The year 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of one of the great courtships in American history, the wooing of an unenthusiastic 22-year-old Olivia Langdon by a completely smitten 32-year-old Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.
As I first learned while visiting Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri in preparation for teaching “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the contrasts between the two were indeed stark, and the prospects for their eventual union exceedingly poor. Olivia Langdon, known as Livy, was a thoroughly proper easterner, while Sam was a rugged man of the West. Livy came from a family that was rich and well-educated, while Sam had grown up poor and left school at age 12. She was thoroughly pious, while he was a man who knew how to smoke, drink and swear.
On Valentine’s Day, their story is a reminder of the true meaning of love. Despite many challenges, once united, they never gave up on each other and enjoyed a fulfilling 34 years of marriage.
The young Olivia
Olivia Langdon was born in 1845 in Elmira, New York to a wealthy coal merchant. Her father, Jervis Langdon, was deeply religious but also highly progressive: He supported Elmira College, which …read more