Study Guide

Mark Twain Introduction

Mark Twain Introduction

"I am a border ruffian from the State of Missouri. I am a Connecticut Yankee by adoption. In me you have Missouri morals, Connecticut culture; this, gentlemen, is the combination which makes the perfect man."

Lucky for us, Twain chose jewels.

Mark Twain Trivia

  • The character of Huckleberry Finn was modeled after Twain's boyhood friend Tom Blankenship. "He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had," Twain wrote of Blankenship in his autobiography. "His liberties were totally unrestricted. He was the only really independent person—boy or man—in the community, and by consequence he was tranquilly and continuously happy and envied by the rest of us. And as his society was forbidden us by our parents the prohibition trebled and quadrupled its value, and therefore we sought and got more of his society than any other boy's."
  • If anyone tells you that they're Mark Twain's great-great-great-grandson or something, see if Ashton Kutcher is around, 'cause you're being punk'd. Mark Twain has no living descendants. Clara Clemens, the only child to outlive Twain, had only one daughter. That daughter died without having children.
  • Each May, California's Calavaras County holds the Calavaras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee. The 2009 champion, a frog named For the Sign, jumped 21 feet. Maybe it was trying to get away from whoever named it "For the Sign." 
  • Twain first donned his famous white suit in 1906, when he appeared before Congress to testify about copyright law. On what may have been a slow news day, the New York Times carried a headline the next day proclaiming "Mark Twain in White Amuses Congressmen." He wore a white suit from then on, arguing that "light-colored clothing is more pleasing to the eye and enlivens the spirit." He called it his "dontcaread-- suit," because he didn't care a d--n what he looked like when he wore it.
  • Since 1998, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Winners include Steve Martin, Bill Cosby and SNL creator Lorne Michaels.
  • Twain was an inventor. His most profitable creation was a scrapbook with self-pasting pages.
  • Twain's wife Livy Clemens disliked his habit of swearing, and he tried to keep it from her. One day when he was dressing alone, he realized that his shirt was missing a button and went off on a blue streak. To his horror, he realized that his wife was listening behind the door. In her prim voice, she repeated his words to him as a reprimand.

    "Livy," he said, "did it sound like that?"

    "Of course it did," she said, "only worse. I wanted you to hear just how it sounded."

    "Livy," he said, "it would pain me to think that when I swear it sounds like that. You got the words right, Livy, but you don't know the tune."

Mark Twain Resources

Books

Mark Twain, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (1867)
This is the story that made Twain famous. First published in 1865, it spread faster than a viral YouTube video. It has all the elements of a classic Twain story—humor, tall tales, a little ribbing of Eastern and Western sensibilities, and characters who end up getting taken down a peg or two by their own greed and self-importance. No cute cats, though. Score one for viral YouTube videos.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1876)
Ernest Hemingway called this the best book in American literature. The Concord Library called it the "veriest trash." We side with Ernie. Twain's chronicle of boy hero Huckleberry Finn is his greatest work and a classic of American literature. Fair warning: the book is one of the most frequently banned in the U.S. because of its frequent use of the n-word.

Mark Twain, Roughing It (1872)
This memoir of Twain's years in the West shows off everything that's great about Mark Twain, especially his willingness to make fun of everyone and everything—including himself. In this snapshot of his incredibly full life, Twain chronicles his adventures in silver mines, Mormon country, Hawaii, San Francisco, and more.

Mark Twain, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896)
This was Mark Twain's favorite of his books. It's a fictional transcript from Joan of Arc's personal secretary that Twain claims to have "found." Twain believed it was the best book he ever wrote, an opinion that critics have tended not to share. Perhaps his reasons for liking the story were more personal—he based the character of Joan on his daughter Susy, who died the same year it was published at the age of 24.

Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)
Paine was Twain's official biographer and literary executor. He actually moved in with Twain in 1906 to collect material and stayed until Twain's death in 1910. Though it's clear that Paine was exceptionally close to and fond of his subject, this biography is a detailed and often heartbreaking look inside Twain's private life. You can read the entire thing online—see our Primary Documents section.

Stephen Railton, Mark Twain: A Short Introduction (2003)
Railton is an English professor at the University of Virginia who created the website, Mark Twain in His Times. His book is a great introduction to Twain's life and work, and highlights Twain's importance to American literature. 

Music

The Adventures of Mark Twain
This is the soundtrack to the 1944 film based on Twain's life. Composer Max Steiner and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra provide the music.

Mark Twain
This is the soundtrack to Ken Burns' film about Twain's life. It features vintage recordings of American pop hits popular during Twain's life, as well as monologue performances of Twain's work.

