Wednesday, March 29, 2006

'Tom Sawyer' was NOT the first typewritten novel

Category: Literature
It is commonly held that 'Tom Sawyer', written by Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain), was the first novel to be written on a typewriter. Although it is hard to say definitely, it seems this is most likely incorrect. However, it is an understandable assumption to make, since Clemens himself made that claim in a letter written in 1904.

Here is the timeline, as far as I can determine:
  1. 1874 - Clemens purchases his first typewriter for $125. His first two letters are written on December 9th, 1894.[1]
  2. 1875 - Clemens writes to Remington declaring he is no longer using his typewriter as people keep asking him about it.[2] In another letter he declares it is corrupting his morals because it makes him want to swear.[3] He gives it away twice that year and it is eventually returned both times.
  3. 1876 - 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' is published.
  4. 1883 - 'Life on the Mississippi' is submitted as a typewritten manuscript. Clemens did not actually type it himself, however. He dictated it based on a hand-written original draft.[4]
  5. 1904 - Clemens writes in his 'Unpublished Autobiography' that he believes 'Tom Sawyer' was probably his first typewritten novel, dictated to a typist sometime during 1874.[1]
So, in conclusion, it seems likely that although he was probably still the first author to submit a typewritten novel for publication, Clemens was mistaken when he recalled that 'Tom Sawyer' was that novel. 'Life on the Mississippi' is the more likely candidate. All that said, the evidence is not entirely conclusive and it is possible that Clemens was correct.

Where I learned it:
An 'Interesting facts' email, forwarded by my brother Andrew.

  1. "Mark Twain and Typewriter",
  2. "MT & the typewriter", Mark Twain in His Times
  3. "Mark Twain's letters - 1867-1875", Read Book Online
  4. "The First Typewriter", The QWERTY Connection


Anonymous said...

Here another link where you can read one of Mark Twain's books:
Read Twain here

Unknown said...

'Life on the Mississippi' is the more likely candidate... Except 'Life on the Mississippi' was not a novel.