Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years

Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years

Michael Shelden

Language: English

Pages: 528

ISBN: 0679448004

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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Drawing on a number of unpublished sources, including Twain's own journals, letters, and a revealing four-hundred-page personal account kept under wraps for decades (and still yet to be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.
















the other, and to keep them high as long as they were together.4 It helped that Rogers found enjoyment in indulging Mark Twain’s wishes, for the writer’s idea of fun was to test this goodwill from time to time. To Twain’s amazement, his friend always proved equal to the test. “I do things which ought to try any man’s patience,” he wrote of Rogers in a private essay, “but they never seem to try his.” When he felt restless or low, his mood always seemed to brighten in the presence of this powerful

the destination was Rogers’s hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, where he had built an eightyfive-room mansion for weekend escapes and family holidays. At night Twain and other pals liked to join the “Admiral” on the deck and spend hours playing cards, drinking strong whiskey, and swapping tall tales. So many hands of poker were played in the forward deckhouse that Twain called it the “poker chapel.” The smoke-filled atmosphere on the Kanawha often turned raucous, especially when Twain started

after losing his wife, he lamented, “The world is black today, & I think it will never lighten again.” A few days later he wrote, “In my life there have been 68 Junes—but how vague and colorless 67 of them are contrasted with the deep blackness of this one.”19 As the weeks of mourning turned to months, the dark cloud slowly lifted, and he tried to shun any oppressive thoughts of death. He began to take an active part in society again, seeing old friends, going to small parties, and giving talks

William Dean Howells was planning a tour of Britain. “You can’t ask better luck than that,” he told Howells. Of the rural landscape, he wrote, “England is too absolutely beautiful to be left out doors—ought to be under a glass case.”5 As soon as the news of his impending return to England had been widely circulated, dozens of cables and letters arrived pleading with him to attend events of all kinds—private luncheons and teas, charity and club dinners, public receptions and garden parties. Most

old place on Fifth Avenue. Though he was sorry to leave Tuxedo’s peaceful scenery behind, he missed the energy and excitement of city life. In fact, on quiet days in the country when he was alone for any length of time, he sometimes wondered whether he really wanted to make his permanent home in a rural area. He worried that very few people would want to visit him at the new house in Redding, and that the neighbors there wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as those in Tuxedo. At one point in

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