Mark Twain and Jane Austen: Authors Decades Apart
Jane Austen and Mark Twain are two very diverse authors, from two totally different backgrounds. Aside from the fact that they are male and female, they were born in different time periods and countries. The one thing they had in common was their love of writing, but in addition to this, they both used their writing platform to create something new and exciting that had never been written about before. They both struggled with sickness within their families but used their writing to be an outlet. You can see by their writings that their outlooks on the world were very different. Within the next few pages, you will see that both Jane Austen and Mark Twain used their novels to express their feelings about the world around them and that is why their works are still read today.
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire of England. She was born into a well-respected family and her father was an Oxford educated rector. He knew the value of an education and made Jane read a lot while she was growing up. His stately position provided Jane, at the age of seven, the opportunity to accompany her older sister, Cassandra, and cousin, Jane Cooper, to Mrs. Crawley’s school in Oxford. Later, Oxford had an outbreak of measles, so the school moved to Southampton, but the girls brought the disease with them and had to be taken home.
In 1784 they were sent back to school at A Mrs La Tournelles, where they learned needlepoint, spelling, piano, and so on. (Notable Biographies – Jane Austen) Two years later, Mr. Austen, Jane’s father, thought the school was a waste of money and time, so he took both Jane and Cassandra out. (Jane Austen Went to School) That was the last formal education Jane ever received. She received the same education at home from her five older brothers and her father’s pupils. She had a great passion for learning and actively used her father’s library. (Jane Austen Goes to School) Although Jane was very apt to write about love, she never married, but she did have one proposal. (The Real Reason Jane Austen Never Married) No one can say why she never married, but it can be assumed that she just never found the love that she wrote so much about. She died July 18, 1817 at age 41. How? That is another unanswered question we are penned with. She seemed to have had numerous diseases in her life time and likely died due to one of those diseases. (Jane Austen’s Death)
Mark Twain was born in Florida, Missouri on November 30, 1835. It is interesting to note that Mark Twain was a pen name and his real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. He made up a story about how the steamboat helped him concoct his new name, but eventually, the name Mark Twain became so popular that he became known by his pen name instead of his birth name. Growing up, Mark’s family was very poor. When he was 11, his father passed away, so immediately he started work as a delivery boy and store clerk. Soon after, he started an apprenticeship and became a compositor for the local printers. (Notable Biographies – Mark Twain) Whenever he would get the opportunity, he would add his own little touch to what he was helping print, which is what sparked the flame to write. In 1853, his printing job had him going all over the place, from New York to Pennsylvania to Missouri. (Biography – Mark Twain) After living with his brother in Iowa, he started to pursue his dream of being the captain of a river steamboat. He had gotten pretty good at it but had to put it to a halt because the river ways were being disturbed because of the Civil War, which had just commenced.
During the war, Twain briefly served as a confederate soldier. He had dropped out of the war and decided he was going to join a Confederate militia called Marion Rangers. Two weeks passed, and the militia had crumbled. (Mark Twain Civil War Experience) He then moved on to a new thing, like he always seemed to do. He moved out west and started mining. That failed, and he continued to find work at local newspapers, where he would continue to write. In 1863, he officially took on the pen name Mark Twain. He got married to Olivia Langdon Clemens. Later, they had 4 children, Langdon, Olivia, Clara, and Jane. Twain once said, “What is a house without children?” Children are what kept Mark going during his depression after his wife and 3 kids passed away. Clara was the only child to outlive her father. Samuel L. Clemens died April 10, 1910. (Sam Clemens Family)
Jane Austen’s first major novel was entitled Sense and Sensibility. The main characters are two sisters. The first draft was written in 1795 and was titled Elinor and Marianne, but in 1797, Jane rewrote the novel and titled it in the name that we all know, Sense and Sensibility. After years of perfecting, it was finally published in 1811. The novel spotlights the different temperaments of the two sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Elinor is the sister who lives her life by facts or sense, while Marianne is ruled by feelings or sensibility. “Although the plot favors the value of reason over that of emotion, the greatest emphasis is placed on the moral principles of human affairs and on the need for enlarged thought and feeling in response to it.” (Notable biographies – Jane Austen)
In 1796, when Jane Austen was just twenty-one years old, she wrote the novel, First Impressions. In 1813, this work was rewritten and published again under the title Pride and Prejudice. This work was her most popular and maybe even her greatest novel. It is thought to be so because of the “distinction by virtue of its perfection of form, which exactly balances and expresses its human content. As in Sense and Sensibility, the descriptive terms in the title are closely associated with the two main characters.” (Notable Biographies – Jane Austen)
The form of the novel is dialectical—the opposition of ethical (conforming or not conforming to standards of conduct and moral reason) principles is expressed in the relations of believable characters. The resolution of the main plot with the marriage of the two opposites represents a reconciliation of conflicting moral extremes. The value of pride is affirmed when humanized by the wife’s warm personality, and the value of prejudice is affirmed when associated with the husband’s standards of traditional honor. (Notable Biographies – Jane Austen)
During the years 1797 and 1798, Jane Austen wrote Northanger Abbey, which was published after she died, but it was not considered one of her major works. In the years that followed, she wrote The Watsons, which is a fragment of a novel similar in mood to her later work Mansfield Park, and Lady Susan (1804 or later), a short novel in letters.
