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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Mark Twain and his books

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mark Twain is one of the most recognized authors of American literature.


Born in Missouri in 1835, his real name is Samuel Langhorne Clemens.


The first 30 years of his life were spent traveling the world, and gathering stories as a journalist that he would use to write the 80 titles attributed to him.


Twain was a controversial author, and some of his books were, and are today, banned from schools and libraries.


A graduate student from Pennsylvania State University is looking back a century, to determine which of Twain's titles was in library collections at that time.


That isn't easy to do, but she contacted us as our library has collection information back to 1899, and actually even before that date.


Our library has an accession book showing the library collection as it existed from 1899 until 1906, when the system changed to a card catalog.


It was a quick project to scan the author list for Mark Twain, and determine whether the Steubenville Library ventured into Twain's works.


Actually, that book also lists the collections of the earlier City Library Association of Steubenville that were transferred to the new Carnegie Library in 1902.


Our library owned Twain's first book, "The Innocents Abroad," a satirical account of the people on his travels to Europe and the Middle East.


"Roughing it" was also part of the collection.  It is the story of the hardships of life in the American West.


Both titles were sold as subscriptions, where works were sold door-to-door with interested readers paying in advance for the book, guaranteeing sufficient sales for publication.


Later in his career, Twain published his own books as Webster and Company of Hartford.


This proved to be a mistake, as Twain was forced into bankruptcy with his own publishing company, and only his continued writings published by Harper and Row allowed him to recover his financial losses.


Twain's writings covered a broad spectrum of topics.  He developed readers who loved his stories of the American West and the Mississippi River, followed by the next book about the Middle Ages.


"A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" was a story set in 6th century England.


"The Gilded Age" established him as controversial as he poked fun at the era of General U.S. Grant, America's war hero.


His most famous books were the stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  They introduced realism in story and language into American literature, and were frequently banned from communities.


Not in Steubenville, as multiple copies were purchased for the collection of the new Carnegie Library in 1902 to replace worn copies from the City Library Association.


The last decade of Twain's life has been described as "grim" due to the death of three of his four children, and his wife.


Books after 1900 have a different flavor in Twain style, but our library acquired all of them for the reading public, including the "$30,000 Bequest."


Twain died in 1910 in Connecticut, having written most of his works at the family mansion in Hartford.


Although Twain lived part of his childhood in Hannibal, Mo., the town made famous by his characters; most of his life and writings were done in Hartford.


We replace Twain's books frequently, because they become "worn" from usage more than a century after they were written.


It is great to know that Twain's works have always been part of our library's collections.