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Mac Donnell Rare Books <[log in to unmask]>
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Fri, 10 Apr 2020 18:47:26 +0000
text/plain (272 lines)
Your book was a pleasure to read and review. In fact, all of the books 
I've reviewed in the MTF in the last few years have been books I can 
recommend with enthusiasm--a hint to anyone looking for a book-list.

I think I could have made two things clearer in my review. First, I 
should have been more explicit about what I meant when I said "ably 
edited." I should have made clear that your explanatory notes and 
narratives fleshed out parts of the story not told in the letters, 
provided context, and did so without disrupting the flow. That takes 
skill. The second thing I was tempted to do was expand on what I only 
hinted at--that Grace King evolved over time. It would be overstating it 
to call her a feminist as she got older, but it seems she was headed in 
that direction. She might have been awed by what she saw in Hartford, 
and spent a lot of time focused on fashions, and food, and social 
niceties, but she clearly had a mind of her own from the beginning, and 
her independence only grew.

I also wondered about her sexuality. By the time she arrived in Hartford 
in 1887 at age 35, she was--by 19th century standards--an "old maid." 
You mention her visits with the "jolly ladies" and quote her comments 
about the Smith College students, but you didn't go further, so neither 
did I in my review. I don't know enough about her later life to 
speculate, but I do wonder if her example as an independent and 
forward-thinking woman who was determined to make her own way in the 
world, might have especially shaped Susy Clemens's self-image and given 
her confidence. King was a positive influence on all three Clemens 
daughters, but I wonder if there is more to the story that the letters 
do not tell. I'll leave all of that to Twainians with an interest in 
gender studies.

We all have more time on our hands these days for reading, and I hope 
Twainians read your book.

Mac Donnell Rare Books
9307 Glenlake Drive
Austin TX 78730

You can browse our books at:

------ Original Message ------
From: "miki pfeffer" <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: 4/10/2020 10:55:16 AM
Subject: Re: BOOK REVIEW: _A New Orleans Author in Mark Twain's Court_, 
edited by Miki Pfeffer

