Twain's End (Cullen)

Discussion Questions
1. Samuel Clemens often talks about his dual personalities—Sam Clemens and Mark Twain—occasionally saying he wishes to be rid of the latter or even that he hates him. How much do you believe an author’s life is caught up in their identity as a writer? Do you think Sam Clemens uses Mark Twain as an excuse for his behavior, or do you think his fame and renown as Twain fuel the behavior?

2. Samuel Clemens, Clara, and others tell Isabel that Sam is completely dependent on her. Do you believe his affection for her stems in large part from that dependency?

3. Do you think Sam’s attraction to women stems from their beauty and youth, or do you think that other factors, like their status of subservience to him, play a role? Consider the invalid Olivia, or Isabel, whose fortune was gone and financial need great. Do you suppose a need for power and status fueled his passions? How much of his childhood and background plays a role, if at all, in his psychology?

4. Do you think that Sam would have married Isabel on his return from England if the reporter’s question concerning marriage rumors had not been denied? Do you believe Sam ever had intentions of marrying Isabel, or was he too conscious of his reputation?

5. Why do you think Mrs. Clemens speaks so candidly with Isabel about Sam’s roving eye without admonishing Isabel for her flirtation? Why do you imagine she tells her about his propensity to break hearts and hurt people that are close to him? How much of this is said out of kindness, and how much of it is a warning? Do you think she spoke so openly with her husband’s previous interests?

6. How do you explain Isabel’s passion for Sam despite her knowledge of his philandering, his status as a married man, and her role in his family? Do you think she ought to have left her role as his secretary? How soon should she have left her position for her life to have taken a different trajectory? How do you think it would have turned out differently?

7. Thinking of her daughter singing before a crowd with her husband in attendance, Olivia Clemens feels troubled, as she believed “Clara hadn’t a chance. No one did, really, against Mark Twain. Not even Youth himself.” What do you think of Mrs. Clemens’s attitude toward the power of her husband’s alter ego? Do you think she means to say that no one can compete with the popularity of Mark Twain, or is she getting at something more?

8. What do you make of Olivia Clemens’s situation? How would you characterize her relationship with Sam? Is her husband truly the cause of her illness? If so, why has she persisted in living with him and tolerating his actions?

9. The story of the young Sam discovering Jennie and his father together sheds light on Sam’s sense of guilt, but in what other insights does it offer on his personality? On his understanding of himself?

10. What do you think is the largest draw for Isabel: Mr. Clemens’s wit, charm, intellect, status, or his unavailability? Do you think their closeness sealed her affection and she would have been equally as passionate had Sam been less famous or even not famous at all?

11. Why do you think the author chose to write the final chapter from the perspective of Mrs. Lyon instead of Isabel?

12. How much did you know about Samuel Clemens’s life before reading this book? How has your reading of Twain’s End impacted your perception of the man? Of Mark Twain and his books?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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