On Saturday August 18th, 2012, famed PBS Director Producer James Nicoloro interviewed Mark Twain Scholar and Pitzer College President, Laura Skandera Trombley, in the Mark Twain Room at The Lobster Pot for the upcoming Documentary, "The Redding Mark Twain."
|Laura Skandera Trombley|
Laura is President of Pitzer College, the author of the controversial and intriguing book called "Mark Twain's Other Woman." A exceptional speaker and very knowledgeable Twain Scholar she gave great insight into the last years of Twain's life and the relationship he had with Isabel Lyon. Mark Twain said his relationship with Isabel was the most intimate in his life, besides his wife Livy. This was a special day for me as I have lived for decades on this enchanting property once owned by Mark Twain and given to Isabel as a Christmas gift........
Here are a few words from Laura Skandera Trombley's thoughtful thank you note after her visit:
"Thank you for a wonderful time in Redding.....it was a trip of a lifetime and an absolute delight to have met you. Thank you for your hospitality.... and allowing us to visit The Lobster Pot. It was incredible and a dream to walk in Mark Twain's footsteps"
|Isabel Lyon, 24 x 30 oil on linen, Collection of the Artist|
I recently painted a portrait, the first, of Isabel Lyon which will be part of the upcoming Documentary. Here is Isabel..now brought back to life........
Mark Twain and Isabel Lyon
An untold Story
By Susan Boone Durkee
Isabel Van Kleek Lyon
The relationship between
Isabel Lyon and Mark Twain has basically been kept a secret for nearly 70
years. How can that be? Here is a woman about whom Twain himself said he knew
most intimately in all the world -- with the exception of his wife, Livy.
Mark Twain first met Isabel
Lyon in 1892, when she was 29 and working as a Governess for a Hartford family.
He encountered her at a party while he was playing cards, and he was so charmed
by her that at the end of the evening, when invited to return, he replied:
“I’ll come only if I can play with the little Governess.”
When Isabel Lyon first came
to work for the Clemens family in 1902, Twain described her as “slender,
petite, comely, 39 years old by the almanac, and 17 in ways and carriage and
dress.” A charming woman, hard working and competent she soon took
responsibility for the entire Clemens household.
After Livy’s death in 1904,
Isabel became Mark Twain’s secretary, bookkeeper, household manager, social
companion, literary critic, and holder of his power of attorney. For a period
she lived at Stormfield with Twain, and supposedly her bedroom was next to his.
Intelligent, and sensitive,
Isabel worshiped Twain, referring to him as “The King.” He, in turn, called
her “The Lioness.” Isabel staggered under the demands that Twain placed on her.
As Twain described her,
Lyon runs Clara, and Jean, and me, and the servants, and the housekeeping, and
the house building, and the secretary work, and remains as extraordinarily as
competent as ever.”
In her diary, Isabel records:
been so busy, for there is this house to look after (The Lobster Pot), and the
Tuxedo house to think and plan for, and the Redding house to be after too, and
Santa (Clara) to love and be with when she was here and do for, and Jean to be
anxious over and to help if I can, and her doctors to see, and the King’s
social life to look after – for in these days he is very lonely and reaches out
for people — and people he must have, so now I am planning parties for him.”
Although it is said that
Isabel had designs to marry Twain, she ended up marrying married Twain’s
business manager, Ralph Ashcroft, in 1909. It was an unhappy marriage and ended
in divorce in 1920.
There is no evidence that
Lyon ever betrayed Twain, even though she was paid poorly and treated badly at
the end of her service -- Twain even took back the “The Lobster Pot,” her “darling house,” which he had given her as a
Christmas gift in 1907. Still, Isabel remained devoted to him. Many years
later, she would refer to the situation as, “we had a falling out.” A young
actress friend, Joyce Aaron, who lived next to Isabel when Isabel was in her
mid-nineties and living in Brooklyn, told this to me.
What really happened between
Twain and Isabel? Was it Clara’s jealous prodding? Was Twain jealous that she
married Ashcroft and not him? Did she really try to steal from Twain? Was
Albert Bigelow Paine jealous of her control of Twain, or did she know too many
of the family’s dirty secrets? We may never know for sure.
So why has this relationship
been kept secret?
After Twain died, Clara
Clemens and Albert Bigelow Paine removed virtually all record of Isabel Lyon’s
existence. So as far as the public was concerned, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon never
Isabel died in 1958. She
willed her diary and photos to the Mark Twain Papers collection at the
University of California, Berkeley, with the condition that they not be open to
the public until after Clara’s Death. So I guess you can say that after Clara
died, Isabel was reborn.
We all owe a lot to this
woman, Isabel Lyon. Because of her diligence in keeping a sequence of detailed
journals and photos the last years of Mark Twain’s life can now be better known
|Isabel in front of the Lobster Pot September 1908 photo courtesy of Elton Hall|
|Isabel on wheelbarrow by the patio in the back of the Lobster Pot, September 1908 photo courtesy of Elton Hall|
|Isabel and her mother in front of the Lobster Pot September 1908 photo courtesy of Elton Hall|
|Isabel Lyon and Ashcroft on The Lobster Pot Patio 1908|
|Isabel Lyon, Gabrilowich and Ashcroft at the front door of The Lobster Pot|
|"The Redding Mark Twain" 20 x 16 oil on linen collection of the artist|