The book, “Mark Twain: The Divided Mind of America’s Best-Loved Writer”, written by David W. Levy, is a biography about Mark Twain. Mark Twain is a famous American author who grew up in Missouri. Levy writes about Mark Twain and how his work was influenced by the changing American society, such as the Civil War, American imperialism, and slavery. Levy quotes Mark Twain in the Preparation section of the book in order to illustrate the type of writer in which Twain was. For instance, Mark Twain wrote in 1885, “Literature is an art, not an inspiration. It is a trade, so to speak & must be learned-one cannot “pick it up”. Neither can one learn it in a year, nor in five years.” This illustrates how passionate Mark Twain was about writing. The remaining chapters of the book describe the life and accomplishments of Mark Twain.
Levy begins the first chapter introducing you to Mark Twain. He writes about the origin of “Mark Twain’s” real name, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, from his grandfather. This allows the reader to realize that “Mark Twain”, is Samuel Clemens’ pen name. In addition, the first chapter describes Samuel Clemens’ father, John Marshall Clemens. He talks about how John Marshall Clemens moved his family to Hannibal Missouri, where Samuel Clemens grew up. It was in this town where the future setting of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer took place. He also writes about his travels to other Eastern United States Cities, such as Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York. Chapter two of the book is titled, “The Great Mississippi”. The author writes about Clemens love for the land of the Mississippi, his job as a riverboat pilot and how the ongoing slavery problems affected Twain. Through Levy’s writings on Mark Twain and Twain’s experiences, we begin to see where his inspirations for his novels were formed. The remaining chapters of Part I recount Mark Twain’s life, experiences and travels. He describes his different jobs and how his calling as a writer came about when his first story was appraised, “The Celebrate Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”. This leads us to Part II of the book where the author writes about Mark Twain’s fame. The author does a good job of discussing his major books. In addition, the author does a good job of writing about the how Twain uses tone in his writings. Levy states, “He had a knack for striking precisely the right tone-whether in lyrical descriptions of nature, suspenseful fiction, raucous comedy or vitriolic polemic. He knew exactly the right work and was not shy about inventing a new one if he has to; he fearlessly transformed adjectives into adverbs and nouns into verbs.”
Part III of the biography is labeled, “Despair”. The remaining part of the book writes about Twain’s final years. Automatically the reader assumes that this was a darker part of Twain’s life. Even Chapter 12 is labeled, “At the End, Dark Despair”. Levy does a good job of explaining and detailing why this was a dark part of Twains life. He loses his love leaving him alone and empty. At first, I was surprised that Twain lived in such despair; however, Levy did a good job of explaining how imaginative and creative Twain was, that it was easy to understand how losing things he loved could affect a person with such emotion.
The book overall discusses the life of Mark Twain, his accomplishments and the story behind his accomplishments. Through this book, the reader is able to put together the cultural of the time of Twain, the major events, such as the Civil War. The book also opens up and explores his major novels, as well as the themes present in the novels. I would recommend this biography to readers, as it explores Mark Twain as a person and writer. In addition, it explores the basis for the themes and locations of his major books.
Levy, D. Mark Twain: The Divided Mind of America’s Best-Loved Writer (Prentice Hall, 2011) ISBN 978-0-205-55375-4.