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Twain, Tom, Huck and Joan of Arc

Biographical information on Twain with some analysis of his Joan of Arc.

Mark Twain was born with the name Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835 in Hannibal, Missouri. He began his writing career by telling of the various adventures that he encountered while traveling around the United States and around the world. When writing, Clemens used the pen name Mark Twain, a phrase used by riverboat captains on the Mississippi River to indicate that the water was two fathoms deep and thus safe for riverboats to travel on. His first successful book was about his travels in Europe and the Holy Land (Israel) and was called Innocents Abroad (1869).
Twain?s most famous works were The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Both of these books discuss the lives of the title characters as they grow up in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, a town right on the Mississippi River. In Tom Sawyer, Twain gives us what he referred to as his ?hymn to boyhood.? In that book we follow the life of a boy and the various activities that make up his life, including convincing his friends it is fun to paint a fence and as well as the more serious task of dealing with robbers and thieves. In Huckleberry Finn, Twain continues the story he began in Tom Sawyer, however this time he focuses on one of Tom?s friends, Huckleberry Finn. In this book, Twain explores the more serious question of the friendship between Huck and a slave he helps to escape, named Jim. Huck and Jim take a raft down the Mississippi River and have many adventures along the way. Another feature of this book, is Twain?s use of vernacular speech. Huckleberry Finn is an uneducated kid who rarely went to school, thus he uses a lot of slang and improper English. For example, while on the raft with Jim headed for free territory, Huck makes the following statement,

[q]?There warn?t nothing to do now but to look out sharp for the town, and not pass it without seeing it. He [Jim] said he?d be mighty sure to see it, because he?d be a free man the minute he seen it, but if he missed it he?d be in slave country again and no more show for freedom.?[/q]

While The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is probably his most famous work, the one he was most proud of was completed later in Twain?s life. This book was The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896). This historical novel was different than Twain?s typical work and he originally published it under a pseudonym, Louis De Conte. The novel tells of the life of Saint Joan of Arc, a teenage French girl who told the French Heir to the throne (named Charles) that God wanted her to save France from the English during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). She asked to be given soldiers to attack the English that had laid a siege upon the French City of Orleans (pronounced or-LEE-on). Charles agreed and Joan, a seventeen-year old girl with no military experience, successfully led the attack on the English and freed the city of Orleans. This victory turned the tide of the Hundred Years War and allowed for a French victory some years later. Twain describes the reaction of the common people to Joan and how her inspiration of them, as well as the troops she led, were key factors in her success on the battlefield. The French needed someone to inspire them to defeat the English, and that is certainly what Joan did. Twain stated of Joan:

[q]?The common people flocked in crowds to look at her and speak with her, and her fair young loveliness won half their belief, and her deep earnestness and transparent sincerity won the other half.?[/q]

Twain?s thoughtful and human portrayal of Joan of Arc emphasized not only the unique, saintly qualities she possessed, but also the human qualities that allow the reader to understand that Joan was a living, breathing human being who was not perfect. Twain concludes the following about Joan of Arc:

[q]?She led it [the French army] from victory to victory, she turned back the tide of the Hundred Years War, she fatally crippled the English power, and died with the earned title of DELIVERER OF FRANCE, which she bears to this day.?[/q]

Twain?s own opinion regarding The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc is instructive in understanding how he viewed the book as the best writing of his career.

[q]?I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; & it is the best; I know perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others: 12 years of preparation & two years of writing. The others needed no preparation & got none.? [/q]

Mark Twain remains one of the most important authors in American history. His many works retain widespread appeal and have not lost their value over time. Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910.

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