This Day In Literary History
On December 8th, 1894, the famous American writer James Thurber was born. He was born in Columbus, Ohio. His father was a clerk and minor politician with dreams of becoming a lawyer or an actor.
His mother was a fun-loving practical joker whom he described as "a born comedienne... one of the finest comic talents I think I have ever known." He had two brothers. When he was a boy, his brother William accidentally shot him in the eye with an arrow during a game of William Tell.
Medical technology was primitive at the time, so James lost his eye. Since the injury prevented him from participating in sports and other recreational activities, Thurber channeled his energy into creative endeavors, taking up writing and drawing.
Thurber attended Ohio State University, but never graduated because his poor eyesight disqualified him from taking a mandatory ROTC course. He would be awarded a degree posthumously, in 1995.
After leaving university in 1918, near the close of World War I, James worked as a code clerk for the Department of State, first in Washington, D.C., then in Paris, a position he would hold until 1920.
After leaving his job as code clerk, Thurber moved back home to Columbus, where he began his writing career, first as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch. In addition to reporting, he wrote book, film, and play reviews in a weekly column called Credos and Curios.
He moved back to Paris for a time and wrote for several major newspapers as a freelancer. Then, in 1925, he moved to New York City's Greenwich Village, taking a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Post.
Two years later, James Thurber became an editor for the New Yorker magazine, with help from his friend, the famous writer E.B. White. In 1930, White found some of Thurber's drawings in a trash can and submitted them for publication.
As a result, Thurber became both a writer and cartoonist for the New Yorker for the next thirty years. In 1935, he married his second wife, Helen, just one month after his divorce from his first wife was finalized.
His marriage to Helen would be a happy one and the couple would remain together until Thurber's death. They had no children, but Thurber's first wife, Althea, had bore him a daughter, Rosemary.
Although James Thurber's first published book, co-written with E.B. White, was a parody of sexual psychology manuals titled Is Sex Necessary, or Why You Feel The Way You Do, Thurber was best known for his short story collections, wherein he established himself as one of the masters of the form.
While dark tales such as The Whip-Poor-Will, The Dog Who Bit People, and The Night The Bed Fell are among his most famous works, his best known and most popular story was a poignant comic gem titled The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.
Walter Mitty (modeled after Thurber's father) is a mild-mannered nebbish en route to do his weekly shopping with his wife, who has an appointment at the beauty parlor. During this trip, Mitty escapes from his extremely mundane world (and his overbearing wife) through a series of fantastic daydreams.
In these daydreams, he becomes the pilot of a Navy seaplane caught in a storm, a brilliant surgeon performing a revolutionary medical procedure, a cool assassin on trial, and a daring RAF pilot on a secret suicide mission during World War I.
The theme of the story is summed up in the sentence "Success is a journey, not a destination." In 1947, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty was adapted as a feature film starring Danny Kaye in the title role.
Though he served as script consultant, all of Thurber's suggestions were ignored by producer Samuel Goldwyn. The movie bore little resemblance to Thurber's story, and in a letter written to Life magazine, Thurber expressed his deep hatred of the film. Despite this, Goldwyn insisted that Thurber approved of the project.
Throughout his prolific literary career, James Thurber wrote numerous short stories which were published in dozens of collections. Among these were over 75 fables, the most famous being The Unicorn In The Garden.
In this humorous modern fable, a mild mannered husband sees a unicorn in his garden. When he tells his wife about it, she ridicules him and reminds him that "the unicorn is a mythical beast."
He persists, maintaining that the animal is real, so she threatens to have him committed. He doesn't believe her, but she makes good on her threat. The authorities arrive and the wife tells them that her husband saw a unicorn in the garden.
They ask her husband if he saw the unicorn and he says no, because "the unicorn is a mythical beast." So they take the wife away in a straight-jacket and "the husband lived happily ever after!"
Thurber's other writings include numerous nonfiction articles and essays, including humorous essays on the English language and a five-part 1947-48 series for the New Yorker on the popularity of radio soap operas.
In the late 1930s, he co-wrote the hit Broadway play The Male Animal with his college friend, actor-director-writer Elliot Nugent. It would be adapted as a feature film in 1942 that starred Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland.
