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Mark Twain's Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Yearsby Laura Trombley
Synopses & Reviews
An enduring mystery in Mark Twains 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 Twains 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 lifes 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 Twains life during those final years and who possibly held the answers to her questions about Twains life and writings.
Now, in Mark Twains Other Woman, after sixteen years of research, uncovering never-before-read papers and personal letters, Trombley tells the full story through Isabel Lyons meticulous daily journals, the only detailed record of Twains last years that exists, journals overlooked by Twains previous biographers.
For one hundred years, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon has been the mystery woman in Mark Twains 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 Twains adoring audience (she called him “the King”), listening attentively as he read aloud to her what hed written that day. She was Twains gatekeeper to an enthralled public.
Trombley writes about what happened between them that resulted in the dramatic breakup of their relationship; about how, in Twains 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 Twains 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 Twains biography.
For decades, biographers deliberately omitted her from the official Twain story. Her potentially destructive power was so great that Twains 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.
Despite many Twain biographies, no one has ever determined exactly what took place during the final years after the death of his wife. Trombley, the preeminent Twain scholar, goes in search of the one woman whom she suspects played a role in Twain's life during those years.
A groundbreaking book about Mark Twains final years, from 1900 to 1910, that lifts the layers of accepted truth about Twains life; the result of extraordinary detective work and original scholarship, told with the use of never-before-published personal papers from Twains longtime secretary and companion.
Twain spent the bulk of his last six years in the company of his secretary, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, who was slavishly devoted to him. Using Lyons diaries, leading Twain scholar Laura Trombley tells the story of their profound bond: how Twain delegated the management of his schedule and finances to Lyon; how she ran his household; nursed him during his illnesses; managed his increasingly unmanageable daughters; listened attentively as he read to her what hed written each day.
Trombley reconstructs the events that caused the dramatic breakup of their relationship and describes how Twain, in his very last months, obsessed with his former secretary, conducted angry press conferences denouncing her; how he ranted in personal letters about the ways in which she had betrayed him; and how, despite the inordinate attention he gave her before his death, Isabel Lyon remained a friendless ghost haunting the margins of Mark Twain's legacy . . . until now, with the publication of this dazzling, revelatory book.
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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