Karen Lystra

Karen Lystra

A professor of American studies at California State University, Fullerton, Karen Lystra is a nineteenth-century cultural and social historian with a special interest in class, gender, the history of emotions, and private life. The cultural values, rituals, ideologies, and behavior surrounding courtship, marriage, and sexuality are examined in her first book, Searching the Heart: Women, Men, and Romantic Love in Nineteenth-Century America (1989). Her second book, Dangerous Intimacy: The Untold Story of Mark Twain’s Final Years (2004), is a biography focused on the pivotal role that Twain’s inner circle, particularly his youngest daughter Jean, played in the last years of his life. Lystra is currently working on a book about nineteenth-century working-class Americans.


  • "And Tell Me Poet, Can Love Exist in Slavery?" Letters of the Unfree before Emancipation
  • Imagining the Eternal Village: Death and Working-Class Intimacy in Nineteenth-Century America
  • Intimate Lives: Sex and Love in Victorian America
  • Love Letters: Revealing the Intimate Past
  • Mark Twain's Autobiography Reconsidered: The Late Years
  • Please Excuse All Mistakes: Working-Class Literacy and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America
  • Roses are Red and Violets Are Blue: Emotional History in Rhyme
  • Victorian Courtship Rituals and the Dramas of Private Life: Testing Romantic Love
  • Working-Class Courtship As Tribal Ritual: Non-Romantic Mate Selection in the Nineteenth-Century U.S. Laboring Class


Love Letters: Revealing the Intimate Past

This lecture was presented at Creighton University, sponsored by the university’s Henry W. Casper, SJ Associate Professorship in History, in February 2105. Recorded by Thomas Johnson III.

Visit the OAH YouTube channel for more audio and video recordings.