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Drawing on a number of unpublished sources, including Twain's own journals, letters, and a revealing four-hundred-page personal account kept under wraps for decades (and still yet to be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

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to show potential adversaries that America’s naval might was second to none. Asked about the fleet, Twain told the press that he didn’t think it was necessarily a bad thing for America to have “a whacking big navy.” The problem, he explained, was that the country had too many politicians who seemed eager to unleash “the martial canines.” For Twain—who had been named in 1901 an honorary vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League of New York— America’s brutal conquest of the Philippines in the

angriest comments on the God of the Bible in the summer of 1906, he told Howells, “To-morrow I mean to dictate a chapter which will get my heirs & assigns burnt alive if they venture to print it this side of 2006 A.D.” His abuse of Eddy pales beside that which he heaped on the “Lord of Creation” during this period, calling the Bible “the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere. It makes Nero an angel of light and leading, by contrast.” The adjectives he applies to God include

greatest display of costumes he had ever seen. Both town and gown came together to stage the Oxford Historical Pageant, a colorful production held in a meadow bordering the Cherwell River. A covered grandstand for five thousand spectators was erected for the occasion, and Twain sat with Kipling in the royal box. (Since no one from the royal family attended, Twain and Kipling “represented Royalty as well as we could in a sudden and unprepared way without opportunity for practice.”) From their

her work were appalled at her awful prose and couldn’t fathom her appeal. “From the way she writes she ought to be here,” Oscar Wilde is reported to have said from the prison cell where he was serving a two-year sentence for acts of “indecency.”16 Unfortunately for Twain, she decided that being seen with him would be good for her, and temporarily put aside her general prejudice against Americans, whom she considered “the trickiest and most unscrupulous people on earth.” In this case, her own

Knickerbocker’s locked doors. Lyon had arrived too late. Police reserves, called in at the last minute, were standing at the entrance and were trying to hold back some of the depositors who were demanding to be let in. Everyone was told the company had run out of cash and would be closed indefinitely. “Oh, it’s too dreadful,” Lyon wrote in her journal that night. “Every penny the King has, fifty-one thousand dollars, is in the Knickerbocker Trust Co. and … it has gone crashing into a terrible

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