|Two Great American Writers in Their Time
Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1987) and Mark Twain (1835-1910)
A Critical Comparison
These are some thoughts on two great authors who, though being children of different times have many things in common.
Robert A. Heinlein's biography click here
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 where he got a public school education.
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
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.
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.
Things in Common
Both authors were born
in the state of Missouri, Hannibal being
situated about 200 miles east of Kansas City.
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.
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.
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.
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 1960s up to soft-porn-like
writing while in his last years. In the 1960s 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
Robert A. Heinlein Page