Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years
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Drawing on a number of unpublished sources, including Twain's own journals, letters, and a revealing four-hundred-page personal account kept under wraps for decades (and still yet to be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 good shots,” a reporter noted, the author “puffed furiously at a big black cigar.” The reigning champ put on a thrilling show. After dropping behind in the score, he made a roaring comeback and pulled out a victory, winning by a single point. Twain was at ease in the rough and rowdy crowd, and didn’t seem to mind sitting the whole time beside a shady character named Calvin Demarest, a champion player known for his volatile temper. (Several years later Demarest would be charged with attempted
convinced that he was creating something that “ranks with the steam engine, the printing press and the electric telegraph.” Before even a word had been published, he was imagining himself as the Edison of literature, boldly declaring, “I’m the only person who has ever found out the right way to build an autobiography.”31 Despite the fact that it would take a hundred years before a full edition would be published, his autobiography has indeed served its purpose well. The straight-talking,
“Probably no other woman so handicapped—so limited in intellect, so uncertain in conduct, so tortured by hatred and hampered by petty animosities —has ever risen from a state of helplessness and dependence to a position of such power and authority.”4 It is sometimes suggested that Twain’s criticisms of Eddy were the product of a curmudgeon’s bitterness or a misogynist’s rage. But such reasoning wouldn’t explain the similar thoughts of the McClure’s contributor, who was a promising young female
Britain. During eight previous visits he had lived in the country for months at a time, and had come to know it well. His irreverent but low-key humor always found a warm response among the British, who enjoyed the often subtle way that he teased them, and his witty criticisms encouraged them to laugh at their own prejudices and insecurities. When a very proper English gentleman once questioned his American habit of carrying a cheap cotton umbrella, he solemnly explained that it “was the only
and after he had built up the world’s largest steel company, he decided to sell it and spend the rest of his life distributing the riches as he thought best. “Never to make another dollar was my resolve & I’ve kept it,” he boasted. Preaching this gospel was easy when you had a vault full of gold bonds. But it wasn’t a message that Twain could take to heart.2 Though he and Carnegie were the same age—both men turned seventy-two in the last week of November 1907— Twain knew only too well that a