What Was Mark Twain's First Published Book?

Updated July 12, 2018
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Mark Twain is a celebrated American author known for his humor and storytelling ability. Twain's most famous novel is "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," but his first published book was a collection of short stories called "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Cavalerous County, and Other Sketches."

Beginning of Twain's Career

Mark Twain got his start as a young man publishing articles and cartoons to a newspaper, The Hannibal Journal, while living in Missouri with his family. Twain wrote many of the short fiction pieces that would later appear in his first book on a trip west with his brother Orion. He continued to work as a journalist after arriving in Virginia City, Nevada.

First Published Book

Twain's first book was a collection of stories he had previously published in various newspapers and periodicals. In addition to the title story, the collection contained 26 other comical tales, including "Aurelia's Unfortunate Young Man," "Curing a Cold," "Lucretia Smith's Soldier," "Among the Spirits," "Brief Biographical Sketch of George Washington" and "Advice for Good Little Girls." While the entire collection enjoyed great popularity, the title story was a clear favorite among U.S. readers and it continues to rank among Twain's most beloved pieces.

Title Story

Originally, the title story was called "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" and was first published in The New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. In the story, the narrator is sent by a friend to speak to Simon Wheeler, whom he finds in a tavern. The original publication of the story is framed as a letter to this friend. Wheeler tells the narrator the story of Jim Smiley and his legendary betting exploits. Twain heard the story while living in Calaveras from Ben Coon, a fellow patron at the Angel's Camp Hotel bar. The story was so successful among readers and critics alike, it was republished annually for the next 10 years.

Literary Significance

Twain's first story collection celebrates the "tall tale," a form that was a testament to the ethos of the American west in Twain's time. Tall tales were often humorous and involved exaggerated accounts of the teller's exploits. In many of his sketches, Twain used satirical irony to comment on the nation's politics. For instance, the narrator of "The Celebrated Jumping Frog" is mocking Simon Wheeler to some degree. Coming from the East, the narrator views Wheeler as an ignorant drunk from the West, not sophisticated or educated. He fails to see that Wheeler is actually playing a joke on him by telling the story. The characters and plot line of the story were common to other Southwestern folktales.

Dedication and Inscription

In a show of wit, Twain dedicated his first book to "John Smith: Whom I have known in divers and sundry places about the world, and whose many and manifold virtues did always command my esteem." Twain went on to write, "It is said that the man to whom a volume is dedicated, always buys a copy. If this prove true in the present instance, a princely affluence is about to burst upon THE AUTHOR."

Calaveras County Fair

Calaverous County, California holds a traditional county fair featuring a "Jumping Frog Jubilee" in honor of Twain's famous story from his first book. The event celebrates the gold rush era of the West whose sensibilities Twain artfully captured in his story of the jumping frog.

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