Cover image for The courtship of Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain
The courtship of Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain
Harris, Susan K., 1945-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Physical Description:
xiii, 202 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS1332 .H375 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS1332 .H375 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Passionate readers both, Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain courted through books, spelling out their expectations through literary references as they corresponded during their frequent separations. Surprisingly, in the process Olivia Langdon reveals herself not as a hypochondriacal hysteric, as many twentieth-century critics have portrayed her, but as a thoughtful intellectual, widely read in literature, history and modern science. Not so surprisingly, Samuel Clemens reveals himself as a critic and a sceptic, lampooning Langdon's physics lessons and her literary heroines. He also shows himself as an astute strategist, carefully manipulating Langdon and her parents. At the same time, Clemens's letters exhibit his own conservatism about women's nature and women's roles, while Langdon's show her carefully choosing from her culture's array of possible role models.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Along with Twain scholar Laura Skandara-Trombley (Mark Twain in the Company of Women, CH, May'95), Harris has recently emphasized the importance of women in Mark Twain's life. This volume focuses on Twain's wife, Olivia Langdon Clemens. Although other books have elevated Langdon from the deprecating myths of earlier biographies, Harris for the first time pulls together the threads that interwove the lives of these two intellectually similar minds. But Harris's title is misleading, because it does not fully indicate the breadth of her contribution. All readers will benefit from Harris's chronicle of two lovers and the lengthy discussion of the scientific, philosophic, religious, and literary milieus that shaped their dissimilar backgrounds. In addition, all readers will benefit from needed corrections to Mark Twain's biography. Of particular note is Harris's carefully researched chapters on the education of Langdon and her contemporaries in a lively intellectual atmosphere vastly different from her husband's frontier development. Harris is also especially credible and helpful in her analysis of Mark Twain's courtship techniques. This is a volume for both scholars--who can rely on the research--and general readers--who will appreciate the readability, flow, and infrequent interruptions of citations and notes. All collections. W. Britton; Grayson County College

Table of Contents

1 A commonplace book
2 Philosophy and chemistry: science study in 1860s Elmira
3 Negotiating difference: love letters and love texts
4 Conning books: Olivia Langdon and Samuel Clemens+s joint reading
5 Marriage