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Dangerous Intimacy

The Untold Story of Mark Twain’s Final Years

Karen Lystra (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 366 pages
ISBN: 9780520250000
August 2006
$26.95, £22.00
Other Formats Available:
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 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.
A Note on Names

1. Mark Twain—and Sam’s Women
2. Heartbreak
3. Rearranging the Household
4. Looking for Love
5. A Pact with the Devil
6. Life in the Sanitarium
7. Someone to Love Him and Pet Him
8. A Viper to Her Bosom
9. Innocence at Home
10. Stormfield
11. An American Lear
12. Illusions of Love
13. Unraveling
14. The Exile Returns
15. Confrontation
16. A Formidable Adversary
17. False Exoneration
18. The Funniest Joke in the World
19. Melting Marble with Ice
20. The End of My Autobiography

Epilogue: How Little One May Tell
Karen Lystra is Professor of American Studies at California State University at Fullerton. She is the author of Searching the Heart: Women, Men, and Romantic Love in Nineteenth-Century America (1989).
“Rational, detailed, and solidly documented, this is important reading.”—D. E. Sloane Choice
“The story that Lystra weaves has all of the twists and scheming of nineteenth-century melodrama, but this is no theater spectacle - it is a true story and all the more heart-wrenching and horrifying for its veracity.”—Erik Bledsoe Foreword
“Explores a chapter in the life of America’s 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
“A brilliant literary detective, Lystra is also particularly good at presenting the prejudicial myths.”—Anthony Glavin Irish Times
"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 News For Zoos & Aquariums
“The most significant study of this period of Twain’s life since Hamlin Hill wrote God’s Fool in 1973.”—Barbara Schmidt Mark Twain Forum
“Lystra’s narrative moves quickly, and offers an illuminating portrait of an aging Twain. The research is thorough, the personalities colorful.”—The Jerusalem Post
“As fascinating as a detective story.”—Richard Wakefield Times/Post Intelligencer
“This books many strengths is the romance of love and betrayal. . . “ “If all this makes for a page-turner, it also represents fine scholarship.” “The result is a clear-eyed yet sympathetic portrait of the last years of the man known as Mark Twain.”—William L. Barney Unknown
"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 Twain’s 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 Twain’s youngest daughter Jean and trains a spotlight on Twain’s 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

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