Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 – 1910), known worldwide by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author renowned worldwide as one of the most influential writers in the English language. Such is his influence in his nation that he has been called “the father of American literature”. Mark Twain’s first great success as a writer which brought him national attention was the short story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. He then wrote The Innocents Abroad, which is one of the best-selling travel books of all time; and followed it with another non-fiction work titled Roughing It. He co-authored the novel The Gilded Age before writing the works for which he is most known: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, among the best known works in children’s literature; and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, referred to by many as the Great American Novel. Here are the 10 most famous works of Mark Twain including novels, short stories and non fiction books.
#10 The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today
Mark Twain co-authored this novel with his friend, the American essayist Charles Dudley Warner. The book primarily focuses on the lust for getting rich through land speculation that pervades society in post Civil War America. It has two parallel stories that satirize greed and political corruption in the era. The Gilded Age very quickly became synonymous with graft, materialism and corruption in public life at the time; and the term is often used to refer to United States history in the late 19th century. The book is also notable for being the only novel Twain wrote with a collaborator.
#9 Life on the Mississippi
Type: Non Fiction
This memoir begins with a brief history of the Mississippi River; it then recounts Mark Twain’s education as a steamboat pilot on the river before the American Civil War; and finally, in the second half, Twain narrates his trip along the river, many years later, on a steamboat from St. Louis to New Orleans. In Life on the Mississippi, Twain characterizes the river as if it is a person, with a definitive purpose and an animated role in life. It is considered by many critics as the most brilliant and most personal nonfiction work of Mark Twain.
#8 Roughing It
Type: Non Fiction
The second major work of Mark Twain after The Innocents Abroad, this book is a semi-autobiographical account of the author’s journey west to dig for wealth in the rocks of Nevada; but instead finding his talent as a writer and entertainer. Roughing It was written as a prequel to the eastward moving Innocents Abroad. Though it sold well, it was never able to match the huge success of its predecessor. However, Roughing It does provide early glimpses of the characteristic unpolished humor of Mark Twain which can be seen in his best known works.
#7 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
This novel tells the story of a modern Yankee engineer from Connecticut who is accidentally transported back in time to the sixth century in the court of King Arthur of Britain. There he fools the people with the knowledge of modern technology. The novel primarily makes fun of romanticized ideas of chivalry, and of the idealization of the Middle Ages by other authors. It also at times targets the society at the time of Twain. Connecticut Yankee is among the earliest texts in the time travel sub-genre of science fiction. It has been adapted numerous times for the stage and films.
#6 The War Prayer
Published: 1916 (posthumously)
Type: Short Story
The War Prayer is a story about an unnamed country going to war. It condemns blind patriotic and religious fervor as motivations for war; and highlights the consequences of war which people tend to forget due to their pride and passion at the time of war. Mark Twain wrote The War Prayer in 1905 but it remained unpublished during his lifetime. He said to his illustrator Daniel Carter Beard, “No, I have told the whole truth in that, and only dead men can tell the truth in this world. It can be published after I am dead.”
#5 The Prince and the Pauper
A work of historical fiction set in 1547, The Prince and the Pauper tells the story of two boys who are identical in appearance: Tom Canty, a pauper who lives with his abusive father in London; and Prince Edward, son of King Henry VIII of England. The novel is written for children. It is both a critique of social inequality and a criticism of judging others by their appearance. The Prince and the Pauper is one of the best known novels of Mark Twain. It has been adapted for stage a number of times. It has also been the basis of numerous works in films and television.
#4 The Innocents Abroad
Type: Non Fiction
This book began as a series of travel letters Mark Twain wrote during his trip to Europe and the Holy Land in 1867. Twain was on a retired Civil War ship, the USS Quaker City, and the excursion had numerous stops and side trips along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. In the book, Twain humorously presents his numerous observations and critiques of the various aspects of culture and society which he encountered on the journey. A major theme of the work is how history and particular incidents are presented by people for their own gain. The Innocents Abroad sold over 70,000 copies in its first year and it is one of the best-selling travel books of all time.
#3 The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
Type: Short Story
While at a bar in the town of Angels Camp in Calaveras County, California, Mark Twain heard a man tell a tale about a jumping frog contest. He used the tale to write a short story which was first published in The New York Saturday Press with the title “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog”. Later re-titled The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, the story became immensely popular, was soon printed in many different magazines and newspapers, was Twain’s first great success as a writer and brought him national attention. The best known short story of Mark Twain, it focuses on a narrator from the East suffering through a Western man’s tall tale about a jumping frog.
#2 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is one of the most famous works in children’s literature. It tells the story of a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River in the 1840s. The novel is set in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, which is inspired from Twain’s actual boyhood home of Hannibal, near St. Louis in Missouri. Some events in the book are autobiographical and many of the places in it are real. The novel has elements usually associated with Twain like humor, satire and social criticism. The character Tom Sawyer is hugely popular. He is considered the epitome of the all-American boy, full of mischief but pure-hearted.
#1 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
This novel tells the story in first person of Huckleberry “Huck” Finn, a street urchin whose father is a drunkard. Huck Finn is a friend of Tom Sawyer. He has recently acquired some money and is learning to be a gentleman. One of the major characters in the book is Jim, an adult black slave who has fled. Throughout the story, Huck is in moral conflict due to the values he has been taught in society but he makes a choice of Jim’s friendship based on his own valuation. The novel is noted for being one of the first works by an American to be written in vernacular English; for its coarse language; and for its severely critical satire on established attitudes, particularly racism. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the most famous work of Mark Twain and it is regarded as one of the greatest American novels.