Mark Twains Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years By Laura Skandera Trombley

MARK TWAIN S OTHER WOMAN[return]The Hidden Story of His Final Years[return]Laura Trombley, Alfred A. Knopf,March 17 2010, $28.95, 352pp, 978-0-307-27344-4.[return][return]Mark Twain wanted his biography published without a doubt. He also wanted to have total control over the image of the man people would read about and therefore went to great lengths to protect his reputation. So, how do we know the real Mark Twain? [return][return]Mark Twain s Other Woman, by Laura Trombley is about the writer s later years between 1900 and 1910 and his personal relationship with his secretary, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon. Trombley, a college professor, has written two other books about Twain and has sifted through a vast array of primary documents that include personal letters, notes and diary entries. Through interviews and reading the daily reminders written by Isabel Van Kleek Lyon the author has put together a chronology of Twain s life, a portrait of the man he and his family hoped would never come to light. [return][return]This is an engaging at times shocking look at Mark Twain, his relationship with his secretary Van Kleek Lyon and his daughters. It will be easy to overlook slow moving passages that are burdened by the author s research findings. Trombley s evaluation and interpretation about this unconventional yet respected iconoclast in American literature will offer an irresistible and controversial read. English This book starts out holding your interest and after the middle point it captures you entirely. I was up till 2 am to see how it ended.

When Olivia Clemens became unable to handle all her husband's affairs, Isabel Van Klerk Lyon was brought in as a private secretary. As Olivia's health waned, Isabel took on more and more responsibility. Upon Olivia's death, Isabel was the virtual head of household in addition to her secretarial duties.

In being a de facto helpmate and mother, Isabel knew the family secrets. Clara, Clemens' self absorbed daughter, made a lifelong crusade of keeping the secrets secret. To do this she felt the need to eliminate, intimidate and tarnish the one who might reveal them. Author Laura Trombley fleshes out the amazing and previously unknown story of Olivia Lyon and the Clemens family

Earlier in the month I read Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography and could not help but compare these two women whose labor was contemporaneous for about 7 years. Both were devoted to great authors a generation older than they were. At the heart of their dedication was their reverence for their writer. Both Clemens and Tolstoy washed their hands of day to day household logistics, leaving their key helpmate vulnerable to the whims of implacable children and hangers on. Both authors had moralistic views about sex which served to undermine the position of their most valuable devotee. Both Sophia and Isabel suffered physical ailments from all the stress. Sophia served Tolstoy all her adult life, while Isabel's work was limited to Clemens' final years. Sophia was a virtual slave, with no realistic options. Isabel's alternatives were limited, but while she had a few, none was as attractive as her work with Clemens. Her devotion was such that she would never leave on her own. Just as Clemens turned on a dime regarding his private secretary, Tolstoy could do (an argument can be made that he did) the same for his wife Sophia.

Also in reading of the demise of the Clemens family brings to mind the demise of the Abraham Lincolns. There are no Samuel Clemens' descendants, and may not be any from Abraham Lincoln (DNA testing would be needed to confirm). The Last Lincolns: The Rise & Fall of a Great American Family describes the Lincolns as a family for which there are some parallels to the to the mental and physical problems of the Clemens'.

This is an excellent book I recommend it to anyone interested in Samuel Clemens and this period of literature. English I had put off reading Laura Skandera Trombley’s book for the longest time, believing that it might be sensationalist (which it isn’t) and knowing that it would make a dent in my affection for Mark Twain (which it did). I knew (but didn’t really want to know) about the growing anger, bitterness, depression and vindictiveness during the last years of Twain’s life after Livy’s death, his obsession to control every last detail of his legacy, his poisonous rants against Isabel Lyon, the disastrous relationships with his daughters Clara and Jean, etc. etc.

