Mark Twain (pseudonym of Samuel L. Clemens, 1835–1910) is considered by many to be the most important figure in American literature. He wrote many well-known novels, such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, plus a great many short stories and humorous essays.
However, Twain spun his humor around a dark core. His personal religious viewpoint seems to have been a heretical caricature of Calvinism: he accepted that human beings were depraved and that most were predestined to hell, but he viewed the god who had made things this way not as righteous but as a malevolent trickster. According to some Twain scholars, much about Twain’s worldview can be clearly seen in his works if one keeps always in mind that Twain believes God is evil.
On encountering the Book of Mormon, Twain reacted much as journalist Obadiah Dogberry had: he found the new scripture ridiculous. Twain objected not only to its content but its clumsy faux-King James Bible style, famously dismissing Joseph Smith’s prose as "chloroform in print."
Through most of his career, Twain took care to camouflage his acid worldview. However, after 1899, when his literary success was assured and he had suffered personal tragedies, Twain wrote several works in which his bitter perspective and harsh views of organized religion were plain to see. Among them were "The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg" (1899) and What Is Man?, a misanthrophic book that argued that human choices were totally predetermined. Even harsher attacks on religion could be found in two books published after his death: The Mysterious Stranger and Letters from the Earth.
Twain's deep ties to Elmira came through matrimony. On an 1867 sea voyage during which he gathered experiences that would shape his first best-seller, The Innocents Abroad, Twain befriended Charles Langdon of Elmira. When Charles showed him a photograph of his elder sister Olivia, Twain fell in love at first sight. Charles and Olivia were children of Jervis Langdon, a prosperous Elmira coal merchant and Underground Railroad conductor who once sheltered a fugitive Frederick Douglass. (Douglass and the elder Langdon became life-long friends.) Accepting an 1868 invitation to visit Charles Langdon at home in Elmira, Twain met Livy (Olivia) in person and proposed just days later. She declined; there followed a lengthy, mainly postal courtship in which Twain wrote Livy more than 180 letters. In February 1869, Livy relented and the couple announced their engagement. They married a year later. For many years Twain spent summers in Elmira. He wrote major portions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Prince and the Pauper, A Tramp Abroad, and many short pieces in an octagonal wooden study that was given to Twain by friends in 1874. The study is now preserved on the campus of Elmira College.