Sam & Livy – An Odd Couple, An Enduring Love
Before I started hanging around with a group of folks who call themselves, "Twainiacs," (Cindy Lovell, Henry Sweets, Megan Rapp, Melissa Cummins, et al), my perception of Mark Twain was one of this acerbic, curmudgeonly, "pen dipped in hell" observer of the events of the day.
But, after listening to the Mark Twain: Words and Music CD, I became aware of Sam Clemens' deep and enduring love for Olivia Langdon, his wife of 34 years.
On the surface, Sam and Livy were truly an odd couple. According to an article in Smithsonian Magazine, she was the daughter of a wealthy coal merchant in upstate New York. Sam was a man of the west, growing up poor and knowing very well how to smoke, drink and swear.
In 1867, Sam became friends with Olivia's brother, who showed him a picture of his sister.
It was love at first sight. For Sam, at least.
Within days of meeting Livy, Sam proposed. She said no.
He would later write, "She said she never could or would love me - but she set herself the task of making a Christian of me. I said she would succeed, but that in the meantime, she would unwittingly dig a matrimonial pit and end by tumbling into it."
Which she did. Sam did win Livy's heart and they were married in 1870.
Not only were they deeply in love, but Olivia became a proofreader and editor of all of Mark Twain's manuscripts. He observed that, had it not been for her, his most important books, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, would never have been written.
He said, "I never wrote a serious word until after I married Mrs. Clemens. She is solely responsible - to her should go all the credit - for any influence my subsequent work should exert. After my marriage, she edited everything I wrote."
The Clemens' had a son who died of diphtheria at 19 months. Of their three daughters, Susy died of meningitis at age 24, Jean died of epilepsy at 29. Clara is the only one who lived to old age, dying at age 88.
Olivia's health had always been fragile and she died of heart failure in 1904.
If you get a chance, get the Mark Twain: Words and Music CD and listen to Clint Eastwood's reading of what Mark Twain wrote hours after Olivia died. I guarantee it'll break your heart.
It was in the years after Livy died that Mark Twain, the biting social commentator we saw in Hal Holbrook's portrayals, came to the forefront.
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