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Article: Roughing It with Mark Twain

19th Century Books

Roughing It with Mark Twain

Roughing It was Mark Twain’s second major work. It was inspired by his travels West to dig for wealth in the rocks of Nevada. Instead of finding wealth, he discovered the land as a writer and humorist and used it as inspiration for this prelude to The Innocents Abroad. The work covers the time between 1861 and 1867, a period of great growth for the nation. In 1867, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, an event which, Twain wrote his publisher, "has turned so much attention in that direction."

Roughing It examines the economic boom in the West and the effect it had on its people, though the tone is upbeat and humorous. The novel is enriched with stories of mishaps and errors of judgment inspired by Twain's experiences while traveling, as well as tales of animals he met along the way and detailed illustrations.

Mark Twain’s Roughing It, published in 1874 by the American Publishing Company

Twain wrote of the work: “It is a record of several years of variegated vagabondizing, and its object is rather to help the resting reader while away an idle hour than afflict him with metaphysics, or goad him with science. Still, there is information in the volume; information concerning an interesting episode in the history of the Far West, about which no books have been written by persons who were on the ground in person, and saw the happenings of the time with their own eyes.”

Roughing It provides another look at the growing American landscape during a crucial period in history. It serves as both a snapshot in time, as well as an example of Twain’s humorist style, which he later became famous for in his novels such as The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

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