visited by Satan himself while touring Austria in "Conversations with Satan." Twain and his guest are discussing the efficacy of Austrian stoves and Satan is surprised to learn that they are not used in America.

    Twain - Is it possible that 'Ihre Majestat' is not familiar with America?
    Satan - Well-no. I have not been there lately. I am not needed there.

    While none of the episodes in this book can be considered "great literature", the Twain aficianado, on a rainy day, can take great pleasure in the nuggets of classic Twainism therein.

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