Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Man in White

Atop my stack of summer reading was Mark Twain, Man in White by Michael Shelden.

Whatever I know of Samuel Clemons biography is deeply skewed by a lifetime of watching portrayals by Hal Holbrook, and living within easy driving distance of his boyhood home in Hannibal. In a word or two I know practically nothing.

My mental image is of a professional lecturer, comic and wordsmith who always wore a white. Didn't happen that way.

The white suit began several years after his beloved wife died, he was 71 years old. Tired of mourning, sick of reminders of the death of his wife and son and daughter, Clemons wished to live the rest of his life to the fullest. His high Victorian daughter Clara was aghast.

He kicked off his white suit in December 1906 at a hearing of Joint Congressional Committee on Patents, where it received extensive news coverage. The hearing involved extending the life of an author;s copyright protection. In his later years he still had to earn a living to support his household as well as 2 daughters,spoiled Clara & Jean who suffered from epilepsy, and the copyrights of his earliest works were nearing expiration.

Much like Tom Wolff Jr's white suits many years later, Twain's was a thumb in the eye to convention.

I loved this book. In 3 years Twain covered a lot of ground, fought a lot of battles, was cheated and fought back. Mostly, “he wanted to go out in the grand fashion of a man who had made a deep impression on the world, and who was convinced that nothing about him – including the manner of his passing – would be forgotten. (NYT, 3/22/2010)

The closing of any life is sad, but Twain fought the good fight and Mr. Shelden tells the story magnificently.


Martha said...

Although Twain's boyhood home was a whole state away, I, too, know little about the man. Very interesting and looks like a good book.

James said...

Thank you Toad, I will read this book before summer ends! The best thing that can be be said after a man dies is that he fought the good fight.

Anonymous said...

I will add this to my list of books to read. I may wait for it to be published in paperback. What other biographies of Twain have you read and would recommend? I am reading Hitch-22 now.


Toad said...

Hilton, I am ashamed to admit, I have never read a Twain bio until now. Anyone have any ideas?

I have Hitch on order, with mixed feelings.

Anonymous said...

Neither have I sir, just bought them. I have recently chatted with him twice at in town discussions of the book. The first he left me with the impression of "Bitchens". The second was much more amicable.