Mark Twain’s book, Tom Sawyer, is a narrative novel of innocent boyhood play that accidentally discovers evil. Tom and Huck, the main characters in the book, witness a murder in a graveyard at midnight. The boys run away and are presumed dead, but the boys show up at their own funeral. Tom and Huck decide to search for the murderer to keep the reward for themselves. Tom and his sweetheart eventually discover the hiding place of the culprit and the townspeople unknowingly seal the murderer in the cave to keep adventuresome boys, like Tom, out of trouble. In the end, innocent play and boyish adventure triumphs. (Notable Biographies – Mark Twain)
Huckleberry Finn is considered Mark Twain’s finest creation by many. Huck doesn’t have the same imagination as Tom; he is a simple boy with very little education. Huck is prone to deceit, which seems the opposite to Tom, a boy who is grounded in tradition and educated in books. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a series of adventures, which can be viewed as the story of a quest for freedom. Finn shares his adventures with a black companion, Jim, who seeks freedom from slavery. “In the novel, Huck discovers that the Mississippi is peaceful (though he is found to be only partially correct) but that the world along its shores is full of trickery, including his own, and by cruelty and murder. When the raft on which he and Jim are floating down the river is invaded by two criminals, Huck first becomes their assistant in swindles but is finally the agent of their exposure:”
Whatever its faults, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a classic. Variously interpreted, it is often thought to suggest more than it reveals, speaking of what man has done to confuse himself about his right relation to nature. It can also be thought of as a treatment of man’s failures in dealing with his fellows and of the corruption that man’s only escape is in flight, perhaps even from himself. Yet it is also an apparently artless story of adventure and escape so simply and directly told that novelist Ernest Hemingway (c.1899–1961) once said that all American literature begins with this book. (Notable biographies – Mark Twain)
Jane Austen lived in an era when novel reading was a major form of entertainment for the middle classes. New novels were expensive to buy, but neighbors would share and borrow the latest fiction novels that were circulating in libraries, subscriptions libraries and reading clubs. Though novels were widely read, they wouldn’t necessarily be on the best seller list as we think of it today. Fictional works that included wild and imaginary tales of adventure, mystery and intrigue often had odd titles to captures the reader’s attention. Jane Austen enjoyed this pulp fiction, but she also chose not to follow that style of writing within her own works. Jane’s readers saw that she was doing something new within her novels. She was using her books to describe reality and she used people around her as her characters. She didn’t write about the improbable.
Her novels are set in southern England, in locations that she knew well. Katharine Sutherland writes, “As Scott suggested, her plots are minimal and the adventures her heroines meet with are no more than the experiences of her readers: preparations for a dance, an outing to the seaside, a picnic. Austen used fiction to describe social reality within her own time and class (the gentry and professional classes of southern England in the early 19th century). By so doing, she was able to introduce something closer to real morality in describing the range of human relationships that we all are likely to encounter in ordinary life.” (Jane Austin’s Social Realism and the Novel)
She loved to write about things we might encounter in everyday life, such as how parents relate to their children, and what it feels like to fall in love, but most of all, how people who mean well may not always do well. She described society as it really was. Many consider her novels to also be romantic comedies. She repeatedly wrote about love and good fortune with happy endings, although she often portrayed married couples differently within the pages of her novels. “Realism is a literary device rejecting escapism and extravagance to produce a lifelike illusion and not a direct translation of reality,” says Sutherland.
Mark Twain’s stories are full of satire, meaning they are overly exaggerated and funny. While he used satire most, he had a very distinctive style of writing that is evident throughout his books. His way with words and his firm descriptions allow the reader to feel like they are brought alongside the characters to experience the adventures. Mark Twain often uses child heroes in some of his most famous novels.
In Twain’s novels, he writes using the language that would be spoken by natives. He would then describe the settings in his novels with vivid realism. Both elements, combined, allow the reader to enjoy the story and the relationships with the characters. Twain describes the southern feel of St. Petersburg as well as the lavish elements of London using colorful adjectives and imagery, which transports the reader through each scene. An example would be the night following Tom Sawyer’s witnessing of Doctor Robinson’s murder: “The ticking of the clock began to bring itself into notice. Old beams began to crack mysteriously. The stairs creaked faintly.” (Mark Twain Author Study) The simple words he used makes you feel a sense of fear and dread, but when you add adventure and mystery, it’s easy to see why his novels are loved by young as well as old.
“Twain’s poignant satire and social commentary play an important role in many of his works. Twain is famous for his criticisms of American society, both in his stories and in his own world. He effectively communicates his views in a manner that is not overbearingly obvious through the eyes of his characters and the lessons that they learn throughout the novels.” (Mark Twain Author Study) He would use some characters to show his dislike for the gap between social classes based on how much money they had, while other characters, like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn zero in on his disdain for racial discrimination, greed in society, and corruption. Because of his writing, Twain can subtly and effectively relay hidden, deeper meanings through his simple, heart touching stories.
When I think about the two authors, they open new ways to view the world to me. They portray the world in two totally different ways of writing, but both are very interesting to read about. Huckleberry Finn was the first real novel I read and liked. It showed me that not all reading was awful. I could identify with the outrageous boys who were always seeking adventure. With every page completed, I just wanted to keep reading to see what would happen next. One thing I liked about Jane Austen was that she used people she knew and created novels around their character. It added a personal touch to the stories in which she wrote. I also like that both authors were not embarrassed to write about important issues in society for the time period in which they lived. All in all, Jane Austen and Mark Twain were both incredible authors, but I will forever be grateful to Mark Twain for showing me that adventure can also be found within the pages of a book.
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