Olivia Susan Clemens (1872 - 1896)

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Nicknames: "Susy"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: Elmira, Chemung, New York, USA
Death: Died in Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut, USA
Managed by: Eric Yao
Last Updated:
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About Olivia Susan Clemens

Olivia Susan Clemens, usually known as Susy Clemens, was the second child and oldest daughter of Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain, and his wife Olivia Langdon Clemens. She inspired some of her father's works, wrote her own biography of him that Twain later published as part of his autobiography, acted as a literary critic, and left him heartbroken when she died of spinal meningitis at age twenty-four.

Clemens was largely raised in Hartford, Connecticut, but went abroad with her family to England in 1873 and again in 1878-1879. At age thirteen she wrote a biography of her father that Twain later included in his Chapters from my Autobiography. The biography described her impressions of her father and her happy family life. Her father wrote: "I had had compliments before, but none that touched me like this; none that could approach it for value in my eyes." Like her father, she was interested in writing, and wrote her own plays and acted in them during her childhood and adolescence. Twain later described his favorite daughter as intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive and vivacious and said he had regarded her as a prodigy. He based the character of Joan of Arc in his book Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc on his eldest daughter as he remembered her at age seventeen.

In the fall of 1890, Clemens attended Bryn Mawr College, where she was given the starring role of Phyllis in the play Iolanthe, began calling herself by her real first name "Olivia" and developed a close friendship with fellow student Louise Brownell that some biographers have speculated may have been romantic in nature. Clemens left the college after one semester, possibly because of her family's financial difficulties, because she found the studies too difficult, or because of her relationship with Brownell.

As she grew older, she became frustrated with her father's fame, which sometimes left her in the shadows. She was annoyed by her father's reputation as a "mere humorist" and felt he should represent himself as a serious writer instead of just as a funny man. She was embarrassed when Twain performed the ghost story The Golden Arm for an audience at Bryn Mawr. She had begged him not to tell the story, thinking it too unsophisticated for her worldly classmates, and ran out of the hall crying when her father told the story anyway. She later accompanied her family abroad and attended schools in Geneva and Berlin, where she took language and voice lessons, though she was disappointed when a voice teacher told her she had a lovely soprano voice but didn't have enough lung capacity to project her voice from the stage. In Europe she was at loose ends, bored by her family's evenings at home and annoyed by her father's frequent temperamental outbursts. She wrote to her friend Brownell that she sometimes had trouble finding a reason for existence. She was also frustrated by society's refusal to see her as anything other than the daughter of Mark Twain. In Florence the then nineteen-year-old Clemens became infatuated with a married Italian count. Her physical and mental health suffered, and she sought cures ranging from "mind cures" to hydrotherapy.

Clemens chose not to accompany the family to Europe on Twain's lecture tour of 1895-1896, citing seasickness and a desire to recover her health and become an opera singer. She stayed in Elmira, at the home of her aunt Susan Crane. In August 1896, while visiting her former home in Hartford, Clemens developed a fever that turned into spinal meningitis. She developed delirium, at one point clutching an article of her mother's clothing and crying because she thought her mother had died, and at another looking out the windows at the traffic and singing, "Up go the trolley cars for Mark Twain's daughter. Down go the trolley cars for Mark Twain's daughter." Eventually she lost her sight and lapsed into a coma. She died at age twenty-four; her family was devastated.

Clemens was buried in Elmira. The poem on her headstone was adapted from a poem called Annette by poet Robert Richardson: "Warm summer sun shine kindly here, Warm southern wind blow softly here, Green sod above, lie light, lie light -- Good night, dear heart, Good night, good night."

Her biography of her father was published in 1988 in its entirety as Papa: An Intimate Biography of Mark Twain, a volume which also included a biography of Susy Clemens and her correspondence with her father.

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Olivia Susan "Susy" Clemens's Timeline

1872
March 19, 1872
Elmira, Chemung, New York, USA
1880
1880
Age 7
Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut, United States
1880
Age 7
Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut, United States
1880
Age 7
Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut, United States
1896
August 18, 1896
Age 24
Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut, USA
????
Elmira, NY, USA