Park Church Lecture Series Begins This Wednesday

The 2018 Park Church Lecture Series, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, begins Wednesday, June 13 in the historic and cultural landmark, The Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

Linnaeus Manuscript

The first lecture, “Fingerprints and Microbe Time: Mark Twain and Scientific Skepticism,” is presented by James W. Leonard, adjunct English professor with The Citadel.  It is well known that Twain took contemporary social, political, and particularly racial beliefs to task through an incisive skepticism which outpaced many of his generation. But Twain also understood the role that science and empiricism played in the formation and justification of social projects. Like many of his time, he was thrilled by the explosion of new technologies and systems that characterized the 19th century. For example, we know from his personal writings how excited he was to include Francis Galton’s discovery of fingerprinting in Pudd’nhead Wilson. But even in that excitement, Twain never lost sight of his characteristic skepticism, and a closer look at his literary portrayal of science reveals a visionary’s understanding of how empirical facts- -and the systems organizing those facts–would be increasingly scrutinized as social and political tools in literature of the 20th century.

Leonard recently received his Ph.D. from Tufts University and is currently an adjunct professor of English at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. While much of his research focuses on 20th-century authors (particularly Djuna Barnes, Cormac McCarthy, and Leslie Marmon Silko), he is particularly interested in Mark Twain’s capacity for identifying and articulating complex forms of social critique that would only be popularized years after his death. His current research on Twain looks at his insistence on filtering empiricism through satire.

About The Park Church
Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some members of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain.  Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community.  Currently, it is an “Open and Affirming Congregation,” welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.

About the Center for Mark Twain Studies
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.

Twain Scholar Ben Click Concludes the Spring 2018 Trouble Begins Series

The spring portion of the 2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues Wednesday, May 30 in Cowles Hall, Elmira College.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

From Chapter 31 of the first edition (1885) of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The fourth and final lecture, “My Penchant for Silence: Mark Twain’s Rhetorical Art of the Unspoken” will be given by Ben Click, St. Mary’s College of Maryland. There is no shortage of commentary on Twain’s penchant for talk, how he transliterated and employed it. He perfected the mock oral narrative, precisely rendered of frontier and river vernacular, created the stunning narrative method of Huck Finn’s voice, and crafted countless, repeatable maxims (ironically, one being: “I talk until I have my audience cowed”). Yet, silence permeates the writings of Mark Twain–for example, there are over 150 references to silence in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn alone! Examining its functions is an overlooked, yet integral, aspect of his writing for silence mediates and influences the discourses of his fictive and personal worlds. Rhetorical theorist Cheryl Glenn argues, “silence—the unspoken—is a rhetorical art that can be as powerful as the spoken or written word”. Twain too understood that power: “The unspoken word is capital. We can invest it or we can squander it.” Indeed, Twain crafted the full measure of that art on the page throughout his writing life. This talk examines representative (and powerful) rhetorical uses of silence in the arc of Twain’s fictive writing.

Ben Click is a professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, director of the Writing & Speaking Center, director of the Twain Lecture Series on American Humor Culture, and the associate editor of the Mark Twain Annual. With Larry Howe and Jim Caron, he published Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon in Critical Contexts. He has given numerous lectures and scholarly papers on Mark Twain, published articles and book chapters on the teaching of writing and writing assessment. He is also working on a book that examines humor as a rhetorical strategy in environmental writing, a genre that is sometimes seen as taking itself too seriously.

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.

Twain in Hawaii is the focus of the next Trouble Begins Lecture

Elmira, New York — The spring portion of the 2017-2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues Wednesday, May 23 in Cowles Hall, Elmira College.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

From Chapter 73 of the First Edition of “Roughing It” (1872)

The third lecture, “An American Cannibal at Home: Comic Diplomacy in Mark Twain’s Hawai’i” will be presented by Todd Nathan Thompson from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. During and after his 1866 visit to Hawai’i, Mark Twain wrote about the place, its people, and their relationship to the United States in several different genres: newspaper articles, first as a correspondent for the Sacramento Union (1866) and then for other papers, including the New York Herald; a popular lecture titled “Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands” (1866-1873); two travelogues, Roughing It (1872) and A Tramp Abroad (1880), and an unfinished novel (1884). In my talk I will investigate the comic strategies he employs in these works – particularly self-effacement, satiric levelling, comic foils, physical comedy, and sarcastic irony – to show how Twain leveraged the ambivalence of social humor’s to stoke Americans’ interest in Hawai’i while simultaneously defending Hawaiians from “other”-ing stereotypes that—even as early as 1866 – he saw as intimately tied to Americans’ imperialist urges.

