Title: Twain's End Author: Lynn Cullen Published: October 13th 2015 by Gallery Books Format: Hardcover, 352 pages Genre: Fictionalized Imagining Source: My thanks to Netgalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books. for an opportunity to read an advance copy of this
Midway through this book, I did not want to continue. I did not want to see the beloved figure Mark Twain denigrated in this way. What I came to realize is that this is not about the Mark Twain that American’s know; it is it about a caricature that Samuel Clemens created and could not rid himself of. Granted, they are both the same physical person, but in temperament, they are very different. One that wants to be love and one that you will learn to despise.
Author Lynn Cullen will tell you that this is a fictionalized imagining of the personal life of Mark Twain, a man that kept a room in his home for his Angelfish. Which came across to me as something akin to Heffner’s mansion. A little club within his home for young women whom he cared about and gives them angelfish pins to show their membership. A humorist that rarely laughed and whose own daughters despised him. A man that loathed himself and everyone’s adulation only made him loath himself more.
Isabel Lyon came to the Clemons’s household as a secretary to Olivia Langdon Clemens, the sickly wife of Samuel. In time, Isabel was beguiled by Sam. She was lonely and he showed attention. This was a recipe for disaster since the more Mark Twain loved a person, the harder he was on them and in turn, they tried harder and harder to please him. Between Twain’s dying wife, his daughters and Isabel, there was a constant struggle for his affection. Someone has to lose, but in the end, it seems that they all did.
At heart, Samuel Clemmons was just a salty Mississippi steamboat pilot who became Mark Twain. A persona that he neither liked nor could live without. He was a lonely man that needed every bit of love thrown at him, but yet he could never give any back. He was volatile and with little provocation, he could become frightening. A controlling man that was not happy unless everyone loved him and only him.
At Isabel’s breaking point, Ralph Ashcroft, Twain’s business manager, began to show his affection for her. Mark Twain had no intention of marrying her when his wife died and in that time and place, it was unseemly for a single woman to be living in the home of a single man. She was a friend that was more than a friend, a secretary that was more than a secretary, but in her heart, she knew that she was nothing. It was time for her to leave and Ralph, twelve years her junior, allowed her the escape.
What neither Isabel nor Ralph knew was the extent to which the world’s beloved humorist would go to destroy them. He even went as far as writing a letter calling Isabel Lyon "a liar, a forger, a thief, a hypocrite, a drunkard, a sneak, a humbug, a traitor, a conspirator, a filthy-minded and salacious slut pining for seduction." He was a cruel man that was not going to let someone like Isabel ruin his story.
Mark Twain wanted to own people. He would not let suitors around his daughters and actually hated the idea of any man, other than himself, in their lives. He needed control. He was a man that was nothing but a tyrant and bully in his own home.
Lynn Cullen did a remarkable job in trying to separate the two personalities that made up the same man. At times, the book seemed long and unnecessarily drawn out. I am not sure if that was due to the subject matter or Ms. Cullen wanting to make her readers feel the same kind of entrapment that Isabel felt. There is a lot of material to their association, though rejected by the man that she loved, Isabel refused to speak publically about their relationship and his hateful turning on her. This was a deeply troubling book to read and I do hope that if you do delve in, that you take your time and do some of your own research into the central characters presented here.