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FOUND TEXT: Jean L. Clemens The Diary of Jean L. Clemens New York 1900 DIARY OF JEAN L. CLEMENS—NEW YORK, October 1900 / Jean L. Clemens Picture the world as Jean Clemens must have seen it in 1900. A young woman who has grown up during ten years of travelling around Europe—the daughter of a man who is becoming not just a celebrity but something more like a supercelebrity, the toast of New York—yet she is haunted by uncertainties and fears, afraid of becoming an old maid because she is ill with a mysterious and somehow shameful diseases— epilepsy. She has a knack for certain things—languages, carving—but she doesn't feel truly accomplished at anything. She loves music and the theater. She admires but is envious of her older sister Clara, whom she considers much more accomplished and romantically attractive than she is. Sister Clara can sing quite well, in fact is preparing for her debut as a mezzo-soprano. In some ways Jean lives her own romantic fantasies through her sister, at the same time competing with her. Jean's childhood was spent in a fairy castle in Hartford, and she has fond but somehow painful memories of that place. She remembers the dark time when her father was becoming more and more distracted and finally ran out of money, fell into bankruptcy, and the family escaped to Europe. Yet somehow, through a magic that she doesn't fully understand, her father has become prosperous again. He remains the same lovable old rascal to Jean, but he seems unusually happy lately, seems almost to have become younger. He actually looks younger. Newspaper men are always coming by to find out what "Mark Twain" thinks about this or that. Famous actors and actresses send free tickets to plays. Her father's old friend, William Dean Howells, remains his friend, but acts vaguely puzzled by his increasing celebrity (Mr. Howells, however, is not nearly as interesting to Jean as his son, John Howells, one of the many young men courting her sister Clara). While the Clemenses are not rich, still they are rubbing shoulders with some of the most prominent people in New York. Henry Rogers himself, the great organizer of Standard Oil, helps her father with some of his business transactions. And well her dear father can use such help, for he is an entrepreneur, a speculator, in his very bones—too often to his detriment. Everyone in the family still suffers a deep sadness over the death of her sister Susy five years ago, from spinal meningitus. The family has had its share of illness. During Jean's infancy and childhood, someone in the family was always sick. When she was twelve years old, her mother became ill with acute hyperthyroid disease. At the same time, Jean herself began to suffer her strange mental spells and the sick, vaguely desperate feeling of not knowing who she was or what she was The Missouri Review · 325 doing___ Her father at first thought she was merely acting willful and spoiled. For four turbulent years, in fact, he was really against her—until soon after Susy's death, when she was diagnosed as having epilepsy. By 1900 Sam Clemens has become a thoroughgoing health faddist, involving himself in such things as "Plasmon," a colorless, tasteless food supplement that he claims "digests as easily as water" and yields the nutritional equivalent of "sixteen pounds of the best beef." He believes in it so much, in fact, that not only does he go around telling everybody to drink it, he also has invested a great deal of money in it. More importantly for Jean, he has become a believer in osteopathy, and a promoter and publicist for it. He has Jean taking sometimes very painful treatments for her epilepsy from osteopaths in England and Sweden, and now in New York from one Dr. Helmer, at 31st Street and Madison. Why does Jean Clemens write a diary? Perhaps it is the one time when she feels that she can be fairly unguarded. She uses a common pencil, writing freely, seldom striking out a word. Insofar as the ingrained decorum of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 113-140
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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