Tuesday 17 May 2016

Mark Twain

"All of American literature began with Huck Finn." (Ernest Hemingway)

When I visited Disney World with my children, we went for a ride on a Mississippi Riverboat in Frontierland.  The Mississippi River plays a big role in American history.  And Mark Twain, who grew up on the Mississippi, plays a big role in American literature.  

Born Samuel Langhorn Clemens grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, the town that served as his inspiration for St. Petersburg in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Like Huck Finn, young Samuel used to play for hours along the shores of the Mississippi.  As a teenager, he worked as an apprentice printer, likely inspiring him to later publish his writing.  Later, he worked as a riverboat pilot, serving as fodder for his novels.  During the Civil War, Samuel formed a Confederate militia called the "Marion Rangers" which disbanded after only two weeks.  Samuel moved to Nevada to take up mining.

In 1867, Samuel published his first novel Advice for Little Girls, the first of 30 books.  He adopted the pen name Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass briefly followed by Mark Twain.  After travelling in Europe and The Holy Land, Twain published Innocents Abroad, his first bestseller, in 1869.  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer did not appear until 1876 and Huckleberry Finn, his most popular work, in 1884.    

As Ernest Hemingway said:  "All American literature began with Huck Finn." (http://www.pbs.org/marktwain/filmmakers/making_choosing.html).  Referred to as The Great American Novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has influenced American authors such as Thomas Wolfe, Erskine Caldwell and William Faulkner and countless others (https://marktwainahf.wikispaces.com/Impact+of+Huck+Finn+on+American+Literature).

Ken Burns weaves the tale of Mark Twain's life in nine episodes.  Burns points out that Twain loved filling scrapbooks with old pictures and clippings.  He even invented a scrapbook with sticky pages to eliminate the need for glue or paste.  Burns invites you to open up Twain's scrapbook to follow the adventures of his life, the adventures of America.  

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