Thompson, is an associate professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he also serves as assistant chair of the English Department. He is author of The National Joker: Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Satire (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). Thompson’s work on political satire and pre-1900 American literature has also appeared in Scholarly EditingEarly American LiteratureESQNineteenth-Century ProseJournal of American CultureStudies in American HumorTeaching American Literaturethe Blackwell Companion to Poetic Genre, and elsewhere. He is currently at work on a new book project entitled Savage Laughter: Nineteenth-Century American Humor and the South Seas.

This week’s lecture also includes the announcement of two annual contests: the 2018 “Portraying Mark Twain” Art Competition awards and the 2018 “Mark Twain Essay” prize.  Each year, a panel of judges chose from both art and prose submissions by Elmira College students, some of which may be featured in future CMTS publications.

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.

Trouble Begins Lecture Series Continues With A Discussion on Race, Law, and Satire

The spring portion of the 2017-2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues Wednesday, May 16 in The Barn at Quarry Farm.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

From the 1899 Harper & Brothers Edition of Puddn’head Wilson

The second lecture, “Raising the Bar: Satirizing Law in Puddn’head Wilson and The Sellout” will be presented by Rebecca Nisetich from the Honors Program at University of Southern Maine. This lecture explores how American writers use satire to expose the ways that “race” operates in our political institutions, social practices, and cultural discourses. In Puddn’head Wilson, Twain shows what happens when legal discourse is taken to its logical extreme. Contemporary novelist Paul Beatty similarly satirizes America’s racial structure and—like Twain—he takes aim at the legal system that support it. Twain’s novel is produced in the legal wrangling leading up to the Plessy v. Ferguson decision; Beatty’s novel responds to the present-day nadir of African American jurisprudence: the 2013 Supreme Court ruling which overturned critical aspects of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the effect of the subprime lending crisis on African American homeowners, and the spate of “Not Guilty” verdicts in the deaths of African American men. As Twain, Beatty, and others demonstrate, we cannot escape these fundamentally racist legal and social structures until we have created other viable options. As racial satirist Patrice Evans writes, “When we laugh…we are making light, but [we are] also setting the groundwork for raising the bar.” For these American writers, satire becomes a powerful means for undermining racist narratives.

Nisetich directs the Honors Program at the University of Southern Maine, where she teaches inter-disciplinary courses on race and identity in the U.S. Her manuscript, Contested Identities, explores characters whose identities are not clearly articulated, defined, or knowable. The project underscores indeterminacy—as opposed to ambiguity or “mixture”—as enabling writers to undermine the “one-drop” conceptions of race that dominated the discourse on race in early twentieth century America. Her essays have appeared in African American ReviewStudies in American Naturalism, and elsewhere.

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.

2018 Park Church Summer Lectures

The 2018 Park Church Summer Lecture Series

Previous “Park Church” and “Trouble Begins” lectures can be found and downloaded in the “Trouble Begins” Archives” or by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 13 at the Park Church 7 p.m.

“Fingerprints and Microbe Time: Mark Twain and Scientific Skepticism”

James W. Leonard, The Citadel

Linnaeus Manuscript

It is well known that Twain took contemporary social, political, and particularly racial beliefs to task through an incisive skepticism which outpaced many of his generation. But Twain also understood the role that science and empiricism played in the formation and justification of social projects. Like many of his time, he was thrilled by the explosion of new technologies and systems that characterized the 19th century. For example, we know from his personal writings how excited he was to include Francis Galton’s discovery of fingerprinting in Pudd’nhead Wilson. But even in that excitement, Twin never lost sight of his characteristic skepticism, and a closer look at his literary portrayal of science reveals a visionary’s understanding of how empirical facts- -and the systems organizing those facts–would be increasingly scrutinized as social and political tools in literature of the 20th century.

James W. Leonard recently received his PhD from Tufts University and is currently an adjunct professor of English at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. While much of his research focuses on 20th-century authors (particularly Djuna Barnes, Cormac McCarthy, and Leslie Marmon Silko), he is particularly interested in Mark Twain’s capacity for identifying and articulating complex forms of social critique that would only be popularized years after his death. His current research on Twain looks at his insistence on filtering empiricism through satire.