As a cartoonist, Thurber was known for his surreal, satirical drawings. With his eyesight failing, the last cartoon he drew was a self-portrait in yellow crayon on black paper, which appeared on the cover of the July 9th, 1951 issue of Time magazine.
Although he worked in other genres and mediums, James Thurber was best known as a master of the short story. He died on November 2nd, 1961, of complications from pneumonia, following a stroke. He was 66 years old.
Quote Of The Day
"Don't get it right, just get it written." - James Thurber
Today's video features a complete reading of James Thurber's most famous short story, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. Enjoy!
Friday, December 8, 2017
Thursday, December 7, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 7th, 1873, the famous American writer Willa Cather was born. The oldest of seven children, she was born Wilella Sibert Cather in Gore, Virginia.
When Willa was nine years old, her father moved the family to Nebraska, where he tried his hand first at farming, then at the real estate and insurance business.
The young Willa fell in love with the landscape and weather of the frontier. She also became interested in the cultures of the immigrant and Native American families who lived in the area. All of this would inspire her as a writer.
When Willa enrolled at the University of Nebraska, she chose science for her major, as she had initially planned to become a doctor. Then, during her freshman year, her first published work appeared.
An essay she'd written about Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle was published by the Nebraska State Journal. Willa became a regular contributor to the Journal and changed her major to English, determined to become a writer.
After graduating with a degree in English, Willa Cather moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to take a job writing for the Home Monthly, a women's magazine.
From there, she became a drama critic and telegraph editor for the Pittsburgh Leader. She also taught high school English, Latin, and algebra. At the Allegheny High School, she became the head of the English department.
In 1906, at the age of 33, Willa moved to New York City to work as an editor for McClure's Magazine, a hugely popular liberal magazine that was famous for its muckraking exposes of corporate crimes and abuses.
In addition to her editing duties, her fiction was published alongside that of Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Willa also co-authored the biography Mary Baker Eddy: The Story of Her Life and the History of Christian Science which was published in a serialized format by McClure's in fourteen installments over an eighteen month period. It would later be republished in book form.
After several years working at her hectic editing position, Willa found her own writing output slowing to a crawl. So she bounced back and wrote her first novel.
Alexander's Bridge 1912, first published in a serialized format by McClure's, received great reviews from The New York Times and the Atlantic Monthly.
Alexander's Bridge was way ahead of its time in its depiction of a man suffering from mid-life crisis. The middle-aged, married Bartley Alexander, a construction engineer famous for the bridges he's built, finds himself drawn into an affair with an old flame, Hilda Burgoyne.
Torn between two loves and tormented, Alexander's life literally comes crashing down around him when he is summoned to Canada to inspect his newest bridge, which is in danger of collapsing.
Willa Cather followed her memorable debut novel with her classic Prairie Trilogy - O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Antonia (1918).
O Pioneers! told the story of a Swedish immigrant farm family in Nebraska at the turn of the 20th century. In The Song of the Lark, the young heroine Thea Kronborg leaves her Colorado hometown, determined to become an opera star.
My Antonia, the third and most famous novel in the trilogy, chronicles the life of Antonia "Tony" Shimerda, a young Bohemian girl living in the small town of Black Hawk, Nebraska.
The novel, which incorporates several previously written short stories, is divided into five "books" and narrated by Jim Burden, a successful lawyer.
Antonia was his childhood sweetheart and remains his lifelong friend, though she marries another man and Jim has an affair with another childhood friend, Lena Lingard.
In 1922, Willa published the novel that would win her a Pulitzer Prize. One of Ours is a tale of existential angst set in Nebraska around the time of the first World War.
Claude Wheeler, the son of a successful farmer, is attending a Christian college, which he absolutely hates. He pleads with his parents to let him enroll at the state university in order to get a better education. They refuse.
Struggling to find meaning in his life, Claude strikes up a friendship with the Erlichs, a family who introduces him to classical music and progressive free thinking.
Unfortunately, Claude has the rug pulled out from under him when his father expands the family farm and orders him home to help work it. Pinned to the farm like a mounted butterfly, Claude grows bored and listless.