>I am grateful and humbled, Kevin Mac Donnell, for your meticulous review of *A
>New Orleans Author in Mark Twain's Court*.
>You have gleaned exactly what I hoped from the book.
>My hope is that it will serve Twain scholars in their own research.
>Warm regards,
>Miki Pfeffer
>On Fri, Apr 10, 2020 at 6:54 AM Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
>>  The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac
>>  Donnell.
>>  ~~~~~
>>  _A New Orleans Author in Mark Twain's Court: Letters from Grace King's New
>>  England Sojourns_. Edited by Miki Pfeffer. Foreword by Steve Courtney.
>>  Louisiana State University Press, 2019. Pp. 304. Hardcover $55.00. ISBN
>>  978-0-8071-6973-5 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-0-8071-7281-0 (pdf). ISBN
>>  978-0-8071-7282-7 (ebook).
>>  Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
>>  prices from the Twain Web Bookstore. Purchases from this site generate
>>  commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit <
>>  Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac Donnell.
>>  Copyright (c) 2020 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
>>  redistributed in any medium without permission.
>>  Few readers expect a page-turner when they open a volume of collected
>>  letters, or tremble with anticipation at the thought of being drawn into an
>>  irresistible epistolary novel, even if the volume includes Mark Twain
>>  letters. Some previous collections of Twain's letters--his correspondence
>>  with Howells and Twichell, for example--are certainly compelling and
>>  rewarding reading, but they don't quite rise to the level of the drama of a
>>  novel, or inspire sustained page-turning. But thanks to the able editing of
>>  Miki Pfeffer, Grace King's correspondence with various members of the
>>  Clemens family does indeed have the feel of an epistolary novel, and there
>>  are moments when page-turning is compulsory. This is true even though just
>>  a handful of the letters are to or from Twain himself. These letters shed
>>  new light on the daily lives of the Clemens family and their Hartford
>>  neighbors, and even those Twainians familiar with Mark Twain's Hartford
>>  social circle through previous books like Kenneth Andrews's _Nook Farm_
>>  (1950), Steve Courtney's biography of  Joe Twichell (2008), or Mark Twain's
>>  own account in _A Family Sketch_ (2014) will gain new insights and find
>>  themselves at times eagerly turning pages.
>>  Grace King (1852-1932) had not yet established herself as a writer when she
>>  first met the Clemenses during a visit to Hartford in 1887. King's family
>>  lost their fortune during the Civil War, and like many such families
>>  struggled to maintain their social standing despite their loss of wealth.
>>  King's way of coping was to earn her way in the world by becoming a writer,
>>  and Twain's Nook Farm neighbor and coauthor, Charles Dudley Warner, took
>>  her under his wing, prompting that 1887 visit. King and the Clemenses liked
>>  each other immediately, and King's own experiences made her sympathetic to
>>  the Clemenses a few years later when their economic status suddenly
>>  changed. King had family dramas of her own to deal with, including an
>>  alcoholic brother who eventually committed suicide and a supposedly
>>  "sickly" sister who would outlive everyone else in the family. King was
>>  shrewd, an astute observer, and was well-versed in the social graces and
>>  soon enjoyed the hospitality and trust of the Warners, Clemenses, and
>>  others. She stayed for a month with the Clemenses in 1888, spent a few
>>  weeks with them in Florence in 1892, and corresponded with Olivia Clemens
>>  and her three daughters. She less often corresponded with Twain himself,
>>  but spent hours in conversation with him and observed him first-hand as a
>>  father and story-teller. All three Clemens daughters took her into their
>>  confidences, treating her like a big sister. Olivia Clemens wrote her
>>  intimate letters, prompting King to offer advice based upon her own similar
>>  experiences. King also wrote to her family about her interactions with the
>>  Clemenses and their Hartford friends, and her letters routinely include her
>>  unguarded comments on dinner parties, fashion, shopping, manners,
>>  literature, games, jokes, religion, politics, and juicy gossip.
>>  The story told in King's letters provides the page-turning moments, but
>>  King's own turns-of-phrase, descriptive skills, and wry wit carry the story
>>  along in between. Her letters are further enhanced by being lightly and
>>  clearly edited. The texts of the letters between King and Twain are printed
>>  in full, but extraneous matter is appropriately deleted from some of the
>>  letters between King and her own family, preserving the narrative flow, and
>>  keeping the focus on "Mark Twain's court." A few small errors creep in
>>  among the footnotes. The birth and death dates for Lillian Gillette Foote
>>  (1874-1948) seem to be in error (51.n.10), and should probably read
>>  (1860-1932). One footnote (241.n.33) identifies Susan and Theodore Crane as
>>  the aunt and uncle who cared for Susy Clemens in 1896, but Susan's husband
>>  had died in 1889. The presence of these trivial errors are more a testament
>>  to the overall excellent editing than flaws.
>>  King's acerbic wit emerges most often when she describes Hartford society.
>>  The young King was awed by Hartford's wealth and social life, but that did
>>  not blind her from a clear-eyed view of what lay before her. During her
>>  1887 visit she notes that people there "seem to know all about literary
>>  people and the names of books" but apparently do not read books (45-46).
>>  Oscar Wilde would not publish his famous quip about a cynic knowing the
>>  price of everything and the value of nothing for another five years. She
>>  also comments that Hartfordians "have the contented expression of face and
>>  speech of souls assured of salvation in the next life and prosperity in
>>  this" (47), echoing Twain's famous comment on the "serene confidence which
>>  a Christian feels in four aces." It can be no wonder that Twain liked Grace
>>  King; she was irritated by the "uncritical" attitude of Hartford society
>>  and noticed that those who had been to Europe were still "provincial in
>>  every respect" (77). Apparently, travel was not always fatal to prejudice,
>>  as Twain claimed. When in Paris herself, King (who was fluent in French)
>>  recorded with amusement that she understood French in Paris better than she
>>  understood English in London. Twain's own observations on the awful German
>>  language and French translations of his own works come to mind. But her
>>  sharpest comments are for the "dried up uninteresting" girls at Smith
>>  College "with not the slightest eruption of chest development." King
>>  concludes that "if ever I had daughters to educate they should be educated
>>  not to make a living, but to make a man make a living for them" (57). She