 

Wednesday, June 20 at the Park Church 7 p.m. 

“’…there is only one thing of real importance…’: The Letters of Olivia Langdon Clemens”

Barbara Snedecor, Elmira College

Olivia Langdon Clemens

The letters of Olivia Langdon Clemens reveal her deep emotion as well as the more ordinary impulses of her thought. In communications with friends and family, and with her world- famous spouse, Olivia exposes her intelligence, fortitude, gentleness, kindness, humor, love for husband and children—along with her anxieties, self-deprecation, and flaws. Possibly the following statement, written to her husband during their plunge towards bankruptcy, best indicates her world view: “I feel so strongly these days that we have not a great while to stay here and that there is only one thing of real importance to us. To do all the good that we can and leave an irreproachable name behind us” (9 April 1893). The presentation will summarize critical views of Olivia as well as highlight selections from her letters.

Barbara Snedecor directed the Center for Mark Twain Studies and was an Assistant Professor of American Literature at Elmira College. In 2015, she was awarded the Living Heritage Award by the Chemung County Chamber of Commerce. In 2017, she received the Henry Nash Smith Award. She has published novels, personal essays, and poetry as well as Mark Twain in Elmira, Second Edition, and scholarly essays connected with Mark Twain Studies. She currently is preparing a collection of the letters of Olivia Langdon Clemens for publication.

 

Wednesday, July 11 at the Park Church 7 p.m.

“Mark Twain and The Native Other”

Kerry Driscoll, University of St. Joseph

In his 1899 essay “Concerning the Jews,” Twain states: I am quite sure that (bar one) I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed, I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being—that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse.” Although the writer refused to name the one bias he admits to harboring, abundant evidence in his work suggests that the allusion is to Native Americans, whom he referred to in print as “reptiles, “vermin,” and “good, fair, desirable subject[s] for extermination.” This presentation explores the origin and evolution of Twain’s attitudes toward indigenous peoples and probes the reasons underlying his animus.

Kerry Driscoll is Professor of English (emerita) at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, CT. She is the past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America, a member of the editorial board for the Circle’s journal, the Mark Twain Annual, and serves on the Board of Trustees at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford. In addition to numerous essays she has published on Twain’s work, she is the author of Mark Twain among the Indians and Other Indigenous Peoples (University of California Press, 2018), the first book-length study of the author’s conflicted attitudes toward, and representations of, Native Americans.

The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.

Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain. Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community. Currently, it is a United Church of Christ open and affirming congregation, welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.

 

For a PDF copy of the 2018 Park Church Summer Lectures lineup, click here.

 

19th Century Decorative Arts Scholar Discusses the Jervis Langdon Mansion at Upcoming Trouble Begins Lecture

Period photograph of a painted portrait of Jervis Langdon Senior of Elmira New York, father of Olivia Langdon Clemens and father-in-law to Samuel Clemens.

On Wednesday, May 9 in The Barn at Quarry Farm at 7:00 p.m, Walter G. Ritchie, Jr. will present a lecture entitled, “High Style in Mid-Nineteenth Century Elmira: The Architecture & Interiors of the Jervis Langdon Mansion”

By the 1860s, Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s father-in-law, was ready to create a home that announced his status as one of Elmira’s most successful and influential businessmen. After purchasing a house built in the 1850s, he immediately arranged to have it enlarged and remodeled in the fashionable Italianate style. The result was an imposing three-story brownstone mansion that was counted among the largest and most elegant residences in the city. Langdon then commissioned Pottier & Stymus, one of the leading cabinetmaking and decorating firms in New York City, to decorate and furnish a number of the principal rooms on the first floor of the house. After her husband’s death in 1870, Olivia Lewis Langdon continued to patronize the firm, purchasing bedroom suites and other furniture. This lecture will explore the architecture, interiors, and furnishings of the Langdon mansion, sadly destroyed in the 1930s, but well documented by period photographs showing both the exterior and interior. Surviving pieces of furniture made by Pottier & Stymus, now preserved in various museum and university collections, will be discussed to illustrate how the Langdons, through the guidance of the firm, demonstrated their good taste and familiarity with the latest modes in household decoration and furnishing.

Walter G. Ritchie, Jr. is an independent decorative arts scholar and architectural historian specializing in nineteenth-century American architecture, interiors, and furniture. He has written, lectured, and taught courses on a variety of decorative arts subjects, in addition to having served as director and curator of a number of historic house museums. He is currently researching and writing a book on the history, furniture, and interior decoration of Pottier & Stymus.

