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Creator: Mark Twain
Just look at that glorious mustache.

"My greatest hope is that, just like Mark Twain, people will one day look at my work and say, 'Wow, that's actually pretty racist.'"

Boston, Massachusetts, November 1869. A short, thin man wearing a cheap suit, an unkempt mop of red hair, a long red mustache, and brandishing a smelly cigar, ambles up the staircase at 124 Tremont Street to the second story headquarters of Ticknor & Fields, a publishing firm. Settling into the office of William Dean Howells, a junior partner of the firm, he lets fly a ravishing quip, referencing a favorable review of his latest work, 'The Innocents Abroad', in a magazine published by the firm. 'When I read that review of yours, I felt like the woman who was so glad her baby had come white'.

And thus Samuel Langorne Clemens erupted onto the literary scene. He was a backwoods outcast of low social standing who became a seminal American author, and he is considered to be the father of American literature. He took his most prominent Pen Name from 19th century riverboat jargon. The boatmen would call out "marks" indicating the depth of the water. "Mark Twain" indicates two fathoms, which is just deep enough for safe maneuvering. The name is deliberately ambiguous, for mark twain is the point at which dangerous waters become safe - and safe waters become dangerous.

The son of Missouri slave owners (though an abolitionist himself), he dropped out of school at age twelve and spent his formative years working as a printer's apprentice, before becoming a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi and later a newspaper reporter in the Nevada Territory. His early fame was as a humorist and satirical newspaper writer, before he broke into the American literary landscape as an author and essayist.

He was also obsessed with the separation between the 'dream self' and the 'waking self', and kept a regular dream journal twenty years before Freud. He was also horribly guilt-ridden over the deaths of family members he blamed himself for, such as his younger brothers Benjamin and Henry and his son Langdon.

His early works were humorous (and Clemens in his Twain persona is one of the most famous Deadpan Snarkers there is), but he became a bit of a Straw Nihilist later in life when his favorite daughter, Susan, caught meningitis, went mad and died at 24, his wife died of heart failure, and his middle daughter Jean drowned in the bathtub on Christmas morning after suffering an epileptic seizure. And let's not forget losing most of his fortune to business investments that went bad, forcing him to declare bankruptcy. Despite it all, Twain always seemed to come back from tragedy, becoming more and more of a hero to people who viewed him as a survivor.

He died on April 21, 1910, the day after Halley's Comet reached its perihelion, or closest pass to the sun. He was born two weeks after its prior perihelion in 1835. As Clemens himself said the year before he died, "I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it."

Works by Clemens with their own pages:


Additional Works with Related Tropes:

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1867)

The Innocents Abroad (1869)

  • Adventurer Archaeologist: During the Holy Land leg of their journey, Twain's fellow passengers on the USS Quaker City fancied themselves as this. In real life, they were just a bunch of prototypical yuppie tourists who had a disturbing penchant for breaking off and stealing pieces of historical monuments, such as Judas' tomb and the arch that Christ walked under on Palm Sunday. As Twain put it, "Heaven protect the Sepulchre when this tribe invades Jerusalem!"
  • Covert Pervert: When Twain visited France and the Can Can Dancers, he mentioned he was shocked and covered his eyes at such a scene - but peeked through his fingers. Keep in mind, real Can Can Dancers didn't wear any underwear.
  • Inexplicably Identical Individuals: Twain refers to every tour guide he encounters on the European continent as "Ferguson". This also counts as a Running Gag.
  • The Nicknamer: Twain himself gave nicknames to most of the Quaker City's passengers. One of these, a seventeen-year-old tourist who was nicknamed 'Interrogation Point' and was described 'young, and green, and not bright, not learned, and not wise', later became Twain's brother-in-law.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: Twain divided up his fellow travelers into two groups: the pious, Bible-studying upper middle class "Pilgrims", and the hard-drinking, sabbath-ignoring, rule-breaking "Sinners". Go ahead and guess which group he identified with.
  • Take That: Against 19th Century travel guides at first; the second half is a Author Tract against American tourists and Americans in general, as well as Europeans, Arabs, and, well, everybody else he encounters. If there's a message to be found in the book, it's likely to be that people in general trust authority too much, even when the authority is bugfuck crazy. Whether he's explaining, in detail, why Abelard was a nincompoop, ranting about how the self-appointed Know-Nothing Know-It-All thought that both of the Pillars of Hercules were on the same side of the Strait of Gilbraltar, crying out in agonized confusion about how he doesn't understand why the Italians don't rob their churches, or mocking the bejeezus out of the aforementioned tour guides (one of whom takes him to four different silk stores instead of guiding him to the Louvre as he had asked in the beginning and at every stop along the way), Twain's authorial character is always attacking anyone who takes advantage of a position of authority. Oddly enough, he keeps doing it for the rest of his career, too, all the way up through The Mysterious Stranger, where he has a go at God.
  • World Tour: Clemens travels through Europe.

Roughing It (1872)

The Gilded Age (1873)

  • The Gilded Age: This is the Trope Namer. The age lasted roughly 1865-1900. Clemens and his co-writer, Charles Dudley Warner, condemned the then present-day age of degeneration, vice, and materialism as a false, corrupted Golden Age.

"Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism" (1879) — Speech given to the Stomach Club in Paris.

Life on the Mississippi (1883)

  • Early-Bird Cameo: An early chapter features a raftsman yarn told from the point of view of Huckleberry Finn.

