Two Great American Writers in Their Time
Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1987) and Mark Twain (1835-1910))
A Critical Comparison
By Heribert E. Severing
These are some thoughts on two great authors who, though being children of different times have many things in common.
Mark Twain's Biography
Mark Twain, or what was his true name, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835. He moved to Hannibal, Missouri, a Mississippi river port, at age four. Here he got a public school education. At age 12, after the death of his father in 1847, he got an apprenticeship with two local printers. In 1851 he started work for his brother Orion's Hannibal Journal. He became a journeyman printer in Keokuk, Iowa; New York City; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and other cities thereafter. He worked as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi, eventually, until the Civil War brought an end to travel on the river. In 1861 he volunteered as a soldier with the Confederate cavalry in an irregular company. Some months later he went to the newly created Nevada Territory. He took to silver mining, as did Robert Heinlein, for a short period of time. It was in 1862 when he started work with a newspaper. He became a reporter on the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada. In 1863 he signed his articles with the pseudonym Mark Twain (meaning two fathoms deep). In 1864 he moved to San Francisco. His tale from the California gold fields, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County became known nationwide.
In 1867 Twain went to NYC, lectured there, and later visited Europe and the Holy Land. The Innocents Abroad appeared in 1869, burlesquing those European cultural aspects that impress American tourists.
In 1870 he married Olivia Langdon.
From Buffalo, NY, the couple was soon to move to Hartford, CT. It was here as well as at Quarry Farm, near Elmira, NY, in the summer months, where much of Twain's best work was written in the 1870s and 1880s. Roughing It (1872) is dealing with his early adventures as a miner and a journalist. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) turned out to be an all-time-great juvenile novel, enjoyed by youngsters in the nation and all over the world in the course of the years to come, a novel reminding adults of how it was being young and strong at heart.
A Tramp Abroad (1880) is about a walking trip through the Black Forest in Germany to the Swiss Alps. The Prince and the Pauper (1882) dealt with switched identities in Tudor England. It was a fantasy novel for children. Life on the Mississippi (1883) was bringing back his experiences as a river pilot, comparing it with experiences gained while visiting the river anew. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) is satirizing oppression in feudal England, using elements of science fiction for the matter of social fiction. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) is considered his masterpiece, being the sequel to Tom Sawyer.
In 1884 he formed the publishing firm Charles L. Webster and Company for his own works as well as other writers' books. In 1894 an investment in an automatic typesetting machine led eventually to the firm's bankruptcy. Twain's worldwide lecture tour, and a book based on those travels paid off his debts. Following the Equator was published in 1897.
In the following years, there were growing pessimism and bitterness in his works as a result of his business reverses. Worsening things for him were the deaths of his wife and two daughters later. Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894) was a novel about miscegenation and murder, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896) was a sentimental biography.
The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (1899) was a collection of short stories. The War Prayer (1905) contained philosophical, social, and political essays. Manuscripts and autobiographical dictations were to be found in The Mysterious Stranger.
Things in Common
Both authors were born in Missouri, Hannibal being situated about 200 miles east of Kansas City.
Both were involved with the military voluntarily. Heinlein decided to be a Navy officer attending the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, from 1924 to 1929, and taking to active service afterwards up to 1934, when he was discharged due to poor health. Twain's encounter as a volunteer with the Confederate cavalry lasted only a couple of months in 1861, in the first days of the Civil War. When Heinlein and Twain completed their military careers, they were both 26 years old.
In the course of the next years they dealt with different things before finding their definite writing profession. It's quite remarkable that Heinlein as well as Twain took to silver mining for some time.
Twain having been working with journals as a printer before, succeeded in getting to writing, as a reporter at the beginning, while Heinlein, at age 31, made his way through the backdoor after studies in science, by means of science fiction, a subdivision of pulp fiction then, at age 31. His nationwide fame as a writer other than a genre writer came with his publishing with the Saturday Evening Post in 1947, at age 39. Twain had his first nationwide-success tale in 1864, just being 29 years old.
Writing novels for young people, both authors were successful in that field. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have been classic American characters for generation after generation to grow up ever since. As Heinlein had a number of different protagonists in his juvenile fiction, his heroes are not so well known, but on the whole, his juveniles are known to many people some of whom prefer them to his works in the '70s and '80s.
Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court was his closest approach to what is called science fiction by now. 'The Prince and the Pauper' has fantasy elements.
Twain wrote about his travels in 1869 ('The Innocents Abroad') and in 1897 ('Following the Equator'). Heinlein wrote about his travels around the world in 1953 and 1954, but it was till his death that 'A Tramp Royal' actually was published in 1992 by Virginia Heinlein.
Even though there are some remarkable similarities in the lifelines of Robert A. Heinlein and Mark Twain, there are a lot more differences.
Robert Heinlein had a lifelong unhappy love affair with the military. It was hard for him that he couldn't proceed in rank, that he even had to be discharged from service because of disease. While working at the US Naval Air Experimental Center in Philadelphia during World War II, he tried to regain military rank and uniform, but felt somewhat humilitated on denial. Mark Twain just served a few months with the cavalry in Civil War.
Unlike Mark Twain, Robert A. Heinlein tended to change his opinion in the course of the years. At the start of his writing career he seemed to be a liberal. After his divorce, being newly wed to Virginia, he turned out to be very conservative. He didn't mind McCarthyism, he thought it to be inevitable whilst there was a worldwide bipolarization between communism and the free world. You may read about his thoughts in A Tramp Royale. In the decades to come, Heinlein proves to be a dedicated follower of the zeitgeist. Bob Heinlein's writing kept in tune with times up to the 1980s, from the beginning of the sexual revolution in the '60s up to soft-porn-like writing once in while in his last years. In the '60s he played a role in the development of the counterculture (Stranger in a Strange Land).
Though both men were great American authors in their time, and their lifelines seem somewhat similar at first glance, there are even more things completely different about them.
I have tried an analysis of the two writers
with the intention of giving more critical insights of Robert A. Heinlein
as a man in his time
I would like you to send your thoughts on this subject.
© 1997 Heribert E. Severing (HerbSev)