For a PDF copy of the Spring 2018 Trouble Begins Lecture Schedule, click here. Visit the “Trouble Begins” Archives for a downloadable recording of all the 2018 Spring Trouble Begins Lectures and other past talks.  You can also see past Trouble Begins programs and our quadrennial conference and symposia programs.

Listen To “Travelin’ Man,” A Talk By Ron Powers

Last week Ron Powers visited Elmira College and the Center for Mark Twain Studies. The bestselling and award-winning author of MarK Twain: A Life (2005) led several discussions, including of his most recent book, Nobody Cares About Crazy People (2017), recently named a finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Science Writing Award.

Powers also gave the first Trouble Begins lecture of the 2018 season. In “Travelin’ Man,” Powers argues that Twain “staked out” a “roadmap for proletarian writing” which would be followed by 20th-century American authors like James Agee and Philip Roth, as well as Powers himself.

Many scholars and biographers have undersold the extraordinary scope of Twain’s travels, a portion of which Powers describes in detail, as well as underestimated how Twain’s drive to “experience the terror and ecstasy of unknown territory” inflects his legacy.

This highly entertaining performance is available for streaming and download here.

Award-Winning Author, Critic Kicks Off The 2018 Trouble Begins Lecture Series

The Center for Mark Twain Studies kicks off its Spring 2018 Trouble Begins lecture series by hosting Ron Powers, Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy Award-winning writer and critic, on Wednesday, March 21 at 7:00 p.m. in Cowles Hall, Elmira College. The presentation is free and open to the public.

Powers’ presentation, “Travelin’ Man,” looks into how Mark Twain’s prodigious travels around his region, then the nation, and then the world, have provided pleasure and scholarly thought for more than a century. Somewhat less appreciated has been the transformative effect Twain’s lifelong appetite for exploration (“move–move–Move!,” Twain wrote in a letter to his family) produced upon American literature, the legitimacy of common vernacular, and even the nation’s final psychic break with Old Europe. Speaking (mostly) in sentences even shorter than the preceding, Powers will examine this divine compulsion that hastened America’s literary Declaration of Independence.

Powers is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including Flags of Our Fathers (2000), a New York Times #1 bestseller. He has written extensively on Mark Twain and his literature, including a biography, Mark Twain: A Life (2005), also a New York Times bestseller. His current book, No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America (2017), has been named a finalist for the PEN/E.O Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. The book has also been named “Notable Book of the Year” by the Washington Post and one of the Top Ten books of the year by People magazine.

For a PDF copy of the Spring 2018 Trouble Begins Lecture Schedule, click here.

CMTS announces the Spring 2018 “Trouble Begins” Lineup

The Spring 2018 Trouble Begins” Lecture Series

Previous “Trouble Begins” lectures can be found and downloaded in the “Trouble Begins Archives” or by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 21 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.

“Mark Twain: Travelin’ Man”  Ron Powers, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, media critic, and New York Times best selling author

Mark Twain’s prodigious travels around his region, then the nation, and then the world, have provided pleasure and scholarly thought for more than a century. Somewhat less appreciated has been the transformative effect his lifelong appetite for exploration (“move–move–Move!”, he wrote in a letter to his family–) produced upon American literature, the legitimacy of common vernacular, and even the nation’s final psychic break with Old Europe. Speaking (mostly) in sentences even shorter than the preceding, I will examine this divine compulsion that hastened America’s literary Declaration of Independence.

Ron Powers is a Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy Award-winning writer and critic.  He is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including Flags of Our Fathers (2000), a New York Times #1 bestseller.  He has written extensively on Mark Twain and his literature, including a biography, Mark Twain: A Life (2005), also a New York Times bestseller.  His current book, No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America (2017), has been named a finalist for the PEN/E.O Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.  It has also been named “Notable Book of the Year” by the Washington Post and one of the Top Ten books of the year by People magazine.

