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Dangerous Intimacy: The Untold Story of Mark Twain’s Final Years

Dangerous Intimacy: The Untold Story of Mark Twain’s Final Years
Your Price: $21.95 CDN
Author: Karen Lystra
Publisher: University of California Press
Format: Softcover
# of Pages: 342
Pub. Date: 2006
ISBN-10: 0520250001
ISBN-13: 9780520250000

About the Book:

The last phase of Mark Twain's life is sadly familiar: Crippled by losses and tragedies, America's greatest humorist sank into a deep and bitter depression. It is also wrong. This book recovers Twain's final years as they really were — lived in the shadow of deception and prejudice, but also in the light of the author's unflagging energy and enthusiasm.

Dangerous Intimacy relates the story of how, shortly after his wife's death in 1904, Twain basked in the attentions of Isabel Lyon, his flirtatious — and calculating — secretary. Lyon desperately wanted to marry her boss, who was almost thirty years her senior. She managed to exile Twain's youngest daughter, Jean, who had epilepsy. With the help of Twain's assistant, Ralph Ashcroft, who fraudulently acquired power of attorney over the author's finances, Lyon nearly succeeded in assuming complete control over Twain's life and estate. Fortunately, Twain recognized the plot being woven around him just in time. So rife with twists and turns as to defy belief, the story nonetheless comes to undeniable, vibrant life in the letters and diaries of those who witnessed it firsthand: Katy the housekeeper, Jean, Lyon, and others whose own distinctive, perceptive, often amusing voices take us straight into the heart of the Clemens household.

Just as Twain extricated himself from the lies, prejudice, and self-delusion that almost turned him into an American Lear, so Karen Lystra liberates the author's last decade from a century of popular misunderstanding. In this gripping book, subtitled The Untold Story of Mark Twain's Final Years, we at last see how, late in life, this American icon discovered a deep kinship with his youngest child and continued to explore the precarious balance of love and pain that is one of the trademarks of his work.

What people say:

"A brilliant literary detective, Lystra is also particularly good at presenting the prejudicial myths." — Irish Times

"Explores a chapter in the life of Americas greatest storyteller, one he deeply regretted to the day he died. It is a chapter full of Victorian melodrama. At times, it reads like a steamy romance novel; at other times, like a textbook on power by Machiavelli." — Hartford Courant

"Lystras narrative moves quickly, and offers an illuminating portrait of an aging Twain. The research is thorough, the personalities colorful." — The Jerusalem Post

"This gripping examination of Twain's later life recounts a family drama so fantastic it reads like the subplot of a daytime soap.... For all its intrigue and melodrama, this is a remarkably powerful and moving study." — Library Journal

"Lystra gives her readers a sense of being participants in Twain's relationships with these interesting people, so sensitive is her reconstruction of their lives. Her book is an extraordinary achievement." — Robert Middlekauff, author of Benjamin Franklin and His Enemies

"Lystra provides fresh archival information on the last years of Jean Clemens, Mark Twain's youngest daughter." — Laura Skandera Trombley, author of Mark Twain in the Company of Women

"Dangerous Intimacy painstakingly unravels the web of ambition, flattery, and deceit that Mark Twains secretary, Isabel Lyon, wove to estrange him from his daughters and consolidate her own position during his final years. With compassion and sensitivity, Lystra explores the tragedy of Twains youngest daughter Jean and trains a spotlight on Twains complicity in her loneliness and isolation. This beautifully-written and meticulously-researched book is important for anyone who cares about Mark Twain." — Shelley Fisher Fishkin, author of Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture

"Readers will be gratified, and I believe deeply instructed, by Karen Lystra's sensitive, well-documented, and well-reasoned account of the final years. She has much to teach us about Jean Clemens, Clara Clemens, Isabel Lyon, and not least of all, Mark Twain himself." — Robert H. Hirst, General Editor, Mark Twain Project

About the Author:

Karen Lystra is Professor of American Studies at California State University at Fullerton. She is the author of Dangerous Intimacy: The Untold Story of Mark Twains Final Years.