Mark Twain's Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years

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9780307273444: Mark Twain's Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years
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An enduring mystery in Mark Twain's life concerns the events of his last decade, from 1900 to 1910.

Despite many Twain biographies, no one has ever determined exactly what took place during those final years after the death of Twain's wife of thirty-four years and how those experiences affected him, personally and professionally. For nearly a century, it was believed that Twain went to his death a beloved, wisecracking iconoclastic American (“I am not an American,” Twain wrote; “I am the American”), undeterred by life's sorrows and challenges.

Laura Skandera Trombley, the preeminent Twain scholar at work today, suspected that there had to be more to the story than the cultivated, carefully constructed version that had been intact for so long. Trombley went in search of the one woman whom she suspected had played the largest role in Twain's life during those final years and who possibly held the answers to her questions about Twain's life and writings.

Now, in Mark Twain's Other Woman, after sixteen years of research, uncovering never-before-read papers and personal letters, Trombley tells the full story through Isabel Lyon's meticulous daily journals, the only detailed record of Twain's last years that exists, journals overlooked by Twain's previous biographers.

For one hundred years, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon has been the mystery woman in Mark Twain's life. Twain spent the bulk of his last six years in the company of Isabel, who was responsible for overseeing his schedule and finances, nursing him through several illnesses, managing his increasingly unmanageable daughters, running his household, arranging amusements, as well as presiding over the construction of his final residence. Isabel Lyon also served as Twain's adoring audience (she called him “the King”), listening attentively as he read aloud to her what he'd written that day. She was Twain's gatekeeper to an enthralled public.

Trombley writes about what happened between them that resulted in the dramatic breakup of their relationship; about how, in Twain's final months, he gave bitter, angry press conferences denouncing her; how he ranted in personal letters that she had injured him, calling her, “a liar, a forger, a thief, a hypocrite, a drunkard, a sneak, a humbug, a traitor, a conspirator, a filthy-minded & salacious slut pining for seduction.” Trombley writes that Twain's invective bordered on obsession (he wrote about Isabel for hours every day, even while suffering from angina pains and gout attacks) and about how, despite the inordinate attention he gave her before his death, Isabel Lyon has remained a friendless ghost haunting the margins of Twain's biography.

For decades, biographers deliberately omitted her from the official Twain story. Her potentially destructive power was so great that Twain's handpicked hagiographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, allowed only one timorous reference to her in his massive three-volume work, Mark Twain: A Biography (1912).

Isabel Lyon was a forgotten woman, “so private,” she wrote in her journal, “that the very mention of me [was] with held from the world. . .”

This riveting, dark story that “the King” determined no one would ever tell is now revealed at last.

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Review:

"Incredible. . . . A complex and absorbing narrative which, like a good mystery, gets more suspenseful as it goes." --Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"A treasure trove. . . . Isabel is an intriguing figure, but even more gripping is Trombley's portrait of Twain as a kind of American Lear, obsessed with his legacy and beset by the troubles of his surviving daughters." --St. Petersburg Times

"Compelling. . . . Goes beyond Twain's carefully constructed versions of events [for] a refreshing, fill-in-the-blanks effect." --Newsday

"Trombley gives [Twain's] 450-page rant against a former personal assistant the historical context and credibility that had been long missing." --Los Angeles Times

"Like Letters from the Earth, Twain continues to live long after his death. Now we have Laura Trombley's fascinating narrative of his last days. . . . The pieces fall into place: The funniest man on earth is revealed to be a much more complicated soul." --Ken Burns, filmmaker

"A remarkable investigative effort. . . . Gripping." --The Oregonian

"Researched to a 'T, ' Mark Twain's Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years tells a story of dysfunction, deceit and duplicity the likes of which we associate not with Mark Twain--but with the pages of Henry James." --Brenda Wineapple, author of White Heat and Hawthorne, winner of the Pushcart Prize

"In this often revealing work, Trombley punctures the myth that Twain was affable and easygoing in his dotage." --The Boston Globe

"While presenting the case for Lyon, Trombley has some interesting things to say about the difficulties of being a 'new woman' in America 100 years ago." --St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Trombley has proved to be adept at peeling back Samuel L. Clemens's carefully constructed persona and forcing scholars to reconsider some basic assumptions." --Bruce Michelson, president of the Mark Twain Circle of America.

"The points of friction in the story of Twain and Lyons mirror a Victorian drama." --Los Angeles Times

"[A] remarkable book about an even more remarkable relationship. This friendship, which went sour, makes for engaging reading and his historical reporting at its very best. Laura Skandera Trombley brings both Twain and this very determined woman into sharp focus." --Tucson Citizen

"Fascinating and persuasive." --Financial Times

"Provides a disturbing picture of the author, and his family and friends, not found in the traditional Twain biographies." --The Star-Ledger

"This book is a revelation. . . . A first-rate account of Mark Twain's last decade. This account gives us a candid look at the cross-currents of wit, charm and irrational angers that marked and marred the great man's final years. Trombley's discoveries make for an illuminating portrait, and essential reading." --Meryle Secrest, author of Duveen: A Life in Art

"An engaging and at times shocking look at Mark Twain, his relationship with his secretary Van Kleek Lyon and his daughters. . . . An irresistible and controversial read." --Historical Novels Review

"Trombley's Mark Twain's Other Woman unlocks the door to long-suppressed secrets that marred the closing chapters of Mark Twain's life. A tragic story emerges, and Trombley's powerful narrative enables us to witness each dramatic scene." --Alan Gribben, author of Mark Twain's Library

"Lyon's story had been lost to history--until now. Lyon finally gets her due in this wonderfully researched book." --The Sacramento Book Review

"A riveting tale of the vortex of ambition, desire, jealousy and obsession swirling round one Great Man." --Emma Donoghue, author of Slammerkin and Room

About the Author:

Laura Skandera Trombley was raised in Southern California and attended Pepperdine University, where she earned her BA and MA, and the University of Southern California, where she earned a PhD in English literature. She is the president of Pitzer College in Claremont, California, and is the author of Mark Twain in the Company of Women. She lives in Claremont with her husband and son.

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9780307474940: Mark Twain's Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years

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