Finding no fulfillment in farm work, he marries Enid Royce, a childhood friend, but soon realizes that she cares more about her activism and Christian missionary work than him.
Enid ultimately leaves him and goes to China to care for her sister, a fellow missionary who has fallen ill. Devastated and disillusioned, the only thing that Claude has to take his mind off his miserable life is news of the war.
A world war has broken out in Europe, and Claude's entire family is obsessed with the conflict. When the United States enters the war in 1917, he volunteers for military service.
Ironically, despite the hardships and horrors of war, Claude finally finds meaning in his new life as a soldier. Despite all his new responsibilities and all the orders he must follow, he has never felt so free.
The idealist without an ideal to cling to now has something to fight for in the hellish trenches of France, as his regiment engages an overwhelming German force in a ferocious battle.
Willa Cather established herself as one of the best American writers of the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, her work fell out of favor as the American landscape made a dramatic shift from the Jazz Age to the Great Depression.
Discouraged by criticism that her work had become irrelevant, her later writing output slowed to a crawl and she became a recluse. She died of a stroke in 1947 at the age of 73.
Quote Of The Day
"Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen." - Willa Cather
Today's video features a complete reading of Willa Cather's classic, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, One of Ours. Enjoy!
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 6th, 1933, a federal judge ruled that Ulysses, the classic epic novel by legendary Irish writer James Joyce, was not legally obscene.
The novel, first published in a serialized format in the American literary magazine The Little Review in 1918, had been banned in the United States for over ten years.
In 1920, when the magazine published the novel's thirteenth episode, Nausicaä, a moralist group called The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV) objected to the content and determined to keep Ulysses from being published in America in any format.
The NYSSV was founded in 1873 by the notorious Anthony Comstock and his supporters in the Young Men's Christian Association. (Yes, that YMCA.) Comstock was a United States Postal Inspector.
The same year that he founded the NYSSV, he persuaded Congress to pass the Comstock Act, which made it illegal to send obscene materials through the mail.
The passage of the Comstock Act resulted in the enacting of "Comstock Laws" at the state and federal level. The last of these laws wouldn't be struck down by the Supreme Court until 1965.
The Comstock Act was a nightmare. His definition of obscenity was so vague that he even used the law and his power as a Postal Inspector to block the shipment of certain medical textbooks to medical students.
Comstock had copies of George Bernard Shaw's classic play Mrs. Warren's Profession blocked, calling Shaw "an Irish smut dealer." The furious playwright remarked:
Comstockery is the world's standing joke at the expense of the United States. Europe likes to hear of such things. It confirms the deep-seated conviction of the Old World that America is a provincial place, a second-rate country-town civilization after all.
Although Comstock enjoyed a public reputation as a devout Christian guardian of morality, privately, he was corrupt - and notoriously so.
As a moralist, he destroyed the lives of many innocent people. He proudly admitted to being responsible for 4,000 arrests and 15 suicides.
In his later years, his health began deteriorating, the result of a severe blow to the head from an unknown attacker. Before he died in 1915, Comstock attracted the attention of an admirer.
The young man was a law student named J. Edgar Hoover. He agreed with Comstock's beliefs and was interested in his methods of investigation, prosecution, and conviction.
Unfortunately, Comstock's NYSSV was successful in its prosecution of The Little Review for publishing the offending episode from Ulysses.
At the first trial in 1921, the literary magazine was ruled legally obscene, and as a result, Ulysses was banned in the United States.
The ruling was a product of its time. The Nausicaä episode contained a scene which must have been shocking to 1920s sensibilities. Leopold Bloom, one of the main characters, meets a girl named Gerty MacDowell at the beach.
Gertie has come to watch a fireworks display. She soon notices Bloom staring at her. Her passion stirred by both him and the fireworks, Gerty deliberately exposes herself to Bloom. He becomes aroused and starts to masturbate, which arouses her in return.
They both reach orgasm as a Roman candle explodes overhead, gushing out "a stream of rain gold hair threads." Afterward, Gerty leaves and reveals herself to be lame, leaving Bloom to contemplate on the beach.
With Joyce's playful punning, the erotic scene becomes a parody of the Catholic Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament ceremony, with Bloom acting out his own version of an Adoration.
