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Drawing on a number of unpublished sources, including Twain's own journals, letters, and a revealing four-hundred-page personal account kept under wraps for decades (and still yet to be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.
on Clark. But the author was appalled by the humorless vanity of the senator and the self-abasement of his admirers. “I am a person of elevated tone and of morals that can bear scrutiny,” Twain reassured himself afterward, “and am much above associating with animals of Mr. Clark’s breed. … While I am willing to waive moral rank and associate with the moderately criminal of the Senators … I have to draw the line at Clark of Montana.”26 In this case, Twain wasn’t exaggerating. William Clark—the
men tended to be more emotional than physical. In the last few months she had grown close to her new accompanist, twenty-nine-year-old Charles E. Wark, a native of Ontario, Canada, who had become a good companion and confidant during their tours of the Northeast. He took care of the practical details of their travels and kept a general watch over her, helping to steady her volatile artistic temperament when necessary. Twain gave his approval to a relationship that seemed to him entirely proper.
many pages of his autobiography as possible before he died. It was a demanding job and kept him busy “twenty-six hours a day.” The result would shock many people, he said. “I have made it as caustic, fiendish, and devilish as I possibly could. I have spared no one. It will make people’s hair curl. Even Mrs. Eddy’s friends are there, all right.” But he confessed that it was such a devastatingly honest and unsparing masterpiece that he would have to postpone its publication. “I don’t want it
But they couldn’t get enough of Twain. They were amazed at his energy. Though it was midnight when he left the party, he insisted on walking back to his hotel. One journalist wrote that the famous American was demonstrating considerable physical endurance for a man of his age: “Let it be stated that he stood—stood, not sat—for an hour and a half after dinner, smoking and talking, and then walked home three-quarters of a mile to his hotel.” At the end of this long night of shadowing his subject,
comments on religious bigotry and social hypocrisy, he took a long view. “The edition of A.D. 2006 will make a stir when it comes out,” he wrote confidently. “I shall be hovering around taking notice, along with other dead pals.” (If he managed to continue hovering through the summer of 2008, he would have seen his face adorning the cover of Time, which called him “Our Original Superstar.”)26 As an author who was used to seeing his works lavishly illustrated, and who appreciated the importance of