"Filled with humor and pathos, and it ultimately presents a fascinating psychological glimpse of Mark Twain."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"The wealth of letters collected here are dotted with charm and wit and represent a genuine contribution to Twain scholarship."
"Cooley's careful editing with appropriate introductions places the letters into a larger context of Twain's last five years and will help scholars see Twain's problematic relationship to the young women more clearly."
In Mark Twain's Aquarium, John Cooley brings together virtually every known communication exchanged between the writer and the girls he called his "angelfish." Cooley also includes a number of Clemens's notebook entries, autobiographical dictations, short manuscripts, and other relevant materials that further illuminate this fascinating story.
Clemens relished the attention of these girls, orchestrating chaperoned visits to his homes and creating an elaborate set of rules and emblems for the Aquarium Club. He hung their portraits in his billiard room and invented games and plays for their amusement. For much of 1908, he was sending and receiving a letter a week from his angelfish. Cooley argues that Clemens saw cheerfulness and laughter as his only defenses against the despair of his late years. His enchantment with children, years before, had given birth to such characters as Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, and Huck Finn. In the frivolities of the Aquarium Club, it found its final expression.
Cooley finds no evidence of impropriety in Clemens behavior with the girls. Perhaps his greatest crime, the editor suggests, was in idealizing them, in regarding them as precious collectibles. "He tried to trap them in the amber of endless adolescence," Cooley writes. "By pleading that they stay young and innocent, he was perhaps attempting to deny that, as they and the world continued to change, so must he."
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