The Gilded Age

For years it was seen as the worst of times: bloated, crass, witlessly extravagant. But now scholars are beginning to find some of the era’s unexpected virtues.


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One Hundred Years Of Huck Finn

It was a difficult birth, but it looks as if the child will live forever

“BY AND BY,” Mark Twain wrote to William Dean Howells in 1875, “I shall take a boy of twelve and run him through life (in the first person) but not Tom Sawyer —he would not be a good character for it.” A month later he knew that the boy would be Huck, and he began work; by midsummer of 1876 Twain was well under way. But something went wrong. He gave up the notion of carrying Huck on into adulthood and told Howells of what he had written thus far: “I like it only tolerably well, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn the ms.Read more »

George Orwell’s America

The author of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ never set foot on our shores, but he had a clear and highly personal vision of what we were and what we had been

FOR A WHILE George Orwell thought of calling his novel about life in a totalitarian future The Last Man in Europe. But in the end that title didn’t quite satisfy him, and he chose another simply by reversing the last two digits of the year in which he finished the manuscript.Read more »

Mark Twain In Paradise

He Never Got Hawaii out of His System

On Sunday morning, March 18, 1866, the steamer A jay. sailed into Honolulu Harbor while the bells of six different mission churches called the freshly converted faithful to worship. Among the passengers most eager to go ashore was a thirty-one-year-old knockabout journalist named Samuel Clemens, on assignment for the Sacramento Union . Mark Twain would later make the Mississippi immortal, but first Hawaii would make him famous.Read more »

Twain, The Patent Poet

Mark Twain, surely the most American of great American writers, was, like the country itself, a creature of stupendous contradictions—gentle and tender at any given moment, and in the next possessed of rages so intense they could rattle the bones and shrivel the mind of anyone at whom they were directed; almost hysterically prudish when his wife and daughters were concerned, yet driven time and again to exercises (though not for publication) that were both prurient and scatalogical; contemptuous of money and headlong in pRead more »

The “Expergation” Of Huckleberry Finn

In 1885, when Samuel L. Clemens' delightful daughter Susy was thirteen and he forty-nine, she secretly began a biography of her father, "Papa"—Mark Twain—soon discovered it, to his immense pleasure

In 1885, when Samuel L.Read more »

The Parlor

You entered it only rarely, and you weren’t meant to be comfortable there. But every house had to have one, no matter how high the cost

To most Americans the parlor, in its stiff and overstuffed heyday, was a gesture of culture and civilization in a nation that was still more than half wilderness. It was the counterpart of the British colonial’s dinner jacket in the jungle, and America was a very different sort of jungle then than now. When Sir Charles Lyell, the distinguished geologist, visited the United States in the 1840’s he was moved to write, “I had sometimes thought that the national motto should be ‘All work and no play.’” In some respects the parlor sought to deny this.

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The Backwoods Bull In The Boston China Shop

Before the assembled great of literary New England Mark Twain rose to poke gentle fun at their pretensions. Would they laugh, or was he laying an egg?

At seven o’clock on the evening of December 17, 1877, fifty-eight men gathered in the east dining room of the Brunswick Hotel in Boston to attack one of those gigantic meals which deserve to be regarded as a Victorian art form. The diners had been invited by H. O. Houghton, publisher of the Atlantic Monthly, to celebrate the seventieth birthday of the austere Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, who had been a frequent contributor to the magazine since the first issue twenty years before.

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Mark Twain In Hartford: The Happy Years

This is the story of twenty happy and productive years in the life of Mark Twain, told by the author himself and by those who knew him. Portions of it were published earlier as a guide to the Mark Twain Memorial, the house now being restored in Hartford, Connecticut, which Twain planned, loved so much, and lost under such tragic circumstances.Read more »

Two Civil War Letters

Missives, one by Mark Twain, the other by Walt Whitman, reflect the impact of the Civil War on the nation.

Hardly a person in America was untouched by the Civil War, and Mark Twain and Walt Whitman were no exceptions. Because they were perhaps the most distinctly “American” writers of their time, their reactions to the conflict are particularly interesting. Printed here are two of their wartime letters, both written within six months of each other, at a time when the North seemed on the verge of defeat. While Whitman’s letter to his New York friends, Nat and Fred Gray, has appeared before, the Twain letter is a completely new find.Read more »