In this parody, Gerty's body serves as the body of Christ. The revelation of her lameness is Joyce's biting metaphor for the Catholic Church. At the time, such satirical jabs at the Church or religion in general could easily spark a fire of outrage.
The trial that resulted in Ulysses being banned in the United States drew a huge amount of publicity. As a result, pirated editions of the novel were published.
These illegal editions were sold on the black market or under the counter in bookshops. They made the novel a bestseller, but Joyce and his publisher didn't earn a penny from the sales of the pirated books.
In 1933, after twelve years of frustration, Joyce's official U.S. publisher, Random House, decided to set up a test case. They imported an uncensored French edition of Ulysses and had Customs confiscate a copy after the ship was unloaded.
That year, the case of United States vs. One Book Called Ulysses came to trial. On December 6th, 1933, U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that Ulysses was not legally obscene.
A furious NYSSV appealed the decision. The case reached the United States Second Court of Appeal, which affirmed it on August 7th, 1934.
Ulysses was finally published uncensored in the United States. Most of these editions - including the one that I have - feature the text of the Woolsey ruling as part of the forward.
Woolsey had ruled that Ulysses was not pornographic because it contained no "dirt for dirt's sake." Also, the novel was so hard to understand that people would be unlikely to read it for the purpose of titillation.
British literary scholar and translator Stuart Gilbert wrote that Woolsey's ruling was "epoch-making." He was right. The ruling made it much harder for would-be censors to get written works declared legally obscene.
Also, the ruling made it practically impossible for an entire novel to be declared legally obscene because of a few allegedly offending lines or passages contained within it.
Quote Of The Day
“[A writer is] a priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life.” - James Joyce
Today's video features nonfiction writer Kevin Birmingham discussing his book, The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses on the American radio show The Avid Reader. Enjoy!
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 5th, 1941, Sea of Cortez, the classic nonfiction book by the legendary American writer John Steinbeck, was published. Subtitled A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research, it was co-written by the noted marine biologist, ecologist, and philosopher Ed Ricketts.
The two men had first met in 1930. Steinbeck had always been interested in marine biology; Ricketts, a professional biologist, had a small laboratory in Cannery Row where he prepared specimens of intertidal plant life for sale to universities and other laboratories.
Steinbeck spent many hours with Ricketts in the lab and they greatly enjoyed each other's company. In 1939, Ricketts published Between Pacific Tides, a definitive textbook study of intertidal fauna.
The following year, Steinbeck was in desperate need of escape and relaxation following the controversy surrounding his classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939) - he had been publicly vilified as a communist propagandist, though he had taken great pains to avoid being labeled as such.
Meanwhile, Ricketts had been planning another specimen collecting trip along the Pacific coast. The two friends decided to go together. Steinbeck hired a sardine fishing boat called the Western Flyer take them down the Pacific coast and into Mexico.
To offset the cost of the trip, Steinbeck and Ricketts decided to write a book together about the expedition. They both kept detailed journals, which they would rework into a book manuscript.
After sailing leisurely and fishing down the Pacific coast, they refueled in San Diego and moved on to Cabo San Lucas. There, they were greeted by Mexican officials and began collecting specimens.
They and the crew of the Western Flyer engaged in frequent battles with the boat's outboard motor, which they nicknamed the Hansen Sea-Cow. Their problems with the motor served as a running gag in the book:
Our Hansen Sea-Cow was not only a living thing but a mean, irritable, contemptible, vengeful, mischievous, hateful living thing.... [it] loved to ride on the back of a boat, trailing its propeller daintily in the water while we rowed... when attacked with a screwdriver [it] fell apart in simulated death... It loved no one, trusted no one, it had no friends.
At La Paz, out of beer and warmly received by the natives, they hit the town and enjoyed the hospitality. They also spent three days collecting specimens. Steinbeck would base his classic novella The Pearl (1947) on his time in La Paz.
On their way to San José Island, Steinbeck, Ricketts, and their crew ended up rowing their boat when the cantankerous Hansen Sea-Cow refused to start. From there, they moved on to Puerto Escondido.
