MARK AND LIVY: The Love Story of Mark Twain and the Woman Who Almost Tamed Him by Resa Willis

MARK AND LIVY: The Love Story of Mark Twain and the Woman Who Almost Tamed Him

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Twain's domestic years (1870-1904) were not what he considered his best. But in spite of illness and financial stress, they were the years when he wrote the novels and stories he is remembered for--works that, according to Willis (Literature/Drury College) in this slight and sentimental story, were edited and inspired by Olivia ""Livy"" Langdon, Twain's wife, whom he called ""angel"" and ""gravity."" Recovering from ""neurasthenia,"" a form of weakness that afflicted upper-class, intellectually repressed Victorian women, Livy entered a ""classic"" marriage as the ""civilizing"" influence on a hard-drinking, smoking, swearing, sociable dreamer who liked to travel. She decorated his homes, entertained his friends, toured Europe and the world with him as he lectured and wrote, and provided the fortune that allowed them to live so well on an editor's salary--a fortune he lost on the ill-fated Paige typesetting machine. Livy also bore four children: a son who died in infancy and three emotionally crippled daughters, also tamed in odd ways--at age four, the oldest was ""whipped"" daily in the bathroom with a ""hairbrush or papercutter."" Although Livy's dark side--her elitist, tyrannical, and repressive nature--is obvious, the love story Willis claims to offer is not. Rather, there is a record of holidays (not very festive), expenses, travels, domestic chores, visits, visitors, griefs, and all possible illnesses--from pinkeye to epilepsy--and the medical foolishness with which many of them were treated. The best story, only implicit here, is not the taming of Mark but the liberation of Livy, the adventure of being Mrs. Clemens, especially the lecture tour around the world with all the bizarre escapades in Fiji, Tasmania, Africa, and India, lovingly related in Following the Equator, a Twain work that does not even appear in Willis's bibliography, with the voyage itself squeezed between Twain's carbuncles and daughter Susy's death.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1992
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Atheneum