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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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In 1866 the travel bug bit him again, and he got his newspaper to send him to Hawaii. This trip was the beginning of his career as a travel correspondent. The following year he traveled through Europe and sent newspaper dispatches back home. These dispatches later became The Innocents Abroad, one of the most successful books Twain ever wrote.

His travels resulted not only in a series of books, but in a string of lecture tours that earned him large sums of money and added to his fame. The money and the fame increased even more after he published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876.

That book was such a success that he decided immediately to write a sequel. The sequel, however, evolved into something much more complex than the original book. That's why it took Twain seven years to write it, and why he was so relieved when it was finally finished.

After Huck Finn, Twain wrote nearly a dozen books and several shorter pieces. Although none of them would match Huck Finn in literary value, his reputation was secure. Unfortunately, other aspects of his life were less benign.

He invested his money in schemes and inventions, almost every one of which was a failure. By 1893 he had lost all his money, and he owed thousands more. He then went on a world lecture tour that allowed him to pay all his debts by 1896.

One of his daughters died while he was on the tour. He then depended more than ever on his wife, and she died in 1904. In 1909 his youngest daughter died, leaving Twain a sick and unhappy man.

Twain used to enjoy pointing out that Halley's Comet was blazing across the sky when he was born. When he was in a macabre mood, he would sometimes predict that Halley's Comet would announce his departure. The comet made its next appearance in the third week of April, 1910. Mark Twain died on April 21. -


"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." That might sound like something a teacher would say to catch your interest, but in fact it was said by one of the giants of 20th-century American literature-Ernest Hemingway.

He didn't mean that no Americans before Mark Twain had written anything worthy of being called literature. What he meant was that Twain was responsible for defining what would make American literature different from everybody else's literature. Twain was the first major writer to use real American speech (and not only in dialogue), to deal with themes and topics that were important to Americans, and to assume that the concerns of Americans were as worthy of serious treatment as any ideas that ever sailed across the Atlantic from Britain.

One of the reasons we classify some writers as great is that they alter the consciousness of the people they write for; another is that they redefine the terrain for all writers who come after them. On both counts, Mark Twain is a shoo-in.

He made Americans aware of their surroundings and their heritage. And in defiance of the stilted, formal literary conventions of his day, he made it respectable to feature a hero who could barely read and write, whose language was peppered with decidedly unliterary expressions and figures of speech, and who would probably be out of place in the living rooms of most of the readers of the novel.

Twain's reputation doesn't rest exclusively on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Life on the Mississippi, Pudd'nhead Wilson, and his Autobiography, not to mention dozens of shorter pieces, include some of the best writing ever done by an American in any period. But Huck Finn, even with its flaws, is his masterpiece-more penetrating, more moving, and better sustained than anything else he wrote.

If he's one of our best writers, and this is his best book, then it has a special place in American history. You don't have to agree with Hemingway's statement to see that someone who hasn't read Huck Finn has only a partial understanding of what it means to be an American in the 20th century. The book affected everything that came after it.

But Huck Finn is not only important, it's also great fun to read. Twain himself once said, "Everybody wants to have read the classics, but nobody wants to read them." Huck Finn is one classic to which his statement doesn't apply.

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