>>  found Smith girls to be "all ugly uninteresting girls" who were being
>>  "trained into science and homeliness" and reported that one girl had
>>  drowned herself in the river the previous week, saying "I am not
>>  surprised--only I would have loved to drown some of the others too, if I
>>  had been she" (143).
>>  Of course, Twainians will be most interested in King's reports on Twain's
>>  behavior and conversation, and she does not disappoint. In her journal King
>>  gives a good idea of what it was like to talk with Twain, saying he was an
>>  attentive listener and quick to catch your idea, that he did not impose his
>>  own ideas, that he was "delightfully unpremeditated" in the way he worked
>>  his stories into a conversation, that he was frank and autobiographical,
>>  and that he treated a woman in conversation the same as he treated a man,
>>  and in this way put you at ease (xii). She describes Twain's mocking
>>  impersonation of George W. Cable (223), describes Twain's story-telling as
>>  "the greatest circus I was ever at" (42), witnesses Twain's readings of
>>  Browning (42), and captures some amusing episodes, including one when she
>>  and the Clemenses and Warners were traveling together and entered a very
>>  hot train car. The women immediately opened the windows to cool off and
>>  this disturbed Twain who had curled up in a corner to read. She reports
>>  Twain grumbling "If a lot of women were sent to hell the first thing they
>>  would want to do would be to open the windows" (38). King was not only a
>>  recorder of Twain's words and deeds, but she may have served as a model for
>>  some of his writings. When King was preparing to visit with the Clemenses
>>  in 1888, at a time when Twain was avoiding visitors while working on _A
>>  Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court_, Olivia wrote to King
>>  encouraging her visit, quoting her husband who said that he did not
>>  consider King "a mar to my work but an inspiration" (100).
>>  As mentioned before, some page-turning moments come when Olivia Clemens
>>  shares with King her innermost thoughts after the death of Susy (144).
>>  Twentieth century readers must be cautious when reading nineteenth century
>>  letters, which are often composed with expressions and endearments that
>>  sound more intimate than intended. But Olivia was deep in grief and put her
>>  anguish plainly on the page for King to read. King's letters to Olivia were
>>  loving and therapeutic. When Olivia agonized over whether to sell their
>>  beloved Hartford home or return to it where memories of Susy and their
>>  previous life in Hartford would be ever-present, King again wrote
>>  supportive letters with candid advice (248-249; 251-252). We learn that
>>  Jean wanted to return to Hartford, but Clara did not, but that Clara soon
>>  changed her mind (256). The letters these two women exchanged offer a wide
>>  open window into that sad episode, unlike any other source. But there are
>>  happier times reflected in their letters: King often goes into vivid detail
>>  describing the dresses worn by Olivia and her friends (38), the furnishings
>>  in homes she visited in Hartford, and she and Olivia frequently exchanged
>>  news on the latest books they were reading (263).
>>  Grace King's letters to and from the Clemens daughters are brimming with
>>  family news. The girls report on their reading habits (165), and Clara
>>  reports on her piano lessons taught by a student of Franz Liszt (179) in
>>  1890. That same year Susy was accomplished enough on the piano to play a
>>  Schubert _Impromptu_ (165) and gave up her voice lessons, preferring to
>>  "drum" on the piano instead (169). But the next year Susy reports that she
>>  has resumed her voice lessons (184) and then gives up her piano lessons
>>  (189). In the meantime, young Jean practices violin with "true mathematical
>>  zeal" to the annoyance of her sisters (169). Their letters are filled with
>>  affection, pleadings for King to visit again, reports on family activities,
>>  concerts, music recitals, school, plays, skating, dancing lessons,
>>  visitors, snakes, toads, tennis, picnics in the woods, horseback rides,
>>  butterflies, and baseball games. All three Clemens daughters were talented
>>  and busy, and King heard about all of it.
>>  Grace King's relationship with Charles Dudley Warner is what led her to the
>>  Clemenses, and her relationship with the Warners is also well-documented.
>>  Warner was warm and personable toward King, encouraging her writing,
>>  introducing her to editors who could further her career, and was even
>>  flirtatious (7). He offered her candid advice improving her stories,
>>  explained how to correct a proof, and shared gossip with her. We learn that
>>  he detested Isabella Hooker, and that Mrs. Day's unhappy marriage was
>>  apparently a topic of conversation in the Warner household as well (64).
>>  Warner's wife Susan was, by turns, gracious and distant toward King. Mrs.
>>  Warner had to endure gossip about the relationship between her husband and
>>  Isa Cabell, a woman who moved into their household, traveled with them, and
>>  was rumored to be Warner's mistress (262). King's relationship with the
>>  Warner's hit a rough spot when she commented on Cabell and word got back to
>>  Mrs. Warner. Warner had a habit of frequenting biracial saloons, staying in
>>  hotels in less "respectable" parts of town when traveling, and he died in
>>  the household of a mixed race woman in a Hartford neighborhood far from
>>  Nook Farm (261). King was well aware of Warner's inter-racial infidelities,
>>  but she knew from growing up in New Orleans that he was not unique in that
>>  respect, and appreciated his generosity and mentoring.
>>  Others make briefer appearances in this novel-like narrative. Howells and
>>  Twain act like schoolboys when they are together, and we are told that
>>  Howells spoke exactly as he wrote (141). Joe Twichell is, as we already
>>  knew, lovable, frank, strong, and handsome (49). Harriet Beecher Stowe,
>>  William Gillette, Susan Crane, and the Hookers play smaller roles. As the
>>  story nears its conclusion, the main characters pass away one by one, and
>>  Grace King becomes more independent and assertive, more world-wise. But
>>  King's connection with the Clemens family endures long after. In November
>>  1930 Clara Clemens began a letter to Grace "Do you ever think of me and the
>>  old days?" King's response to Clara does not survive, and she passed away
>>  in January 1932 with no further known contact with Clara. Readers of this
>>  book will have no doubt that Grace King must have thought often of those
>>  old days and held them dear.
>Miki Pfeffer, Ph D
>*A** New Orlean**s Author i**n Mark Twain's Court: *
>*Letters from Grace King's New England Sojourns   *
>(LSU Press, 2019)
>*Southern Ladies and Suffragists: Julia Ward Howe and Women's Rights at the
>1884 New Orleans World's Fair   *(University Press of Mississippi, 2014)