In Puerto Escondido, Steinbeck and Ricketts found their most abundant fauna collecting ground. They also hung out with some new Mexican friends, eating, drinking, and listening to dirty jokes in Spanish.
The six-week expedition would take the men to many other locations around the Baja California peninsula. They would collect over 500 species of intertidal plant life and discover 50 new species of marine life, including three new species of sea anemone.
Dr. Oscar Calgren of the Lund University's Department of Zoology in Sweden named these species Palythoa rickettsii, Isometridium rickettsi, and Phialoba steinbecki after the two men who discovered them.
When Steinbeck and Ricketts got back to Monterey, they began work on their book. After the manuscript was submitted, Steinbeck's editor wanted the title page to state that Steinbeck wrote the book, which included appendices by Ricketts. A furious Steinbeck shot back, "I not only disapprove of your plan — I forbid it!"
He enjoyed writing Sea of Cortez with Ricketts. He liked the challenge of applying his skills as a novelist to writing scientific nonfiction and making it entertaining. The book is part scientific text, part travelogue, and part philosophy.
Steinbeck believed that Sea of Cortez was the best work he'd done, but expected the critics to savage it. He also expected it to be of limited commercial appeal. The reviews were mixed, but mostly favorable.
The book was indeed a commercial failure, but not because of limited appeal. It was published on December 5th, 1941 - two days before the Pearl Harbor attack took place, bringing the United States into World War II. Suddenly, marine biology was the last thing on the public's mind.
The revenues from Sea of Cortez were not nearly enough to allow Ed Ricketts to pay John Steinbeck back for financing their expedition. Steinbeck didn't care. He remained close friends with Ricketts, on whom he based the character of Doc, the good-natured, booze guzzling marine biologist who appears in Cannery Row (1945) and other novels.
In 1948, Ricketts was killed when a train struck his car. Steinbeck was devastated. Three years later, their book was reissued as The Log from the Sea of Cortez. The new edition included a biographical preface titled About Ed Ricketts. This time, the book received the commercial success it was due.
Quote Of The Day
"When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day's work is all I can permit myself to contemplate." - John Steinbeck
Today's video features a Stanford University symposium of lectures on how John Steinbeck's relationship with the environment was depicted in his books. Enjoy!
Monday, December 4, 2017
Hello Happy Writey People. I'm a little late with this one, but The Fem Literary Magazine has published my story, 'Combustion.'
The Fem isn't a paying market, but publishes a diverse selection of feminist writing, so even though I won't be able to buy a pint with this one, I'm still stoked to be included in their magazine.
Cezarija E. Abartis
"Sins and Misdemeanors" is online at COLUMBIA JOURNAL. I want to thank readers of these three flashes at IWW. The flashes are better because of your critiques:
Rasmenia Massoud, Paul Pekin, Priya P., Wayne Scheer, Chioma Iwunze Ibiam, Charles Opara, Kristen Howe, Frank Zielony, Aaron Troye-White, Abhinav Kumar, Rachel Ball, Charles Chettiar.
Joanna M. Weston
Three poems from my book 'A Summer Father' up at 7Beats Here and Now. Scroll down to the book cover. I feel so honoured that these poems about my father should be published again.
A haiku in Brass Bell. Scroll down, they are alphabetical by first name. Theresa Cancro is in there too.
Pleased to share the publication of my first book! "Brogan Bites", a collection of creative nonfiction poetry and flash prose, is available on Amazon for Kindle and its compatible apps, as well as in paperback.
My poem, “Sookeys Creek Coal Miners,” is the featured poem (on the front page) in the December issue of Better Than Starbucks!
This publication considers previously published work and my featured poem was a first place winner in a poetry contest almost twenty years ago.
During the past year Better Than Starbucks has also published one of my prize-winning haiku and one of my previously published flash fiction pieces. I love it that some places will help us recirculate our work.
Theresa A. Cancro
Four of my senryu have been published in the December 2017 issue (#24) of Failed Haiku. Linda Gamble is also there.
One haiku is included in the December 2017 issue of Brass Bell. The theme is poems written about experiences on November 18, 2017. Joanna Weston is also there. It's arranged alphabetically by poets' first names.
