Saturday, July 25, 2009


This article is in response to
Click on the yellow link to join in or read other entries.

See the answer to last week's question:
"What famous person was hiding under the clown makeup?"
Click HERE.

How it works: Raven supplies two sets of words (or phrases) to use in a piece of writing. One can choose the ten- or five-word challenge ---or combine both into a fifteen word mega-challenge.

Mega Challenge: riverboat, procrastinaton, drank, demons, invisible, candle, enough, film stars, summer job, computer, general demeanor, surprisingly, masked man, reach, standards
(Words from the challenge are in bold face in the story.)

Even though I submitted this week’s words (which I chose at random) it took me
a long time to decide what to write. Eventually, the word “riverboat” prompted
me to write a non-fiction piece about one of my favorite writers.

I can imagine Mark Twain in the 1880s, writing his most famous novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by candlelight in his study, which was also his billiard room on the third floor of his mansion in Hartford, CT. Many people said that Twain wanted his home to look like a riverboat, reminiscent of the ones he piloted before the Civil War stopped traffic on the Mississippi River. Its style has been referred to as “Steamboat Gothic.”
Twain had started Huck Finn in 1876, worked on it again in 1879, but set it aside when his "well ran dry." What may have motivated Twain to overcome his long period of procrastination was a trip down the Mississippi nearly twenty years after the Civil War. He was living in New England next door to Harriet Beecher Stowe and married to Livy Langdon, who was from a wealthy abolitionist family, so he was worlds away from the boy who grew up in a slaveholding community in Missouri. He may have been surprised that the racial situation in the south had not changed much since his days in Hannibal. Once he pulled Huck off the shelf in 1882, he was able to complete his novel, which was published in 1884.
Twain’s summer job was to work on his writing at Quarry Farm, the home of his sister-in-law, where he, his wife and three daughters spent their summers on a hill overlooking Elmira, NY. His sister-in-law had a small octagonal study built for him on a little rise above the farm house. Now it is located on the campus of Elmira College.

Twain’s wife Livy held his writing to high standards. Today, some scholars think that, in her effort to keep him on the straight and narrow, she acted as a censor who prevented him from reaching an even higher level of creative expression. Others are sure her influence was superficial. Yet, without her wealth Twain might never have had the opportunity to be a full-time writer.
Twain was one of the first people to embrace the typewriter as a writing tool. He liked new innovations. In more recent times, he probably would have been one of the first writers to adopt a computer to create his novels. But technology had brought him trouble.
Young Sam Clemens had worked as a newspaper typesetter, assembling tiny raised letters into columns, a tedious job for a boy. Typesetting technology had not changed much sincce Gutenberg’s first movable type in he 15th century. So when Twain was a successful writer and asked to invest in a typesetting machine, he jumped at the chance. The problem was that the Paige typesetter had 18,000 parts, so it broke down frequently and Twain, not knowing when to say “Enough” invested good money after bad, eventually going through his wife’s fortune and his own earnings from several popular books. Meanwhile, before Paige’s machine was perfected, someone developed a mechanical linotype machine that became the newspaper standard. Paige’s failed compositor now rests at the Mark Twain home in Hartford.
Twain suffered from invisible demons. He felt guilt over the death of his younger brother in a riverboat accident, because he had procurred employment on the river for Henry. He also felt responsible for the death of his only son, a sickly toddler who died after a carriage ride in cold weather. He felt responsible for the debt his family incurred. He also felt guilty that he was out of the country on a lecture tour to pay off his debts when his eldest daughter died from meningitis at age 24 in 1896. Twain and his family found it impossible to return to the Hartford home where Suzy had died.
Twain’s general demeanor was calm and fun loving, but not surprisingly, like many creative people, Twain could be moody and even go into rages. In some ways he was like a masked man, hiding his pain behind a mask of humor.
In his lifetime, Twain was about as close as one could get, in that era, to being a super star. In fact, there is a very short, grainy silent film of him walking around Stormfield, his last home (in Redding CT) so, in a way, he had become a film star.
I read the usual Twain books when I was young, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee, Puddinhead Wilson, but it was as an adult, when I drank from his social commentary, that I fell under Twain’s spell. Now, I am as interested in the man himself as I am in his writing.

6th International Conference on Mark Twain Studies, Elmira, NY August 6-8, 2009
Registration deadline: 7/27/09, just 2 days away. (You can fax or call in your registration.)
I will be attending.
Find more information, schedule and registration forms HERE.
(art©2002, photo©1997, text©2009, C.J. Peiffer)


bettygram said...

I found this information most interesting. I had some knowledge, but this added to my bank.

Dr.John said...

First thank you for this week's words. It was nice not having long phrases to contend with.
What a great use of those words to introduce us , again, to Mark Twain. There was information here I hadn't read before but then I read Twain and not about Twain. Thanks.

Raven said...

Have fun at the conference. I've always loved Mark Twain. I went to college in Fredonia, NY and there was a legend - I doubt it's true - that the Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg was based on Fredonia. Well done getting the words into this informative format. Thanks for providing them, by the way.

Argent said...

Great! Informative and creative use of the words.

Stephen said...

I enjoyed reading your story about Mark Twain, and I thought that the picture of him at the beginning of the story was very good.

Stephen from Scottsdale, Arizona, USA