Mark Twain's America: Portrait in Music
This album is a compilation of songs, intended to give us an idea of the period and places Twain wrote about. Songs range from spirituals to Civil War hymns to popular love songs. It includes classic American tracks such as "Motherless Child" and the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

"Mark Twain and Other Folk Favorites"
Calypso king Harry Belafonte released this album in 1954. The title track, "Mark Twain," refers not to the great storyteller, but to the nautical term from which Samuel Clemens took his pen name. "Mark twain" is what a boat pilot calls out when the ship has reached two fathoms, the depth at which it's safe to navigate.

Images

The Man in the White Suit
Twain with his iconic suit and cigar.

Twain the Traveler
Twain aboard the deck of a ship.

Young Sam
A younger Mark Twain, before his hair went white.

America's Best Humourist
A vintage cartoon of Twain.

Official Twain Photos
This page of family and individual pictures is from the official Mark Twain website.

Movies & TV

Mark Twain—Known to Everyone, Liked by All (2001)
In 2001, filmmaker Ken Burns turned his documentary lens on Mark Twain. This is an acclaimed film and an excellent introduction to Twain's life. Actor Kevin Conway portrays Twain during the film.

Mark Twain Tonight! (1967)
This 1967 film is as close as you'll come to seeing Mark Twain speak on film. Was Twain camera shy? Nope. Just dead. Talking pictures came after Twain's death in 1910, so Hal Holbrook's one-man show is the next best thing. The script is almost entirely comprised of Twain's words, and Holbrook nails Twain's voice and mannerisms.

Tom and Huck (1995)
Sure, this flick isn't exactly what you'd call good, but it stars former teen heartthrobs Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Brad Renfro, and that's gotta count for something. It's a Disneyfied version of Twain's two best-known stories.

The Prince and the Pauper (1937)
The dashing Errol Flynn stars in this version of Twain's first entirely fictional work. Two identical boys are born at the same time, but one is a prince and the other is––you guessed it––a pauper. When they switch identities, mayhem ensues.

Websites

The Official Web Site of Mark Twain
This site is maintained by the Twain estate and provides a solid introduction to the writer's life. It's also the place to go if you want to license Twain's words or image.

Mark Twain in His Times
An amazing archive of primary documents. Want to see the original advertisements for the first edition of Huckleberry Finn? They're here. Want to see Mark Twain's signature? It's here. Want to see Mark Twain's collection of rubber horse head masks? It's...not here. And doesn't exist. Sorry. Professor Stephen Railton and the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia get major props for this site.

Twain Quotes
Mark Twain is often quoted (and misquoted), but this site does a great job of archiving and organizing his many gems. His quips are organized alphabetically by subject, so you can read Twain's zingers on everything from adultery to zephyrs. It also has an archive of his newspaper articles.

Mark Twain Project
This is the online version of the University of California's extensive archive of Twain's private papers. Among the many offerings are more than 2,300 of Twain's letters and biographies of virtually every major player in Twain's life.

Mark Twain—Known to Everyone, Liked by All
This is the companion website to the 2001 documentary of Twain's life directed by filmmaker Ken Burns. Its coolest features? Interactive versions of the many scrapbooks Twain kept throughout his life.

Mark Twain House & Museum
The house where Twain and his family lived in Hartford, Connecticut is now a museum dedicated to preserving Twain's legacy. Got some extra cash and want to contribute to literary history? The museum is raising money to restore the books in Twain's personal library.

Video & Audio

Footage of Twain
Thomas Edison shot this amazing silent film of Twain at his home in Redding, Connecticut in 1909, the year before Twain died. He is shown with his daughters Clara and Jean. Jean died later that year.

Mark Twain Tonight!
Hal Holbrook's famous performance as Twain.

An interview with Mark Twain
Actor Hal Holbrook answers questions in the persona of Mark Twain.

Biography of Mark Twain
A 5-part internet biography of Twain. An actor reads his words.

Mark Twain: Background for His Works
A short preview for a biography of Twain's early life.

Mark Twain Tribute
Photos of Twain set to music.

The Adventures of Mark Twain
A trippy, trippy clip from the Claymation classic. 

Primary Sources

The (Nearly) Complete Works of Mark Twain
A cool cat named Rob has put almost all of Twain's works online. You can read Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and many other fiction and non-fiction writings. Thanks, Rob!

Huck Finn review
Life Magazine's 1885 review mocking The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Birthday Speech
Mark Twain's speech at his 70th birthday party.

Mark Twain's Memory Builder
In 1885, Twain designed a game to improve the memory. You can play it online here.

Obituary
A PDF view of Twain's 1910 obituary in the New York Times.

Paine's Biography
E-text of Albert Bigelow Paine's official biography of Twain.

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