Mark Twain spent the last decade of his life writing over 5,000 pages of memoir. He asked that none of it be published until 100 years after his death in 1910. This November, the University of California will publish the first volume of this work, which, as befits one of the true giants of American letters, is full of raging gossip!
The most salacious part of the 500,000-word memoir is the 400 pages Twain wrote during the last year of his life, about a relationship he had with his secretary, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, after the death of his wife. Lyon and Twain were so close she liked to buy him vibrators (really), but the two had a falling out in 1909 that left Twain a teensy bit peeved. As a historian told The Independent:
“Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian. Well, in this document he calls her a slut and says she tried to seduce him … There is a perception that Twain spent his final years basking in the adoration of fans. The autobiography will perhaps show that it wasn’t such a happy time. He spent six months of the last year of his life writing a manuscript full of vitriol, saying things that he’d never said about anyone in print before. It really is 400 pages of bile.”
Of course, bile that has been simmering for 100 years is less potent than the fresh stuff, and Twain knew this: Scholars think he wanted a century-long cooling-off period so as not to offend friends with his oversharing or readers with his politically incorrect views. (Another scholar tells The Independent that in the manuscript Twain “[has] doubts about God … questions the imperial mission of the US … and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel.”) The downside of this kind of waiting period is the possibility that no one will care about your memoir when it’s done: Twain, rightfully, was not much concerned about this. If he had been, he still would have caught our attention with the vibrator bit. Looking forward to the whole, long thing, Mr. Clemens!