Mark Twain Classic tales
The Master of Humour Mark Twain was the pen-name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who was described by William Faulkner, the Nobel Prize-winning American author, as “the Father of American literature”. Twain was born in the state of Missouri on the 30th November 1835, a few days after Mark Twain. Halley’s Comet passed by the Earth, and he always said “...these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together”. He died on April 21st 1910, the day after the comet’s next appearance. As a child, Twain lived in Hannibal, a town on the river Mississippi which figured in his most important literary works - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - but it was also the scene of his early career. Twain’s father died when he was 11 and he left school to become an apprentice to a printer and began writing funny stories for a local newspaper, the Hannibal Journal, owned by one of his brothers. However, his boyhood fascination for the river never left him, and even his penname is related to navigation. At the age of 21 Twain 4
became apprenticed again, this time to Captain Horace Bixby, who taught him to “read” the river and learn how to pilot steamboats. The Mississippi was famously dangerous because of the moving sands and underwater rocks, and pilots needed to make sure at all times that there was enough water for their boats to sail safely. Today captains use radar and sonar, but in the nineteenth century “leadsmen” measured how deep the water was by dropping a piece of lead on a line into the river. If a mark on the line showed two fathoms of water (a little over three and a half metres - enough for the steamboat to sail safely) they would call out “mark twain”. Twain’s other professions included being a Confederate soldier in the American Civil War (for two weeks), a silver miner in Nevada, a journalist in San Francisco and Europe, an inventor (of a self-adhesive scrapbook), and a publisher - which bankrupted him. He was also a very successful humorous public speaker and his round-America and round-the-world tours are often seen as the precursors to today’s stand-up comedians. He was an important member of the Nevada literary movement known as the Sagebrush School, a genre which included humour, irreverence, jokes and hoaxes. However, Twain had a serious side, and lectured and wrote as both a strong Imperialist (in the 1860s and ‘70s when America took over Hawaii), and, years later, as an anti-Imperialist (in the 1900s during the Philippine-American war). His last work, Autobiography of Mark Twain, contained many of his private beliefs and 5
opinions and was not published until November 2010, one hundred years after he died.
Selected Bibliography The most well-known works by Mark Twain include: Roughing It (1872) Twain wrote this collection of memoirs after his experience with the silver-miners of Nevada and his cross-country expedition with his brother Orion. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) Based on Twain’s personal memories of Hannibal - called St. Petersburg in the novel - and shows an idyllic picture of boyhood. The Prince and the Pauper (1881) Two identical boys who were born on the same day swap their lives - one is a poor Londoner, the other is Edward VI, the Prince of Wales. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) Huck is a friend of Tom Sawyer and he narrates this satirical story of his adventures in the language of the Mississippi Delta. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) Twain’s interest in science is behind this tale of a timetravelling engineer from Connecticut who is transported to England in the early Middle Ages.
The Million-Pound Bank-Note (1893) Twain had financial problems himself and this story focuses on the importance of money in society - it is one of Twain’s most imitated stories. A Ghost Story (1903) This horror story becomes a comedy when the ghost turns out to be the spirit of a false giant. A Dog’s Tale (1904) First published in Harper’s Magazine, this story later appeared in a pamphlet for the National Anti-Vivisection Society. Eve’s Diary (1906) Twain wrote a series of books about the story of Adam and Eve and this particular one is often believed to be a love letter written to his wife, Livy, who died in 1904. The story ends with Adam remembering his adored wife, saying “Wherever she was, there was Eden.”
Many of the stories told by Mark Twain took place on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Historical Background The American Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865 as the Confederate government in the South attempted to break free from the Unionists in the North. Mark Twain was in his mid-twenties when war was declared and he joined up, went from the rank of Private to Second Lieutenant in two weeks, and then gave up. His fighting career may not have been very impressive, but the war had a very important result - the abolition of slavery. Twain was a great supporter of Abraham Lincoln, the President
American Civil War soldiers. Mark Twain briefly fought on the side of the Confederate Army (the southern army during the Civil War).
