Mark Twain in the Company of Women

Mark Twain in the Company of Women

Mark Twain in the Company of Women

Mark Twain in the Company of Women

Excerpt

I became involved with Mark Twain scholarship entirely by chance. In 1986, while I was in the midst of pursuing my doctorate at the University of Southern California, Dr. Jay Martin asked if I would be interested in investigating a claim made by a retired businessman that he had purchased one hundred original letters written by Mark Twain for the sum of one hundred dollars. Naturally, I was intrigued and agreed to follow up on the lead, yet I remained skeptical. It was some weeks before I could arrange a meeting with this individual. As it turned out, the letters he had purchased proved to be authentic, and the ensuing research and literary detective work were wonderfully exciting. I will not go into the details here, as my story of the search and recovery of the lost Clara letters was published in the February 1987 issue of the Mark Twain Circular and I was the subject of a featured article entitled The Lost Legacy of Mark Twain that appeared in the May 10, 1987, edition of the Los Angeles Times Magazine (Swanbrow); suffice it to say that in the end my efforts to protect the letters and to bring them to the attention of Twain scholars proved successful. Five out of the one hundred letters were previously unknown to the Mark Twain Project, and two others had been partially transcribed by them at an earlier date; the Project obtained complete transcriptions of those seven letters and was also allowed to correct prior transcriptions of the other ninety-three. The lucky businessman sold his find in two lots at Christie's for approximately a quarter of a million dollars.

While researching the Clara letters, I developed an interest in Twain's relationships with the women in his life and how these relationships may have influenced his writing. This was a timely subject, relatively untouched by other scholars working in the field. I then began reading Twain biographies, commencing with Albert Bigelow Paine's three-volume set, to determine how past biographers had dealt with women in their studies of Twain. It quickly became evident that little had been written on the women in Twain's life; moreover, as historian Gerda Lerner points out, women had not received extensive attention by historians or biographers . . .

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