One haiku has been published in The Heron's Nest, Volume XIX, Number 4, December 2017. Scroll down.
I had a flash in Lost Balloon, "The World's More Full of Weeping,” , which was nominated for the Best Small Fictions Anthology.
My flash in Jellyfish Review, "I Want to Believe the Truth Is Out There,” also was nominated for the Best Small Fictions Anthology.
My flash in Sundog Lit, “The Girls at the Kaiulani Resort,” was nominated for a Pushcart.
Friday, December 1, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On December 1st, 1821, Adonais, the classic epic poem by the legendary English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was published. It appeared in the Literary Chronicle and became known as one of the greatest Romantic poems ever written.
Adonais was Shelley's elegy to his close friend, the legendary English poet John Keats, who had died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Shelley believed that scathing reviews of his poetry, not tuberculosis, had actually killed Keats.
During his short life, Keats' work was loudly derided by critics. It wouldn't be until after his death that Keats was finally recognized as the one of the greatest English poets of all time.
In Adonais, Shelley metaphorically depicted Keats' critics as loathsome creatures such as worms, reptiles, and dragons. Other scathing metaphors included "carrion kite" and "a noteless blot on a remembered name."
Keats' girlfriend, Fanny Browne, complained that Adonais made Keats appear overly sensitive and gave him "a weakness of character that only belonged to his ill-health."
The great poet Lord Byron, a mutual friend of Shelley and Keats, recalled his own reaction to negative reviews and quipped, "Instead of bursting a blood-vessel, I drank three bottles of claret and began an answer." In his classic epic poem Don Juan, Byron described Keats' fate:
'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuffed out by an Article.
Shelley's poem wasn't really to blame for the resulting myth of Keats' fragility. Keats had wanted his tombstone to read, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water," but this is how his executors had it engraved:
This Grave contains all that was Mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET Who, on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies, Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone.
By the time the engraving was completed on Keats' tombstone, Percy Bysshe Shelley had also died, drowning at sea after his ship went down in a storm.
Quote Of The Day
"Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." - Percy Bysshe Shelley
Today's video features a complete reading of Percy Bysshe Shelley's classic epic poem, Adonais. Enjoy!
Thursday, November 30, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On November 30th, 1835, the legendary American writer Mark Twain was born in Florida, Missouri. He was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the son of a lawyer and judge. He was the sixth of seven children; only three of his siblings would survive childhood.
When Twain was four years old, his father moved the family to Hannibal, Missouri, a port town on the Mississippi River. Growing up in Hannibal, Twain came to love the town and would model the fictional town of St. Petersberg, Missouri, after it.
Twain's father contracted pneumonia and died when he was eleven years old. A year later, Twain went to work as a printer's devil, (apprentice) where he learned the printing and typesetting trade.
By the age of sixteen, he was working as a typesetter and writing articles and humorous pieces for the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his brother, Orion.
When he turned eighteen, Twain left Hannibal and moved East, living in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and New York City. He worked as a printer by day and educated himself at night.
Twain educated himself at public libraries, where he found a wider spectrum of information available to him than in conventional schools. He would return to Hannibal four years later.
While traveling by steamboat down the Mississippi to New Orleans, Twain befriended the pilot, Horace E. Bixby, who inspired him to become a steamboat pilot himself. At the time, steamboat piloting was a very prominent and respected position.
It also paid well - around $3000 per year, which is equivalent to about $72,000 in today's money. In order to obtain a steamboat pilot's license, one had to go through extensive training.
While Twain was training, his younger brother Henry was killed on another steamboat when it exploded. A month before the explosion, Twain had had a dream where his brother died.
After he was killed, Twain was racked with guilt because he had encouraged Henry to train on the ill-fated steamboat and never took the dream seriously. He would develop an interest in parapsychology as a result.
Despite this tragedy, Twain worked as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River until 1861, when the Civil War broke out. His famous pen name, Mark Twain, was a term used by steamboat captains to note that the water was at least two fathoms deep, and thus safe to travel on.
Twain's experiences as a steamboat pilot would lead him to write his classic book, Life on the Mississippi (1883), a combination of non-fiction and fiction in which he mixed autobiography and history with folklore.
