From Publishers Weekly
Shelden (Orwell) centers on the writer's signature white suit—which first raised a ruckus when he donned it in the wintery month of December 1906 for an event at the Library of Congress. Shelden also sets the record straight with respect to Twain's continuing humor into his old age in spite of the deaths of his beloved wife and his epileptic daughter, Jean, and his often tempestuous relations with musical daughter Clara. Twain's last years were chock-full, including a feud with Mary Baker Eddy and encounters with Bram Stoker, Bernard Shaw, Helen Keller, and others. Much of the emotional void was filled by Twain's complex but seemingly platonic relationships with a series of girls. The last part of Twain's life was cynically managed by a team of his secretary, Isabel Lyon, and business manager, Ralph Ashcroft. Here is a well-researched book for all Twainiacs as well as those coming to the subject's late years for the first time. 46 photos. (Apr. 20)
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*Starred Review* Of Mark Twain in his final years, William Dean Howells remarks, “His literature grew less and less and his life more and more.” In Twain’s remarkable late-life surge in vitality, Sheldon discerns the surprising origin of the author’s iconic image. Challenging the widespread belief that Twain dwindled into impotent despair, Sheldon chronicles his last years as the triumph of an exuberant showman. This, after all, is the man who unexpectedly appears for a Congressional hearing clad in a stunning white suit and who never thereafter abandons his new sartorial luster. This, too, is the comic genius who in his seventies still sparkles with irreverent wit. Though it flashes through a few final published works (including a spoof on the afterlife and an iconoclastic swipe at Shakespeare), Twain’s septuagenarian wit mostly serves to punctuate an amazing range of nonliterary enterprises: building a new family mansion, waging legal battles to secure his legacy, underwriting a theater for impoverished children, claiming an honorary degree from Oxford. Yet, as Shelden recognizes, that wit ultimately reflects personal resilience in the face of financial reverses and family tragedy. Even on his deathbed, Twain rallies to bid farewell with wisecracks. Impressive scholarship delivers the authentic accents of a truly American voice. --Bryce Christensen
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