Upcoming Exhibits

In Their Father’s Image: Susy, Clara and Jean Clemens

An Exhibition at The Mark Twain House & Museum, opening March 24, 2016

Clara Jean Susie

Samuel and Olivia Clemens’s three daughters – Olivia Susan Clemens, born 1872, Clara Langdon Clemens, born 1874, and Jane Lampton Clemens, born 1880 – were highly individual and spirited individuals in their own right. Growing up in the great Hartford house, they lived a privileged life full of social activity, play and learning – with the added benefit of having a warm and witty father, an equally warm and brilliant mother, and servants who were as often playmates and admirers as service staff.

It was an idyllic existence -- full of storytelling and wondrous guests and games -- but as the daughters grew they found that the sheer force of their father’s personality, and his fame, could be a burden as well as an asset. An exhibition opening on March 24, 2016, at The Mark Twain House & Museum will offer an in-depth look at these three extraordinary women and their sometimes difficult lives. A wealth of artifacts and original documents from the museum’s extensive collection, as well as important items on loan from other institutions, will tell these dramatic stories.

-- Susy was the member of the trio who seems to have inherited her father’s talent. She naturally turned to writing, first childishly in a biography of her father when she was 13, and plays to be performed in the household, and later more seriously as she submitted her work to the magazines that had printed her father’s work. A powerful attachment to a fellow female student at Bryn Mawr helped draw a close to her college career – and her tragic death from spinal meningitis at the age of 24 turned her into a family icon. Clemens wrote endlessly about her toward the end of his own life, calling her in a rare (for him) poetic work as a spirit “made all of light.”

-- Clara possessed a more explosive personality, at one time forcing her parents to buy back a beloved pet calf by screaming incessantly. She was the only child who lived to old age. Clara studied for a serious musical career, and found herself more intent on removing herself from her father’s shadow. Her letters to Susy – “Spider” to “Pigg” – and Susy’s in return are full of the difficulties of being Mark Twain’s daughters. In later life, she became the guardian of his papers and his public image, sometimes clashing with the editors she allowed into the Twainian sanctum.

-- Jean, the baby of the family, lived her life in delicate health, and suffered from the archaic ways in which her dominant ailment – epilepsy – was viewed in the 19th century. She was 10 when the family left Hartford forever. A decade of traveling followed, her seizures increased after Susy died, and the family went to tremendous lengths to keep her calm, including barring her from contact with young men. After her mother’s death in 1904 her condition worsened, and she was largely kept apart from her father until 1909. In her last year she rode on horseback, carved ornate wooden boxes, raised funds to oppose cruelty to animals, and helped found a library – but it was cut short by her sudden death at 29.

The exhibit will run through January 242017. 

 

 

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