Another tragic American author Mark Twain | Sunday Observer

Another tragic American author Mark Twain

Along with O Henry, (the American short story writer whose work we looked at in these pages last week), Mark Twain is another classic American author who’s work will have young readers glued to the page. Just like O Henry, Mark Twain wrote under a Pen Name and his real name was Samuel L Clemens. Also, like O Henry, (who wrote his stories in a Jail cell), Mark Twain was also an adventurer, river-boat pilot, businessman and inventor.

His Pen Name is actually Riverboat slang which means- “12 feet of water”.

He worked as a storekeeper, lawyer, judge and land speculator, dreaming of wealth but never finding it. A serious fellow, apparently, if he ever laughed, he took care not to do it in the presence of others!

Just like O Henry, Mark Twain’s father died while he was still a child- only 12, and the family became destitute. In the bustling town of Hannibal in Deep South USA, he personally saw at least 2 violent murders, one a Negro slave, beaten to death by a White Slave owner.

The town – “Hannibal- sunlit and exuberant on the one hand, but also vipers’ nests of cruelty, poverty, drunkenness, loneliness and soul-crushing boredom”—all part of his boyhood experience.(‘Biography’ Website).He went to work for a pittance at the age of 12, becoming a River boat Pilot, later a Gold prospector, although he never found much Gold.

His success as an author came at age 32, with a story- about life in a mining camp - “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” which was printed in several newspapers and magazines. And at 35, he improved his social status by marrying 24-year-old Olivia (Livy) Langdon, the daughter of a rich New York coal merchant.

Earnest Hemmingway has said that ““All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” the colloquial (vernacular English) of Twain’s masterpiece, as for perhaps the first time in America, the vivid, raw, not-so-respectable voice of the common folk was used to create great literature”. But his ‘high class’ wife gave his book a cold reception.

His other work included - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, a science-fiction novel , and The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson - described as “bitter.” Poor Mark Twain also lost two small children to illness (remember this was USA in the 19th Century), and a third who was epileptic, died at age 29. “Much of the last decade of his life, he lived in hell,” wrote Hamlin Hill (Biographer).

His book Huckellbery Finn was banned in several parts of the USA when first published.(it is now recommended for children but only in the edited form). I read an original very old copy of the book (received from my mother), in which Negroes are always referred to as “niggers”- a “politically incorrect” derogatory word, now banned in all American media. This was also because the main character, Jim, is a slave who escapes from captivity in the deep south of 19th century USA. - Twain portrays Jim as a deeply caring and loyal friend who becomes a father figure to Huck, who is running away from a oppressive family.

Twain was born shortly after an appearance of Halley’s Comet, and he predicted that he would “go out with it” as well - he died the day after the comet returned.

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