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Mark Twain was an American author and humorist. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Quick Facts
Also Known As
Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Famous as
Author and Humorist
Nationality
religion
Atheist
Born on
30 November 1835 AD
Birthday
Died At Age
74
Sun Sign
Sagittarius    Sagittarius Men
Born in
Florida
Died on
21 April 1910 AD
place of death
Redding, Connecticut, U.S.
father
John Marshall Clemens
mother
Jane Lampton
Spouse:
Olivia Langdon
children
Langdon, Jean (b. 1880, d. 1909), Susy, Clara Clemens
awards:
1967 - Emmy award
1966 - Tony award

Mark Twain (born Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was an American author, essayist, and humorist who wrote a series of famous books including ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.’ Hailed as the "the father of American literature" by William Faulkner, Twain was known for not just his humorous writings and satire but also his radical views on imperialism, organized religion, and civil rights. He was a very popular figure and was friends with the presidents, prominent industrialists, and even the European royalty. Born into a humble family in Missouri, he endured a difficult childhood. The untimely death of his father in 1847 forced the 11 year old boy to take up a job to support his family. His early struggles instilled in him sympathy for the working class. As a young man, he was appointed as a river pilot's apprentice, eventually becoming a licensed river pilot. He began his writing career during the Civil War and the success of his story ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’ earned him national acclaim, paving the way for a successful writing career. As a popular author and a charming personality, he was also in great demand as a featured speaker.

Childhood & Early Life
  • Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835, to Jane (née Lampton) and John Marshall Clemens. He was one of the couple’s seven children, but only three of his siblings survived childhood. He was of Scots-Irish, English, and Cornish ancestry.
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  • His father, an attorney and judge, died of pneumonia in 1847. The family, already a modest one, was plunged into financial crisis. The young boy, aged just 11 dropped out from school to become a printer's apprentice.
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  • He began working as a typesetter in 1851 and occasionally contributed articles and humorous sketches to the ‘Hannibal Journal’, a newspaper owned by his brother, Orion.
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Later Years
  • He left the ‘Hannibal Journal’ at the age of 18 and began working as a printer in New York City. During this time he frequented public libraries and read voraciously in order to educate himself.
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  • His fondest childhood dream was to become a steamboatman and he was elated when steamboat pilot Horace E. Bixby took him as an apprentice and trained him in navigation. After more than two years of rigorous training, Clemens became a licensed river pilot in 1858.
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  • He loved his job—it was exciting and well-paying. However, the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 brought a standstill to the river trade and he was forced to take up an alternative occupation.
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  • He struggled to re-establish himself and became a miner. However, this occupation did not suit him and he started to write for newspapers. During this time Samuel Langhorne Clemens adopted the pen name of “Mark Twain”—a term for 12 feet of water in steamboat slang.
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  • He first tasted success as a writer in 1865 when his humorous story ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’, was published in a New York weekly, ‘The Saturday Press.’ The story brought him national attention and laid the foundation for his successful career as a writer.
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  • Over the next few years he published several other popular works, but his biggest successes were yet to come. In 1876, he published ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, a novel about a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River. The book, with its heartwarming theme of a young boy and his adventures was a resounding success.
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  • In 1881, Twain published the novel ‘The Prince and the Pauper’, his first attempt at historical fiction. Set in 1547, it tells the story of two young boys who are identical in appearance: Tom, a pauper, and Prince Edward, the son of a king.
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  • His novel, ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, published in 1884 cemented his reputation as an author of international acclaim. A direct sequel to ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, this book is noted for its scathing satire on entrenched attitudes, particularly racism.
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  • Mark Twain earned a large amount of money from his books which he invested in several business ventures. However, many of the ventures failed, plunging him into financial difficulties. In order to stave off bankruptcy, he began writing more frequently in the early 1890s which affected the quality of his works.
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  • Unable to cope with the increasing financial pressures, he filed for bankruptcy in 1894. His friend, the financier Henry Huttleston Rogers, came to Twain’s aid at this difficult time and helped him in re-establishing himself financially.
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  • A highly popular person, he was also in great demand as a featured speaker, performing solo humorous talks and giving speeches in men’s clubs. A staunch anti-imperialist, he was made the vice-president of the American Anti-Imperialist League in 1901. He also supported civil rights and women’s suffrage.
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Major Works
  • One of Mark Twain’s most popular works is the novel ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, a story about the boyhood adventures of two friends, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The book inspired several stage, television, and film adaptations.
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  • His novel, ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, a direct sequel to ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, is commonly named among the Great American Novels. The book which explores notions of race and identity is both controversial and extremely popular.
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  • Twain’s first attempt at historical fiction, ‘The Prince and the Pauper’, is another one of his most popular works. Set in the mid-16th century England, it tells the tale of two young boys who are identical in appearance, but born into two entirely different social classes. The story has inspired numerous theatrical production and films.
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Awards & Achievements
  • In 1901, the Yale University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.
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  • Oxford University awarded Mark Twain an honorary Doctorate of Letters (D.Litt.) in 1907.
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Personal Life & Legacy
  • While working as a steamboatman, Mark Twain met Charles Langdon who showed him a picture of his sister, Olivia. Twain began corresponding with Olivia and proposed marriage to her. Her father was against the match but Twain managed to overcome her father's initial reluctance.
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  • The couple married in 1870 and had four children, of whom one died in childhood. He deeply loved his wife and was shattered when she died in 1904 after 34 years of marriage.
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  • Twain’s later years were marked by personal tragedies—in addition to his wife, two of his three surviving children also predeceased him. The last decade of his life was a very difficult one, and he was plagued by depression. He died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910, at the age of 74.
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Trivia
  • This great American author was born shortly after a visit by Halley's Comet in 1835 and died the day after the comet returned in 1910.
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Books by Mark Twain

    The Diaries of Adam & Eve: Translated by Mark Twain

    by Mark Twain

    The War Prayer

    by Mark Twain

    Mark Twain : Mississippi Writings : Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, Huckleberry Finn, Pudd'nhead Wilson (Library of America)

    by Mark Twain

Books About Mark Twain

    Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years

    by Michael Shelden

    Mark Twain's Other Woman

    by Laura Skandera Trombley

    The Quotable Mark Twain : His Essential Aphorisms, Witticisms & Concise Opinions

    by R. Kent Rasmussen

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