On the other hand, this thoroughly researched work is a breath of fresh air compared with the autobiography and the gushing uncritical outpourings of Albert Bigelow Paine, William Dean Howells, etc. etc. In fact, I feel this book is a must for anyone seriously interested in Mark Twain. Rather than “a being from another star” as Paine describes him, Mark Twain - despite all his brilliance - was decidedly (and not always lovably) human.
English Warning: Some may find this review contains spoilers (although I try to speak in generalities and since we are talking about history, it's hard to know the line between spoiler and well-known fact.) Anyway, please read it at your own risk, or ignore it altogether.
The author did justice to a complicated story about complicated people. I discovered this book at the gift shop at the Mark Twain house in Hartford, Connecticut. (By the way, if you are in the area, I encourage you to take the tour.) I went home and purchased the Kindle version. Like most, I was required to read Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in high school. (I was never into either book, but I appreciate the literary significance of the works.) When the tour of the house was over, I was interested in knowing about the real Mark Twain, and I believe this book provides an honest portrait of the larger than life figure. He was kind-hearted at times, narcissistic, generous, funny, and very bad at investments (for which he took no personal blame.)
Now onto the women in his life. I don't think we can truly understand the motives of his wife, Olivia, his daughter, Clara, his disabled daughter, Jean, or his personal secretary, Isabel, without embracing the profound restrictions on women at that time in history. Olivia was something of a saint, but she had the assistance of wealth and marriage to a literary giant to solidify her role. Clara was spoiled, musically untalented, and consequently lived in a la-la land of entitlement, thanks to Daddy's generosity. Jean was a tragic figure. Twain's secretary, Isabel Lyon, was by far the hardest to figure out. I don't think that she was malevolent, and I believe she loved (and worshiped) her employer. However, she did seem to take advantage of him, smother him, and manipulatively edge her way into personal family situations that she had no place in. Twain, fueled by his daughter Clara's pettiness and greed, did Isabel a great disservice by being an Indian Giver of sorts, and speaking ill about Isabel in exaggerated ways that did not entirely reflect her actual motives and deeds.
At times, I had to skim a few paragraphs here and there because they were full of research that was a bit boring. I stuck with it, however, because I really wanted to know the final act. The last few chapters were the best, because they helped answer the question of what happens to people in their old age when they reap what they have sown. Twain has the funeral that he dreamt of, with 3000 views of his casket. This is important, because who fantasizes about their funerals? Narcissists. I won't go into details, but Clara seems to get her just desserts in old age. Isabel is actually triumphant, in my way of thinking. She works hard, lives independently, does not feed into the spite of the Twain family by speaking unwell of the man she revered, and ultimately, provides actor Hal Holbrook with the most honest portrait he had been given of Mark Twain. Ironically, Twain may have gone to the grave hating Isabel, but she was the one who knew him best.
The author leaves many questions hanging: how serious was Isabel's alleged drug problem? Did she really try to seduce Twain? Was there something that neither Isabel or Twain told about a secret sexual relationship? What in God's name was up with Twain and his angelfish young girls? I do not fault the author for leaving these questions unanswered. No one can know the real truth in an age when secrets were routinely stowed away- we can only speculate.
I took my rating from 5 to 4 stars because it was a slow read at times, but overall, an entirely worthwhile story that has left a lasting impression on me. English I stayed up in bed and finished it with a flashlight. At my age! So.

My knowledge of Twain's personal life was vague: there were women, his wife was very proper, and he had trouble with his daughters, but that was about it. Although nominally about Twain's secretary who may or may not have had sexual/marital designs on him (but who definitely worshipped him), as soon as her diary stops, we're mostly in the dark about her, and instead learn more about his daughters and the rest of their lives.

It's a good read, albeit with some redundancies. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in Twain--the man who was behind the lectern and the pen. (Hint: he was pretty self-absorbed, and was excellent at revising history to suit his purposes.) I found myself thinking he was a lot like George III in a history I'd recently read: unwilling to bend, somewhat prudish and overly concerned with image, and refusing to let his children (particularly daughters) free to live lives of their own. English

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. Mark Twains Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years

According to Trombley, Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain was not as well-liked by some as one would have thought. But he was still a brilliant American writer. Nuff said. English Great read. I've always been interested in Mark Twain's life, I love his writings, so finding this book was very enlightening. So much he did, said and felt are in these pages. English A short time ago, I read a fine biography of Mark Twain by Ron Powers. One issue that intrigued me mightily was a very brief mention of two women in Twain's later life--Isabel Lyon and Laura Wright (later Dake). In both cases, Powers' discussion made me want to know more about each.

Well, this work discusses in much more depth the relationship between Lyon and Twain. And it is a pretty disturbing tale, of fight to the death nastiness among those in Twain's life. Isabel Lyon wrote well detailed notes on nearly a day-by-day basis in terms of her years with Twain. She served as a secretary, a colleague, the person who looked after his finances, running his household, and supervising his last home. A part of the picture was the fierce contention Lyon had with Twain's daughter Clara, with Twain’s biographer, and so on. Sometimes the people could work together; at other times they fought fiercely.

Lyon was Train’s companion for much of the last 6 years of his life. At some point, he essentially kicked her out of his life and began vituperative attacks on her.

This book uses previously unused private papers of Lyon to outline the nature of the relationship with Twain--and other aspects of Twain's life. I am not an expert on Mark Twain, so I am not in a position to judge the validity of the author's findings. But this is powerful reading, and one wonders how someone who played such an important role in Twain's later life could be so effectively expunged from many works on Twain.
English The not so flattering account of the last twenty years of Mark Twain's life; his reliance on one woman, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, to run his life, feed his ego and clean up family messes. In the end, when she became more of a liability than an asset, her years of dedication and service meant nothing...the King's image and reputation were more important. Beyond the story of Twain, I thought the secondary story of his daughter Jean, and her battle with epilepsy was interesting and a reminder of all the medical community doesn't know. English Fascinating account of the last six years of Twain’s life and his loyal caretaker Isabel Van Kleek Lyon.

This story certainly shed an entirely new light for me on the ruthless, evil-spirited Clara, (Twain’s daughter), and the influence she had over her father. Class structure still featured prominently during that time, (and in some circles it’s still at the forefront) but I couldn’t get over the Twain family’s appalling behavior considering Isabel’s ceaseless devotion. The book revealed a new side of Twain and his family that I’d never known before.

Skandera Trombley spent years researching and writing this book and it was absolutely a wonderful gift for this reader. Really a great piece of unearthed history. Closer to 4-1/2 stars.

I read the Kindle version of this book and this time I think maybe I would have enjoyed reading the hardcover version a bit more due to the awkward conversion with strange spacing, arbitrary underlining throughout and inappropriate page breaks. Otherwise a great read. English

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