Wednesday, May 9 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“High Style in Mid-Nineteenth Century Elmira: The Architecture and Interiors of the Jervis Langdon Mansion” Walter G. Ritchie, Jr., Independent Scholar

Jervis Langdon

By the 1860s, Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s father-in-law, was ready to create a home that announced his status as one of Elmira’s most successful and influential businessmen.  After purchasing a house built in the 1850s, he immediately arranged to have it enlarged and remodeled in the fashionable Italianate style. The result was an imposing three-story brownstone mansion that was counted among the largest and most elegant residences in the city.  Langdon then commissioned Pottier & Stymus, one of the leading cabinetmaking and decorating firms in New York City, to decorate and furnish a number of the principal rooms on the first floor of the house.  After her husband’s death in 1870, Olivia Lewis Langdon continued to patronize the firm, purchasing bedroom suites and other furniture.  This lecture will explore the architecture, interiors, and furnishings of the Langdon mansion, sadly destroyed in the 1930s, but well documented by period photographs showing both the exterior and interior.  Surviving pieces of furniture made by Pottier & Stymus, now preserved in various museum and university collections, will be discussed to illustrate how the Langdons, through the guidance of the firm, demonstrated their good taste and familiarity with the latest modes in household decoration and furnishing.

Walter G. Ritchie, Jr. is an independent decorative arts scholar and architectural historian specializing in nineteenth-century American architecture, interiors, and furniture.  He has written, lectured, and taught courses on a variety of decorative arts subjects, in addition to having served as director and curator of a number of historic house museums.  He is currently researching and writing a book on the history, furniture, and interior decoration of Pottier & Stymus.

Wednesday, May 16 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Raising the Bar: Satirizing Law in Puddn’head Wilson and The Sellout” Rebecca Nisetich, University of Southern Maine

From the Harper & Brothers edition (1889) of Puddn’Head Wilson

This lecture explores how American writers use satire to expose the ways that “race” operates in our political institutions, social practices, and cultural discourses. In Puddn’head Wilson, Twain shows what happens when legal discourse is taken to its logical extreme. Contemporary novelist Paul Beatty similarly satirizes America’s racial structure and—like Twain—he takes aim at the legal system that support it. Twain’s novel is produced in the legal wrangling leading up to the Plessy v. Ferguson decision; Beatty’s novel responds to the present-day nadir of African American jurisprudence: the 2013 Supreme Court ruling which overturned critical aspects of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the effect of the subprime lending crisis on African American homeowners, and the spate of “Not Guilty” verdicts in the deaths of African American men. As Twain, Beatty, and others demonstrate, we cannot escape these fundamentally racist legal and social structures until we have created other viable options. As racial satirist Patrice Evans writes, “When we laugh…we are making light, but [we are] also setting the groundwork for raising the bar.” For these American writers, satire becomes a powerful means for undermining racist narratives.

Rebecca Nisetich directs the Honors Program at the University of Southern Maine, where she teaches inter-disciplinary courses on race and identity in the U.S. Her manuscript, Contested Identities, explores characters whose identities are not clearly articulated, defined, or knowable. The project underscores indeterminacy—as opposed to ambiguity or “mixture”—as enabling writers to undermine the “one-drop” conceptions of race that dominated the discourse on race in early twentieth century America. Her essays have appeared in African American Review, Studies in American Naturalism, and elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 23 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.

“An American Cannibal at Home: Comic Diplomacy in Mark Twain’s Hawai’i” Todd Nathan Thompson, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Image from Chapter 73 of the first edition (1872) of Roughing It

During and after his 1866 visit to Hawai’i, Mark Twain wrote about the place, its people, and their relationship to the United States in several different genres: newspaper articles, first as a correspondent for the Sacramento Union (1866) and then for other papers, including the New York Herald; a popular lecture titled “Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands” (1866-1873); two travelogues, Roughing It (1872) and A Tramp Abroad (1880), and an unfinished novel (1884). In my talk I will investigate the comic strategies he employs in these works—particularly self-effacement, satiric levelling, comic foils, physical comedy, and sarcastic irony—to show how Twain leveraged the ambivalence of social humor’s to stoke Americans’ interest in Hawai’i while simultaneously defending Hawaiians from “other”-ing stereotypes that—even as early as 1866—he saw as intimately tied to Americans’ imperialist urges.

Todd Nathan Thompson is Associate Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he also serves as Assistant Chair of the English Department. He is author of The National Joker: Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Satire (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). Thompson’s work on political satire and pre-1900 American literature has also appeared in Scholarly Editing, Early American Literature, ESQ, Nineteenth-Century Prose, Journal of American Culture, Studies in American Humor, Teaching American Literature, the Blackwell Companion to Poetic Genre, and elsewhere. He is currently at work on a new book project entitled Savage Laughter: Nineteenth-Century American Humor and the South Seas.

