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James Baldwin said surprisingly little about Mark Twain. I say “surprising” because Baldwin was a renowned analyst of U.S. literary history. Many of the contemporaneous writers with whom he associated, both personally and professionally, published commentaries on Twain’s works, especially Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In many cases, these commentaries were subsumed into persistent public debates about the “N-word” and the appropriateness of Twain’s most famous novel in public school classrooms, where it was then a staple. Baldwin, one of the Read more…


Quarry Farm’s only year-round resident, Caretaker Steve Webb, provides us with occasional, not altogether reliable, updates from the premises. To paraphrase the friendly ghost with whom he shares his home, Mr. Webb’s dispatches include eminently plausible fictions, mildly exaggerated truths, and an exhaustless mine of stupendous lies. The rain froze in a thin black sheet beneath two inches of rapidly-accumulated snow, but that didn’t shake this hearty Northeasterner. I exited the driveway with a confidence that promptly slipped away like Read more…


The Center for Mark Twain Studies is a pivotal partner in an ongoing research project that will culminate at the 8th International State of Mark Twain Studies Conference in August, following a lecture and exhibit in Rouen, France, in June. Did you know that at different times, Clemens acquired, read, and heavily annotated a number of authorities that he later acknowledged in a list at the beginning of his historical novel Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc? And that a Read more…


In marking the beginning of Black History Month the other day, President Donald Trump commended Frederick Douglass as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.” Quibbles over the President’s use of the present tense aside, most would agree that Douglass did in fact accomplish something amazing in escaping slavery to become a leading abolitionist and visionary social reformer/statesman during a turbulent time in our nation’s history, and whose powerful, Read more…


Drawing by Elmira College student, Samantha Berger


Mark Twain described his Autobiography as an “apparently systemless system…a complete and purposed jumble,” and so it is, though it is not wholly without method. Over the course of its composition Twain relied heavily on a biography begun by his daughter, Susy Clemens, when she was just thirteen. Twain would copy a selection from “Susy’s Biography” then expound upon the events and episodes sparsely described therein. This ritual provoked both humor – the celebrated septuagenarian writer debating the details of his Read more…


The Center for Mark Twain Studies offers nine Quarry Farm fellowships for 2018 to any scholar working in the field of Mark Twain Studies at any career stage, giving Fellows the opportunity to work on academic or creative projects at Quarry Farm, the family home of Twain’s sister- and brother-in-law, Susan and Theodore Crane. Twain and his family lived at Quarry Farm for over twenty summers. During this time, in an octagonal study located about one hundred yards from the Read more…


To the Editor of The Tribune. I can truly say that this has been the most melancholy day of my life. When I arose this morning & reflected that on this day it was to be given me to see that noble band of patriots, the President & his Cabinet, delivered over to the cold charities of a thankless nation, my heart was ready to break. My brain was flooded with tender memories of blessings brought to me by this Read more…


On this date in 1856, Samuel Clemens, at barely twenty years of age, gave what was likely the first of the improvised comedic toasts for which he would, as Mark Twain, become widely renowned. The occasion was an impromptu celebration of the sesquicentennial of Benjamin Franklin’s birth. As the Keokuck Daily Gate City reported it, a group of local printers, including Orion Clemens, who ran the Ben Franklin Book & Job Office, gathered at the Eagle Hotel and “toasted their patron saint.” Read more…


Annotated editions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been relatively rare, especially considering how frequently the novel is taught in courses at both the secondary and collegiate level. The ever-popular Norton Critical Edition of the novel has not been revised since 1998. The most recent edition of the outstanding Bedford Case Study in Critical Controversy, edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan, is more than a decade old. Both editions are geared towards advanced undergraduate literature students. They emphasize reception Read more…


On exhibit on the terrace level of Elmira College’s Gannett-Tripp Library is an oil painting titled Head of Titian’s Venus 2015 by Elmira artist Dan Reidy. The large scale oil painting references the famous Venus of Urbino, a 1538 oil painting by Italian master Titian that was described by Mark Twain in A Tramp Abroad (1880) as “the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses.” Unlike Twain, Reidy focuses on Venus’s gaze, rather than her overt sexuality. But does Twain’s quote simply suggest he Read more…


The above image, courtesy of The Mark Twain Project at UC-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, comes from an engraved greeting card Twain circulated in January, 1876. William Dean Howells, upon receiving one, described the frog as “luridly hopping along, and looking as if he had just got out of a pond of hellfire.” The card was designed by True Williams, who offered it gratis to Twain and his publisher as thanks for the sustained employment they had recently provided him. Williams’s illustrations in Adventures of Tom Read more…

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