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Twain, Mark. (1835 - 1910).

L i f e

- born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Hannibal, a frontier town by Mississippi = the cross-section of all the directions and of the Western wilderness x Eastern civilisation, Southern slavery x Northern abolitionism

- largely self-educated, apprenticed in a printing shop, worked from 12 to support family after his father’s death

- intended to go to Amazon to find adventure and wealth x but: instead apprenticed to a pilot of a Mississippi riverboat > adopted the penname of Mark Twain = ‘safe water’

W o r k

- a humorist, realist, social realist, and the representative man of American popular culture: more successful than any of the authors before him

- remained a rough Westerner with no university education (unlike earlier authors): established a new pattern of writing including the frontier humour and the storytelling conventions of his journalistic experiences

- his narrative technique: a written equivalent of ‘deadpan’ lecturing, convincing the audience he simply reports what others said and did

< journalism: his critical sense of violence, corruption, and the decay of the American dream

< local colour: sentimentalism, nostalgia for the Age of Innocence (= the pre-Gold Rush x the Gilded Age), and criticism of the damaging influences of commercialism and industrialism

< folklore: the oral tradition, local customs, Tall-Tale

“The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (1865):

- a hoax, the first  piece to bring him popularity

The Innocents Abroad (1869):

- a travel book, originally a series of letters for the newspaper from his excursion to Europe

- a satire against the pretentious, decadent, and undemocratic Old World

The Gilded Age (1873):

- in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner

Roughing It (1877):

- the pattern of Innocents applied to the Wild West

- an account of his and his brother’s adventures in the Nevada territory and the schemes he devised to get rich quick

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876):

- a myth of the endless summer of childhood pleasures mixed with terror

Old Times on the Mississippi (1875) >> Life on the Mississippi (1883):

- returns chronologically backward and psychically inward to the Hannibal of his boyhood

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884):

- a more serious sequal to Tom and his realistic, satiric, yet lyrical masterpiece

- an attempt of a more complex explanation, deconstructs some myths x but: reconstructs others

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889):

- his anarchism end up in a rejection of old and new values alike

The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894):

- disastrous effects of slavery on the victimiser and victim alike

- his satire turns to scorn and contempt for the ‘damned human race’

What Is Man? (1899):

- his ‘Bible’ expressing his indignation at orthodox Christianity, racism, imperialism, etc.


(Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

  • Author

    Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Aka Mark Twain. (1835 - 1910). American.
  • Work

    Novelist. Short story writer. Journalist. Author of Huckleberry Finn (1884).
  • Genres

    Comedy. Satire. Grotesque.


Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.

Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American  Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.

Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.

McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.

Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od  puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.

Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.

His Hoaxes

"An Encounter with an Interviewer" (1874)

"Speech on the Weather" (1876)

"Speech on the Babies" (1879)

"On the Decay of the Art of Lying" (1882)


"Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.


"Notice" to Huckleberry Finn (1884).


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