Born in 1835, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, more commonly known by his pseudonym Mark Twain, is one of the most beloved authors in American literary history. After dying in 1910, Twain’s works remain popular and enduring favorites of readers from all around the world.
Twain’s own life is full of adventure and wonder, whether it be writing about his fictional characters or about his own life, it was always lively with travel, trouble and good humor. This article discusses the different eras and highlights of Twain’s life – providing an overview of this amazing man’s life in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Early Life: 1835-1850
Twain was born in 1835 in the rural town of Florida, Missouri. As a young child, he had an appreciation for books and storytelling, and his talent was further cultivated by his mother, who read stories to him every night. As Twain grew older, he became a voracious reader and excelled academically, quickly cultivating a sharp wit and a keen eye for detail.
In 1850, at the age of 15, Twain dropped out of school, and with his brother Orion, the pair moved to St. Louis. This was the beginning of Twain’s exploration of the world and the start of his career as a writer.
Pursuit of Various Occupations: 1851-1860
In this decade, Twain worked multiple occupations ranging from being an editor of a newspaper in Keokuk, Iowa; to a pilot on the Mississippi River; to a silver prospector in Nevada. All these occupations shaped his view of life and gave him the material to write his first work “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”.
Twain began to broaden his presence in the literary world, even befriending individuals like the editor in chief of the Atlantic Monthly, William Dean Howells. He eventually grew a literary reputation as a dry and biting writer with a knack for humor.
Rise to Fame and Marriage: 1860-1870
From 1860 to 1870, Twain enjoyed his rise to fame as a writer and public figure, but it also marked the further reaching of tragedy and loss. Twain published what may be his best known work, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, in 1885.
This decade was also significant for the author’s marriage to Livy Langdon in 1870. His relationship with Livy, though tumultuous due to financial insecurity and frequent indisposition, was a happy oasis in the angst of his professional life.
Abroad and Beyond Famous: 1870-1880
Twain and his family traveled abroad to destinations such as the holy land and Europe. Their travels inspired some of his works such as “The Innocents Abroad”. After several years abroad, Twain and his family moved to Hartford, Connecticut in 1885.
Twain solidified his place in American literature in 1876 with his lecture tour and the publication of his saga of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. He continued to tour and lecture around the country, becoming evermore famous.
The Gilded Age and Lecturing: 1880-1890
Twain lived in Hartford for most of this decade, and from there, he produced some of his most outstanding pieces, such as “The Prince and the Pauper” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”.
He also continued on his speaking tours, spreading his good humor and humble witticism as well as pioneering the lecturer’s circuit. He also explored new ventures such as investing in the Paige typesetting machine, which bankruptcy would eventually follow.
Frank but Endearing Persona: 1890-1900
Twain attracted attention with his frank but endearing persona, enabling him to continue to lecture and travel extensively. He was able to build an equally strong presence in the theatrical world as well, even touring around the country with his own theater troupes.
The close of the 19th century saw the death of Twain’s beloved daughter Susy, plunging him into grave sadness. His new visions of life and death emerged from this tragedy, such as in short works like “The Mysterious Stranger”.
Final Years of Twain’s Life: 1900-1910
The dawn of the 20th century brought Twain’s own financial and health problems, but it also brought social achievements for Twain, such as when President Teddy Roosevelt knighted Twain as an honorary member of the Order of Merit in 1907.
Even though his family continued to be plunged into tragedy and financial ruin, Twain continued to pour out work, writing such pieces as “What is Man?”
In 1910, after being at the top of literary fame for over 40 years, Twain died of a heart attack at age 74. Since his death, Twain has been honored as one of the most perfect examples of the genre of American humor and storytelling.
Legacy and Impact
Mark Twain’s legacy continues to shape American literature and the minds of those exposed to it. His works remain an integral part of school curriculums and the public’s understanding of American literature. He continues to influence authors to this day with his inimitable wit and talent for storytelling.
Twain’s works also touched upon topics of racism, slavery, morality, human nature and religion. His works introduced interesting perspectives on these topics and allowed for further exploration of them, especially as the world changed in the 20th century.
Social Change and Rebellion
The spirit of rebellion present in Twain’s works has been credited with inspiring social reform and shedding light on issues such as racism, sexism and inequality. His works allowed the public to form new perspectives on these issues and enabled introspection and dialogue.
His works showed readers a different way of thinking and acted as a catalyst for the people to think more critically, courteously and fairly. He accomplished this by using humor to present these serious topics, making them easier to digest and discuss.
Mark Twain’s works remain relevant to this day, especially as we continue to grapple with topics like racism and injustice in our society. His works are lauded for their humor, wit and insight – and for articulating complex topics in simple and understandable terms.
Even after his death, Twain continues to impact American culture through his works. His books are read widely and are considered to contain timeless wisdom and insight relevant to the modern reader. He continues to be celebrated for his pioneering use of humor and dialect in his works.
Twain has been widely praised for his works, earning him countless awards and honorary titles. In addition to being knighted by President Teddy Roosevelt, Twain was also a recipient of an honorary doctorate at Yale University in 1901.
His works, then and now, have been acclaimed for their realism and comical satirical representations of life, as well as their timeless messages and valuable insight into human nature. He has been widely praised by his contemporaries, including President Woodrow Wilson, and by modern authors such as Toni Morrison.
Influence on other Authors
Twain has had an influence on numerous acclaimed authors, including Ernest Hemingway, who was greatly influenced by Twain’s writing style. Many of the authors he has influenced agree that his works demonstrate his wisdom and wit, allowing him to remain relevant in today’s literary world.
He has been a great source of inspiration to novice authors as well as seasoned ones, offering new perspectives on life and providing an opportunity to explore human nature and moral dilemmas. His work has enabled authors to create meaningful and resonating works of literary art and to inspire people to explore and ponder.