Mark and Livy: the love story of Mark Twain and the woman who almost tamed him

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Atheneum, 1992 - Biography & Autobiography - 334 pages
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Mark Twain is America's best-known and perhaps most popular writer. But until now little has been known about the love of his life--Olivia Langdon Clemens, his adored "Livy". In Mark and Livy, Resa Willis has redressed this oversight, presenting us with the fullest insights and details of four decades of courtship and marriage, showing us a famous writer at home and at work, and the splendid woman who was his consistent critic and companion, editor and muse, trusted advisor and beloved wife. The daughter of a prominent, wealthy, and broad-minded family--they were founding members of the local Congregational Church, abolitionists, and helpers on the underground railroad--in upstate New York, Olivia Langdon was just twenty-two when she and Samuel Clemens first met at Christmastime in 1867. (In his autobiography, he would later claim that he had seen her before--in a photograph owned by her brother, whom Clemens had befriended on his trip to the Holy Land--and fallen in love at first sight.) A lifelong diarist, reader, and commentator on her own readings, Livy at first resisted his courtship, but soon she relented, providing Clemens with the "sivilizing" influence that he craved, even as he thought himself unworthy, and that made life possible for him as he composed the books that made his fortune and reputation. As an adolescent Livy had suffered from a mysterious paralysis, all too common to her times and class, and while never completely robust thereafter, she brought a remarkable concentration of energy and strength, sensitivity and love to her many-sided life as a proper Victorian wife, proving herself to be, as Professor Willis makes abundantly clear, the vital center of the Clemensfamily. Whether amidst the dazzle of their cosmopolitan social world or the private and protected life of home--in Buffalo, Elmira, Hartford, New York, or the various flats and villas of their shared life abroad--there was Livy, blue-penciling her husband's manuscripts, overseeing the music lessons of one daughter, the illnesses of another, befriending, soothing, and charming all who met her. (On her death, William Dean Howells said, "She hallowed what she touched, far beyond priests".). A story of heady successes and heartbreaking tragedies, Mark and Livy is a story that needed to be told, and in Resa Willis it has found the perfect writer--vigorous, sympathetic, humorous, and clear-sighted. Drawing extensively on Livy's own diaries, letters, and commonplace books, her portrait is suffused with Livy's true voice and emotional depth--it is a triumph of the biographer's art.

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Contents

I feel so frightfully banished
1
chapter 2 A generous free household
13
chapter 3 Quietly and steadily
23
Copyright

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About the author (1992)

Resa Willis is Professor of English and chair of the English Department at Drury University, in Springfield, Missouri. She has lectured on Twain and Livy in the United States and abroad.

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