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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES

In the final paragraph of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck says, "...so there ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I'd 'a' knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't 'a' tackled it, and ain't a-going to no more."

As you'll see when you've read the novel, the sentiment is very much in character for Huck; but you can also read it as an expression of Mark Twain's relief at finishing the most difficult writing task he ever tackled.

The book had taken him more than seven years to complete. At one point he was so frustrated with it that he considered burning what he'd written. Instead, he put it aside and worked on three other books that were published before Huck Finn.

Twain finished the book in the summer of 1883, just before his 48th birthday. At the time, he was not only rich, but an internationally known writer and lecturer, doing the best work of his career, and married to a woman he adored. It seems appropriate that he should have written his masterpiece during this period, the best time of his life.

Twain's real name was Samuel Clemens, and he was born in 1835 in Florida, Missouri. When he was four years old, his family moved to Hannibal, a town made famous by his books. (In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, he called the town St. Petersburg. "St. Peter's town" was his way of calling Hannibal heaven.)

He went to work as a printer's assistant when he was 11 years old, just after his father died. After he turned 18, he left Hannibal to work as a printer in St. Louis, then in New York. The printing trade got him interested in writing, and he began submitting pieces to newspapers and magazines while he was still in his teens.


He moved from one town to another, practicing his two trades, reporting and printing. He taught himself to write by writing, and eventually he sold more and more of the things he wrote.

If one thing characterized Twain as a young man, it was the urge to move on, an unwillingness to stay put. (This is one of many traits he has in common with Huck Finn.) In 1857 he decided that South America was the place to get rich. So he got on a riverboat headed for New Orleans, where he would arrange the rest of his trip.

He never made it past New Orleans, however. The trip reminded him of how much he loved not only the Mississippi River, but the riverboats that made up its most impressive traffic. He persuaded the pilot to take him on as an apprentice, and in 1859 he became a full-fledged riverboat pilot himself.

He loved that work, and he might have spent the rest of his life at it if the Civil War hadn't closed the river to trade. He enlisted in the Confederate Army, but he found it hard to take military service seriously. He then went west with his brother and tried mining for gold and silver.

It was during these years in the West that he established himself as a writer. He wrote humorous stories about his experiences, which led to a job as a newspaper reporter in 1862. The following year he began signing his pieces "Mark Twain." The words mark twain were a river pilot's phrase that meant two fathoms deep.

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