In 1861, Twain moved out West and joined his brother Orion, who had been appointed secretary to James W. Nye, the governor of the Nevada Territory. To get there, Twain and Orion traveled two weeks by stagecoach across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.
The trip would inspire him to write his classic first short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1865) and his famous travelogue, Roughing It (1872).
When they arrived in Virginia City, Nevada, Twain found work as a miner. He failed at mining, so he switched gears and began working as a journalist for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper, where he first used his famous pen name, Mark Twain.
He moved to San Francisco in 1864, where he met famous writers such as Bret Harte, Artemus Ward, Dan DeQuille, and Ina Coolbrith. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County would be published a year later in The Saturday Press, a weekly literary newspaper based in New York City.
In 1867, Twain was still working as a journalist when a newspaper sponsored him to take a tour of Europe and the Middle East, during which he wrote a series of popular travel letters.
These letters would be compiled and published in book form as his classic travelogue, The Innocents Abroad (1869). While on his tour, Twain met Charles Langdon, whose sister, Olivia, he would later marry.
Twain met Olivia in 1868. It was love at first sight, and within two years, they would be married. She bore him a son and three daughters. Twain's son Langdon died at the age of two from diphtheria. His daughter Susy would die suddenly from meningitis at 24.
Daughter Jean, an epileptic, would die at 29 after suffering a seizure in the bathtub. Though oldest daughter Clara would live a long life, her relationship with her father was tempestuous and plagued with scandal.
Mark Twain's wife, Olivia, came from a wealthy, liberal, intellectual family, and through them, he met fellow abolitionists and "socialists, principled atheists, and activists for women's rights and social equality."
These influential people included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and the famous utopian socialist, William Dean, who became a lifelong friend.
Olivia's family and their friends would have a strong influence on Twain's philosophy and writings. Although a Presbyterian, Twain was often critical of religion and once quipped that "if Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be – a Christian."
Twain would become most famous for his classic novels such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), The Prince and the Pauper (1882), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), Eve's Diary (1906), and many others.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), considered by many to be Twain's greatest novel, was attacked for its abolitionist themes when it was first published.
The novel finds Tom's friend Huckleberry Finn on an adventure of his own. While running away from his guardians, Huck meets Jim, an escaped slave who hopes to make it to Ohio - a free state - and eventually buy his family's freedom so they can join him there.
Through initially opposed to the idea of Jim becoming a free man, when he befriends and travels with him, Huck comes to realize that Jim is a good, intelligent man who deserves to be free.
When Jim is betrayed by some grifters and recaptured, Huck helps him escape again even though its against the law- it's considered a form of theft. In one of the novel's most famous lines, Huck, knowing that stealing is a sin, defiantly says, "All right then, I'll go to hell!"
Ironically, Twain's novel would be attacked again some seventy years after it was first published - this time for its alleged racism. The NAACP has denounced the novel for its use of the racial epithet nigger and alleged racist stereotyping of blacks.
The novel is often targeted by African-American activists who want it banned from classrooms and school libraries, but Twain scholars point out that the author let his Southern white characters speak their own ugly language as a way of denouncing slavery and the Southern notion that black people were subhuman.
In 2011, NewSouth Books, a publishing house in Alabama, issued a controversial new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - a bowdlerized edition with all uses of the word nigger changed to slave, and the word injun deleted entirely.
Suzanne La Rosa, co-founder of NewSouth Books, claimed that the changes would make the novel more acceptable for the classroom, but scholars derided the new edition as an attempt to whitewash the long history of white Southerners' venomous racism.
In addition to his writings, Mark Twain was also a world famous lecturer, and his lecture tours helped to establish his reputation as America's greatest humorist and iconoclast. When he ran into financial troubles from bad investments, he would go out on more lecture tours to earn back the money he lost.
During one European tour, Twain was invited to speak as the guest of the Concordia Press Club in Vienna, Austria. In typical Twain style, he gave a speech in German - Die Schrecken der Deutschen Sprache, which means The Horrors of the German Language.
Mark Twain died in 1910 at the age of 74. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest writers of all time and a founding father of American literature.
Quote Of The Day
"Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words." - Mark Twain
Today's video features a complete reading of Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Enjoy!