Wednesday, May 30 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.

Image from Chapter 31 of the first edition (1885) of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

“’My penchant for silence’: Mark Twain’s Rhetorical Art of the Unspoken” Ben Click, St. Mary’s College of Maryland

There is no shortage of commentary on Twain’s penchant for talk, how he transliterated and employed it.  He perfected the mock oral narrative, precisely rendered of frontier and river vernacular, created the stunning narrative method of Huck Finn’s voice, and crafted countless, repeatable maxims (Ironically, one being:  “I talk until I have my audience cowed”).  Yet, silence permeates the writings of Mark Twain–for example, there are over 150 references to silence in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn alone!  Examining its functions is an overlooked, yet integral, aspect of his writing for silence mediates and influences the discourses of his fictive and personal worlds. Rhetorical theorist Cheryl Glenn argues, “silence—the unspoken—is a rhetorical art that can be as powerful as the spoken or written word” (9).  Twain too understood that power:  “The unspoken word is capital.  We can invest it or we can squander it.”  Indeed, Twain crafted the full measure of that art on the page throughout his writing life.  This talk examines representative (and powerful) rhetorical uses of silence in the arc of Twain’s fictive writing.

Ben Click is a Professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Director of the Writing & Speaking Center, Director of the Twain Lecture Series on American Humor Culture, and the Associate Editor of The Mark Twain Annual.  With Larry Howe and Jim Caron, he published Refocusing Chaplin:  A Screen Icon in Critical Contexts (Scarecrow, 2013). He has given numerous lectures and scholarly papers on Mark Twain, published articles and book chapters on the teaching of writing and writing assessment. He is also working on a book that examines humor as a rhetorical strategy in environmental writing, a genre that is sometimes seen as taking itself too seriously.

For a PDF copy of the Spring 2018 “Trouble Begins” flyer, click here.

About The Trouble Begins at Eight Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight. The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985.

The lectures are now held annually in the fall and spring of each year. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the Barn at Quarry Farm or in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College campus in Elmira, NY. Each lecture is digitally recorded after the event and can be downloaded.  This ever-growing digital archive can be found in the “Trouble Begins Archives” or by clicking here.

The Final 2017 “Trouble Begins” Lecture Explores Obsession

The fall portion of the 2017-2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes Wednesday, November 1 at 7:00 p.m., in Peterson Chapel, Cowles Hall on the Elmira College campus. The lecture will be followed by a book sale and author signing.

Author and professor of English, Harold K. Bush will present the final fall lecture, “Collecting Mark Twain: Obsessions over the Great Authors and The Hemingway Files.”  According to Bush, obsession is frequently an overlooked focus of major literary works. In novels like Moby-DickThe Picture of Dorian GrayPossessionThe Aspern PapersThe Great Gatsby, and many others, characters are often driven to extremes by their various obsessions over various objects or concerns. But sometimes obsession infiltrates the author’s audience as well. One manifestation of this is when a reader’s relation to and obsession with a famous author leads to a powerful yearning to collect: a desire to gather and accumulate almost anything ever owned or scribbled by the celebrity author.

One theme of Bush’s own novel The Hemingway Files is just this desire: in particular, a wealthy collector intent on purchasing Hemingway manuscripts and Twain letters. Such obsessive collecting is not unusual among bibliophiles. But, asks Bush, why do we collect? How does one begin the long journey of any sort of collecting? And what are the pros and cons of obsessive connection to iconic writers like Hemingway and Mark Twain? This lecture will consider how individuals get drawn into such compulsive relations with these long dead writers and other celebrities: including Bush’s own lengthy journey into the heart of Mark Twain studies, and into the composition of his novel, The Hemingway Files.

In addition to teaching at Saint Louis University, Bush is author of six books, including Mark Twain and the Spiritual Crisis of His Age (2007) and Lincoln in His Own Time (2012). He has most recently completed Continuing Bonds with the Dead: Parental Grief and Nineteenth-Century American Authors (2016). He is lead editor of The Mark Twain-Joseph Twichell Correspondence (2017) and of Above the American Renaissance: David Reynolds and the Spiritual Imagination in American Literary Studies, which will appear in 2018. His first novel, titled The Hemingway Files, was published in the summer of 2017. He is presently at work on a study of spirituality and American literature and culture, titled Spiritual Blink!

All lectures in “The Trouble Begins” Lecture Series are free and open to the public.