PLEASE NOTE: EVERYTHING HERE IS FICTIONAL! It was written by Felicity Wright as part of an exercise in a writing class. The assignment was to write a 2-page letter. That was all. This is what came out. But few people know about Mark Twain’s tortured theology and even fewer know about his affection for Joan of Arc. So enjoy and learn — and celebrate heroes of all persuasions, times, and personalities.
Editor’s Note: This letter from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) to his mother, Jane Lampton Clemens, was discovered in the papers of Suzy, his youngest daughter who wrote a “biography” of her father when she was ten. In it, Clemens refers to family members: Orion (older brother), Livy (wife), Jervis Langdon (deceased father-in-law). He also refers to Quarry Farm (the summer home in Elmira where he wrote his greatest novels), and The Park Church (an Elmira landmark founded by Langdon and other abolitionists). Twain’s last book, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, was published in 1896. He later wrote: “I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others needed no preparation and got none.”
Elmira, August 7, 1885.
I’ve heard that Orion is slowly recovering from his broken leg, and I’m guessing that you’re dealing with my aging brother’s plight as you managed my childhood – with a blend of humor, tenderness, and insults. Since Orion inherited Father’s seriousness while I was nursed on your nuttiness, I’m sure that he is aching to return to the law, farming, and politics if only to escape your pestering.
As always, life is enchanting here at Quarry Farm. The girls are delighting in the beauty of the landscape and the affection of the people here, of which Mary Ann Cord, the colored cook whom I wrote about in “A True Story Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It” is our special favorite. We all gather for a couple of hours after dinner to watch stars, listen to the animals, and share stories (both real and imagined). Life doesn’t get any better than this.
Even though my 50th birthday is still three months away, the girls are plotting outrageous concoctions and playful dramas. They love your story of Halley’s comet appearing on my birthday and the prediction that I will die when it next appears. Since Halley won’t return for another 25 years, you, Livy, and the girls will have to put up with me until 1910, at which point I will follow the comet to heaven, or some other strange and unknown destination. They’re not sure whether to be reassured or disappointed.
The charm of this place fills me with gratitude for Livy’s father and the courage that he and other founders of Park Church showed in making Elmira a commercial hub and key stop in the Underground Railroad. This has made me think about my other heroes, including you, Abraham Lincoln, and your favorite Christian, Joan of Arc. It was just after Pa died, when I was eleven, that you used her to teach us how to manage loss. I still remember the awe upon learning that a young girl from a poor family spoke truth when lying was the common speech of men; she was full of pity when merciless cruelty was the norm; she was a rock of conviction when her countrymen believed in nothing and scoffed at everything. She was the youngest person of any sex to command the military forces of a nation andshe was burned at the stake. When people chide me for my scorn for the institutional church, I simply sigh and smile, “If there were more people like Jervis Langdon and Joan of Arc, I would be worshipping God and hanging out in church every day.”
But how did Joan manage the terror? Was it faith or something more? Was God responsible for the visions that changed history, or was she crazy? Being haunted by these questions for almost forty years, I’ve decided that her story will be my next book. I’m just beginning the research, so I’d love your insights when you come visit for Christmas.
Livy and the girls join me in sending our undying love.