Puddin' Head Wilson (1894)

  • Fingerprinting Air: As the title character basically invents fingerprinting in the course of the story, this qualifies.
  • Pass Fail
  • Switched at Birth: A slave switches her child for a white one so that he'll have a better life.

How to Tell a Story

Is He Living or Is He Dead? (1898)

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (1900)

  • Batman Gambit: As the stranger expected, give the people a chance to gain an incredible fortune and they would be willing to lie to achieve it. So much for being "Incorruptible".
  • The Plan: A stranger was snubbed a the town that claims to be "incorruptible." He desires vengeance and drops off a sack of gold worth about $40,000 and leaves it in front of one family's house that said it was for the man who gave him some life-changing advice and $20. If that person wishes to claim the reward, he need only give the local Reverend a copy of that advice, the real advice is inside sack. As expected by the stranger every prominent person claimed he was the good Samaritan. At the reading, every one who submitted their claim is humiliated, and the sack only had lead in it. Further rubbing salt in the wound when an interesting development happens with the readers of the claims who kept one of their friend's from being read, so they wouldn't be shamed too. The stranger then comes forward and buys the sack for the $40,000 and the "honest" couple are filled with immense guilt over the whole thing.
  • Take That: Mark Twain owned a house in Fredonia, New York where he was accosted by members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union for his public drinking and smoking. This was his response on their belief in their moral superiority.

To the Person Sitting in Darkness (1901)

King Leopold's Soliloquy (1905)

  • Unreliable Narrator: Belgium's King Leopold II argues that he's brought prosperity, peace, and dignity to the Belgian Congo. By enslaving the populace and forcing them to work on rubber plantations.

The War Prayer (Written c. 1904-05, published 1917)

Christian Science (Written c. 1903-1904, published 1907)

  • Corrupt Church: He viewed it this way, detailing the money-making of the Christian Scientists' leadership, objecting to this and the veneration of its founder Mary Baker Eddy, predicting it would rapidly spread across the world, trampling liberty.
  • Take That: A book-long one to Christian Science in general and its founder Mary Baker Eddy in particular. Clemens did have some belief that mental healing worked, but felt Christian Science went too far in its claims for this, and viewed the money-making of its leadership as corrupt hypocrisy. After all, his character in the book reasons, if nothing exists but mind, an imaginary check should do just fine-money wouldn't be an issue.

Letters from the Earth (Written 1909, published 1939)


Appearances in Fiction:

Twain appears as a Historical-Domain Character in numerous stories, TV shows, movies and comics.

Anime

  • The Dagger Of Kamui, inexplicably speaking Japanese. (Then again, so did everybody else, including the Native Americans in the novel.)

Comics

Film

Literature
  • Appears as a friend of Kid Detective PK Pinkerton in The Western Mysteries.
  • Appears in Harry Turtledove's Alternate History novel How Few Remain as Samuel Clemens, a newspaper editor in California.
  • Mark Twain was the central character in a series of historical mysteries by Peter Heck called, unsurprisingly, The Mark Twain Mysteries.
  • Twain comes back to Earth for a visit in 1986 via Halley's Comet, remarking on how things have changed or haven't changed, with his usual acerbic wit, in David Carkeet's I Been There Before.
  • Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld novels see all of humanity resurrected, including Clemens, who is a major character. Farmer freely mixes biographical information with speculation and invention in an attempt to convey his sense of the man. To some readers the trials the character is subjected seem hostile. To others it seems more like a novel kind of hero worship, taken as a whole.

Live-Action TV
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation — Met with Guinan and assisted the crew in the two-parter "Time's Arrow". He was more like a minor villain, because he thought the crew came back in time for their own amusement. They didn't. He was more than willing to assist them, though, when they proved their reasons weren't sinister.
    Troi: Poverty was eliminated on Earth, a long time ago. And a lot of other things disappeared with it - hopelessness, despair, cruelty...
    Twain: Young lady, I come from a time when men achieve power and wealth by standing on the backs of the poor, where prejudice and intolerance are commonplace and power is an end unto itself. And you're telling me that isn't how it is anymore?
    Troi: That's right.
    Twain: Hmmm... Well... maybe... it's worth giving up cigars for, after all.
  • Bonanza has Sam Clemens working as a reporter in Virginia City in an early episode, with later guest appearances showing him as famed author Twain.
  • One of the Roger Moore episodes of the Maverick TV series is set in Virginia City, Nevada, during the mining rush — the same time Twain was working as a journalist there, as chronicled in Roughing It. A supporting character in the episode is a journalist named Clem Samuels.

Web Comics
  • He is the inspiration for Colonel Sassacre in Homestuck.
  • Webcomic Girly has a television show that the characters would watch now and again, in which Victorian authors would kill each other with GUNS!!! Twain appeared in one episode as the villain (the author remarked, "I like to think of Twain as the kind of guy who wouldn't mind me making him evil for NO REASON!").

Western Animation

Other
  • Twain is co-host of The American Adventure attraction at Epcot, along with Benjamin Franklin.
  • Hal Holbrook made a career out of his one-man show where he played Twain.

Karl MarxAuthors Of QuoteAlfred, Lord Tennyson
The Age of InnocenceThe Gilded AgeAn American Tail
Leon TrotskyHistorical-Domain CharacterUesugi Kenshin
Henry David ThoreauAuthorsHoratio Alger, Jr.
Marilyn MonroeUseful NotesMarquis de La Fayette

alternative title(s): Mark Twain
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