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MARK AND LIVY / Resa Willis The following is from Resa Willis' biography, Mark and Livy: The Love Story of Mark Twain and the Woman Who Almost Tamed Him, to be published by Atheneum this spring. As one of America's most celebrated writers, Mark Twain has enjoyed lasting popular and critical appreciation, but until now little has been known about his thirty-seven-year relationship with his wife, Olivia Langdon Clemens. In Mark and Livy, Willis redresses this oversight, presenting fascinating insights into their courtship and marriage. Her account also analyzes Livy's influence on Twain's writing, for as Willis notes, "Livy was not only Samuel Clemens' wife and his children's mother, she was Mark Twain's editor. She read and proposed changes on nearly everything he wrote. She attended many of his lectures and made constant suggestions regarding material to include in his platform speeches. He relied upon her judgment as to what his readers would and wouldn't accept." Such was Livy's role in Clemens' life after many years of marriage. At their meeting in December 1867, however, Olivia Langdon was little more to Clemens than a serious, educated, pretty young woman. She was a wealthy young woman, too. Her father, Jervis Langdon, had built up a coal and lumber industry around Elmira, New York, that had firmly established the family's fortune. Like many Americans of her class and educational background, Livy suffered from poor health—the "nervous prostration" or neurasthenia that was so widespread in the nineteenth century and that tended to afflict women more often than men. In Livy's case the nebulous illness had first manifested itself when she took a hard fall on ice at age sixteen. For two years she lay partially paralyzed in a darkened bedroom, mystifying a host of physicians, who could discover no organic cause for the paralysis. Eventually it vanished and her health improved, but from that time on she would always be considered frail. It was through her younger brother, Charles, that Livy first met Samuel Clemens. Early in 1867 Jervis Langdon decided to send his son on a grand tour with the aim of "finishing" him in preparation for the future responsibility he would have managing the Langdon coal interests. That June, Charlie Langdon sailed for Europe on the Quaker City. His fellow passengers included Twain, who was traveling as a correspondent for the San Francisco newspaper, Alta California. At thirty-two, Twain was beginning to make a name for himself as a writer and popular lecturer, the "Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope." In spite of, or possibly because of, the differences between the uncouth Twain and the more refined Langdon, there was an immediate affinity between them. On board the Quaker City, the two young men met and befriended Mrs. Mary Mason The Missouri Review · 239 Fairbanks, the wife of a Cleveland newspaperman and a writer herself. Mary Fairbanks was twenty-one years older than Langdon and seven years older than Twain—old enough to be viewed as a kind of maternal figure by both men. In the course of the voyage she would become Twain's mentor in social and moral behavior, and the shipboard editor of his manuscripts. In both his personal and his professional life, Twain had a strong need for a sensible female advisor; Mary Fairbanks was astute enough to recognize his need, and while she was happy to serve in that capacity temporarily, it was her strong recommendation that Twain marry. When he did, three years later, the serious and practical Olivia Langdon was able to permanently fill the roles that Mrs. Fairbanks had filled aboard the Quaker City. Samuel Clemens' first meeting with Livy took place at a reunion of the Quaker City passengers late that same year, and in the following Resa Willis describes their meeting and the beginning of the couple's approximately two-year courtship. Part Two gives a glimpse of their married life fourteen years later and shows unmistakably the degree to which their relationship had grown. E.S. Author's note: The information and quotations come from sources noted in the bibliography at the end of this article. THE FUTURE...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 139-159
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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