during the war, and pushed for the emancipation of slaves. As a child, Twain spent every summer on his uncle’s farm in the company of an old black slave, listening to his ghost stories. He had seen men and women chained on a river-boat taking them to be sold. One of his best-known novels about the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Jim, a runaway slave, has been censored for its language and criticised for its message, but the boy’s reactions to the truths he discovers for himself - black and white, good and bad, friend and enemy - turn the teachings of society upside down. Another civil rights question which was important in the life of Mark Twain was Women’s rights and their right to vote - suffrage. His wife, Olivia Langdon, came from a liberal family and introduced him to activists, atheists, socialists and abolitionists. As in Europe, the end of the nineteenth century was a time of social change in the United States of America, and Twain was open-minded and interested in hearing a lot of different views. As he said himself, he often changed his views, but when he put his feelings into words these have been read and repeated by generations. “The War-Prayer” which he wrote in 1916 about the American role in the Philippines was taken up by the anti-war movements at the time of the Vietnam war and the war in Iraq. Science and technology were of great interest at the time and many important discoveries and inventions were made in Twain’s life-time, including antiseptics, pasteurisation, 9
toilet paper and CocaCola. He appreciated the advances that were being made in expanding our knowledge of the world, but he also held strong views, for example, against vivisection and said that “the pain Nikola Tesla during one of his experiments. which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of (his) enmity towards it”. He was great friends with the inventor and physicist Nikola Tesla, famous for his ground-breaking work in the field of electricity, and Thomas Edison visited Twain’s home and made a film of him in 1909. People’s ideas were changing from traditional, religious views, to more secular ones, and as we can see in Eve’s Diary, Twain took a practical, modern approach to the story of Creation. He was also very interested in the supernatural, but laughed at people who were too ready to believe, as exemplified by the three metre “giant” of a “petrified man” discovered in Cardiff, New York which haunts the narrator’s apartment in “A Ghost Story”.
A Ghost Story
I rented a big room, at the top end of Broadway, in an enormous old building whose upper floors had been completely empty for years until I came. For a long time, the place had only been occupied by dust and cobwebs1, by solitude and silence. I felt like I was walking among the tombs and invading the privacy of the dead, that first night I climbed up the stairs to my new home. For the first time in my life I felt a superstitious terror; and when I turned a dark corner of the stairway and an invisible cobweb touched my face, I shook like someone who had encountered a phantom. I was happy to get to my room and lock out the spiders and the darkness. A friendly fire was burning in the fireplace, and I sat down in front of it with a feeling of comfort. For two hours I sat there, thinking of past times; remembering old adventures, and calling half-forgotten faces from the mists of my memory; listening, in my imagination, to voices that long ago grew silent for all time, and to once familiar songs that nobody sings now. And as I dreamed of the past 1 cobweb
The net a spider makes
A Ghost Story
and remembered softer and sadder memories, the screaming winds outside softened to a sad cry, the angry beating2 of the rain against the windows 2 beat
Hitting something over and over again 13
softened to a quiet tap-tap-tap, one by one the noises in the street were silent, until the hurrying footsteps of the last night-owls3 died away in the distance and left no sound behind. The fire had burned low. A feeling of loneliness came over me. I got up from my chair and undressed, moving on tiptoe4 around the room, doing what I had to do as quietly as possible, as if there were sleeping enemies all around me whose sleep it would be a fatal mistake to break. I pulled the covers over me in my bed, and lay there listening to the rain and wind and the distant sound of the window shutters5, till they sang me to sleep. I slept profoundly, but how long I do not know. Suddenly I was awake, and filled with a horrible expectancy. Everything was silent. Only my own heart made a terrible noise - I could hear it beat. And then little by little the bedclothes began to move away slowly towards the end of the bed, like someone was 3 night
owl A person who prefers to stay up late at night 4 tiptoe Walk quietly on the ends of your toes 5 shutter A wooden window outside the glass window 14
A Ghost Story
pulling them! I could not move; I could not speak. And the blankets continued to move away towards my feet, till my torso was uncovered. Then with a great effort I took hold of them and pulled them over my head. I waited, listened, waited. Once again that pulling began, and once again I lay for what felt like a century of long seconds till my torso was naked again. At last I called up my energies and pulled the covers back to their place and held them with all my strength. I waited. But soon I felt the pulling again, and grabbed the blankets again. The pulling got stronger and stronger, more and more constant. My hands let
go, and for the third time the blankets fell away. I groaned6. An answering groan came from the foot of the bed! There were drops of sweat on my face. I was more dead than alive. Suddenly I heard a heavy footstep in my room - the step of an elephant, it seemed to me - it was not like anything human. But it was moving away from me - that was the good news. I heard it go to the door - and go through it without moving the bolt or the lock - and walk away along the sad empty corridors, the heavy footsteps making the floors creak7 as it passed - and then everything was silent once again. 2
When my excitement had calmed, I said to myself, â€œThis is a dream - simply a terrible dream.â€? And so I lay in bed thinking about it over and over until I convinced myself that it was a dream, and then I relaxed with a comforting laugh and I was happy again. I got up and lit a candle; and when I found that the locks and bolts were exactly as I had left them, another relaxing laugh bubbled up from my heart 6 groan
A sad sound 7 creak The noise made by wooden floors or furniture 16
Muestra - Mark Twain - Classic Tales EDELVIVES