Thoughts of Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain, usually prompt an image of a great author and even greater satirist who was well-known for his tongue-in-cheek jabs at issues and people. But the man loved Christmas, whether it be the joy of sharing it with his family or in later years, waxing melancholy over the loss of his dear wife and daughters. In a new book, New York author Carlo DeVito Spills the Beans about Twain’s sentimental soft side when it came to the Christmas holiday. The book, which DeVito said came about by accident, offers a nostalgic and unexpected look at the famed author and his Christmas holidays at his Connecticut homes in Hartford and in Redding.
Q: What prompted the idea for the book? Are you a Mark Twain fan or a Christmas fan?
A: I think I am a combination of both. When I was a kid my parents took me to the Mark Twain house in Hartford, so long ago there were still people living upstairs, I believe. My parents loved visiting old houses so we did this day trip to Hartford and I remember rolling my eyes through the whole thing. As I got older I was a lit major and really got into Twain and his writing. His stories were enchanting and when I visited his Hartford home as an adult for the holiday tour, like any good consumer I went to the gift shop looking for a book about Christmases at his house and there were none. I am no Twain scholar but I started researching and there were these wonderful stories and essays about Christmas at his homes. And Christmas is a time of ghosts, the people who are no longer at your table. And I thought, this would be a cool story so I sat down with a publisher, brought a ton of stuff and it just all came together.
A: There was something special in each of those three years. 1908 was his second to the last at Stormfield in Redding and illustrates how famous he was and how acute his senses were, that he was full of wit and sharp as a tack. He was the grand old man of America. The 1875 chapter represents the 20 years in Hartford with the girls, the kind of Christmas stories you would expect. And the 1909, his being reunited with daughter Jean at Stormfield and it being his last Christmas. He is really telling in a kind of weird reverse Dickens kind of way that life was not about wealth and money and fame. It was about his wife and daughters. They were priceless. He realized that at end and that is the beauty of it.
Q: I was very surprised at how sentimental he was about the holiday and how he so enjoyed the magic of it all, especially when his daughters were young. Were you?
A: I was absolutely blown away. Christmas with is children was the high point and I don’t think he originally had any interest in the holiday until he saw how happy it made his children. He ended up growing into it. I thought too it was interesting that he and his wife insisted the girls help make and deliver holiday baskets to people who needed help. I thought it was important because it showed he had not forgotten his roots.
Q: What do you think he would have to say about your book?
A: He would not want it published. He’d say ‘it makes me look like a sucker.’ It would ruin his sarcastic spiel.
DeVito will be signing copies of his book at the 32nd Annual Mark Twain House Holiday Tour Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets for the tour that day are $35. Information: 860-280-3130