“The Autobiography of Mark Twain” is not written in a typical autobiography format. Samuel Clemens wrote his as a collection of memories instead of a chronological account of his life. At times he rambles from one story to the next, cutting off one narrative to begin another, but isn’t that how stories are often told?
An American writer and humorist, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is best known by his pen name, Mark Twain. He was lauded as the “greatest humorist (the United States) has produced,” and William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature.”
Twain’s most famous book is a novel entitled, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Published in 1876, the novel is about a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River. It’s set in the 1840s in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, inspired by Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain lived as a boy. In the novel, Tom Sawyer has several adventures, often with his friend, Huckleberry Finn. Originally a commercial failure, the book ended up being the best-selling of any of Twain’s works during his lifetime. It was one of the first novels to be written on a typewriter.
“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is the sequel to “Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
Reading Twain’s memoirs is like hearing him tell these tales while sitting together in a parlor. He’s smoking a cigar. A few friends are there, too. Someone says, “Hey Samuel, tell us about the time…” and off he goes!
Samuel Clemens is a minor character in these stories while those around him take center stage. He begins Volume One with his relationship to Ulysses S. Grant. When Gen. Grant left his term as President of the United States, he was in financial trouble. Friends stepped in and helped him feed and house his family. Samuel Clemens viewed Grant’s condition as deplorable for a Civil War General and ex-president. And then a book publisher urged Grant to write about his experiences. By this time, Grant was in poor health; he felt a sense of urgency to get the book written. Samuel Clemens became involved in the publication negotiations because he felt that Grant was being swindled. Eventually Clemens started his own publishing company and arranged to publish Grant’s memoirs.
Except when writing about publishers, Clemens never took life, or himself, seriously. It was this sense of humor about life that made him a friend to presidents, and drew adoring crowds to his lectures. People in these adoring crowds tried their best to find some attachment to Clemens, claiming they knew him from places that he’d never been. He couldn’t convince them otherwise. He must have been a very charismatic person to draw people in that way.
His life stories are vivid and captivating. They span continents. There is a lot to learn from his outlook on life. Through reading his autobiography, I have a sense of a person who works hard, plays hard, and closely observes his world, gleaning ever more stories from the characters he meets.
“The Autobiography of Mark Twain” is available at the Knox County Public Library, both in print and on CD sound recording. This autobiography spans three volumes, but don’t be intimidated by their size. Samuel Clemens’ world will keep the pages turning. The novels mentioned above and many other fiction and non fiction books by Twain are available at the library.