Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years
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One day in late 1906, seventy-one-year-old Mark Twain attended a meeting on copyright law at the Library of Congress. The arrival of the famous author caused the usual stir—but then Twain took off his overcoat to reveal a "snow-white" tailored suit and scandalized the room. His shocking outfit appalled and delighted his contemporaries, but far more than that, as Pulitzer Prize finalist Michael Shelden shows in this wonderful new biography, Twain had brilliantly staged this act of showmanship to cement his image, and his personal legend, in the public's imagination. That afternoon in Washington, less than four years before his death, marked the beginning of a vibrant, tumultuous period in Twain's life that would shape much of the now-famous image by which he has come to be known—America's indomitable icon, the Man in White.
Although Mark Twain has long been one of our most beloved literary figures—Time magazine has declared him "our original superstar"—his final years have been largely misunderstood. Despite family tragedies, Twain's last half- decade was among the most dynamic periods in the author's life. With the spirit and vigor of a man fifty years younger, he continued to stir up trouble, perfecting his skill for living large. Writing ceaselessly and always ready with one of his legendary quips, Twain would risk his fortune, become the willing victim of a lost-at-sea hoax, and pick fights with King Leopold of Belgium and Mary Baker Eddy.
Drawing on a number of unpublished sources, including Twain's own journals, letters, and a revealing four-hundred-page personal account kept under wraps for decades (and still yet to be published), Mark Twain: Man in White brings the legendary author's twilight years vividly to life, offering surprising insights, including an intimate, tender look at his family life. Filled with first-rate scholarship, rare and never-published Twain photos, delightful anecdotes, and memorable quotes, including numerous recovered Twainisms, this definitive biography of Twain's last years provides a remarkable portrait of the man himself and of the unforgettable era in American letters that, in many ways, he helped to create.
out and fell or hit herself inadvertently.29 It was a tearful scene when the young woman— accompanied by a personal maid—boarded a train in Manhattan on October 25, 1906, for the short journey to Katonah. She had no idea how long her treatment would last, but she was prepared for a long stay. She and her father wanted to believe that this painful separation would eventually bring her some relief from what he once referred to as her “unearned, undeserved and hellish disease.” Her seizures had
January 1907, and Twain became fully aware of the monumental risk Rogers had taken, he had nothing but praise for the gamble. As he told his friend at a later time, he considered the project not merely a great achievement, but “the triumph of your life.” There was still a lot of work to be done before the line was ready to send its first coal trains to the coast. But, unlike Colonel Sellers, Rogers knew how to turn bold visions into realities, and to make them pay.36 As for the Kanawha, Twain
busy in the spring touring again. Playing it safe, she continued to limit her engagements to small towns. “We have heard that you carried your Utica house by storm,” Twain wrote her in May, making it seem as though storming Utica was as good as storming bigger places. Then he added a little dig in accordance with their usual game of oneupmanship: “I suppose it is because you are Mark Twain’s daughter.”16 Playful or not, the rivalry between father and daughter was another reason Clara didn’t show
Lyon. Afterward, Jean wrote, “Father came & we had a real visit this time, without Miss Lyon & over an hour in length.” Though Lyon tried to disguise it, Jean knew that the secretary wasn’t comfortable visiting Katonah and was often quick to find fault with her. “When Miss Lyon is about,” she wrote, “I am always more painfully conscious of my ignorance and stupidities.”7 She was so proud of her father’s Oxford degree that she wanted to go along on the voyage, but knew it was impossible. Saying
proud of the fact that he had done business with so many dishonest people, as though that proved his financial problems were mostly the fault of others. “Why, I have been swindled out of more money than there is on this planet,” he told a reporter at the end of the year.14 … AS CHANCE WOULD HAVE IT, three days after the body of Charles Barney was laid to rest Twain had an important appointment to keep in the poorest and most congested part of the city, where he was the unofficial host of an