In 1985, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies inaugurated The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series. The title comes from a handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco.
The lectures are now held 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.
The Spring series is, as follows:
Wednesday, April 26 in Cowles Hall at Elmira College 7 p.m.
“These Hideous Times:” Mark Twain’s Bankruptcy and the Panic of 1893”
Joseph Csicsila, Eastern Michigan University
An old standby of Twain biography is that Mark Twain was a bad businessman, plain and simple. Critics routinely cast him as a reckless speculator, a foolish investor, a failed entrepreneur as they advance the notion that Twain was hopelessly irresponsible with his wealth, making poor financial decisions one after another throughout much of his adult life, and that this led inevitably to his well-publicized and personally humiliating bankruptcy in April 1894. Twain studies, however, has yet to consider in any detailed fashion the context of the Panic of 1893 and the considerable role that it played in Twain’s financial ruin. The country’s first major industrial collapse, what many historians regard as America’s first full-scale economic depression, the Panic of 1893 took down thousands of businesses and ruined millions of Americans in truly historic fashion. As it turns out, Mark Twain’s bankruptcy may have had less to do with his financial decision-making than the times in which those decisions were made.
Joseph Csicsila is Professor of English Language and Literature at Eastern Michigan University. His writings include Canons by Consensus: Critical Trends and American Literature Anthologies (2004); Centenary Reflections on Mark Twain’s No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger (2009), co-edited with Chad Rohman; and Heretical Fictions: Religion in the Literature of Mark Twain (2010), co-authored with Lawrence Berkove. Csicsila is also editor of the Modern Library edition of Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age (2005) and the Broadview Press teaching volume of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (Forthcoming 2017). He is currently at work on a full-scale study of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which will appear in 2018.
Wednesday, May 3 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.
“Roughing It: Twain’s Take on Brigham Young, Polygamy, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre”
Barbara Jones Brown, Independent Scholar
In 1861, young Samuel Clemens gave up his job as a Mississippi riverboat pilot and departed St. Louis to venture west. He traveled with his older brother, Orion, the new secretary of the recently created Nevada Territory. Samuel sought his fortune in the West through mining, but discovered his future instead through his writing, under the pen name Mark Twain. In his 1871, travel narrative Roughing It, Twain famously wrote of his passing through Utah, including his observations of Brigham Young, Mormon polygamy, and the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre in southern Utah. This presentation looks at the circumstances that led to Twain’s writing Roughing It at Quarry Farm and compares his humorous reminiscences with what actually happened on his 1861 journey, based on historical sources.
Barbara Jones Brown is an independent historian of the American West. She is currently at work on a volume about the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which Mormon militiamen slaughtered a California-bound wagon train of Arkansas emigrants in southern Utah. This forthcoming volume, published by Oxford University Press, will include research Brown conducted, as a Quarry Farm Fellow, on Twain’s 1861 visit to Utah and his observations on the massacre. Brown holds an M.A. in American History from the University of Utah. She lives in Park City, Utah.
Wednesday, May 17 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.
“Mark Twain, Unchaining the American Eagle”
David E.E. Sloane, New Haven University
Twain’s predecessor Artemus Ward claimed he could live in Canada in the capacity of a Duke, if a vacancy occurred, but Mark Twain unchained Ward’s eagle in the four main components of his humor which fulfilled Ward’s comic promise. Relying on entrepreneurialism, egalitarianism, egregiousness, and empathy, Twain stated the American vision through humor as no other American has before or since. Jokes from the humor of the Old Northeast and Twain’s own writings demonstrate his vision and how he presented it to the world.
David E.E. Sloane is Professor of English at the University of New Haven. He earned his Ph.D. degree from Duke University in 1970 and has been incorrigible ever since. His books include Mark Twain As A Literary Comedian; The Literary Humor of The Urban Northeast, 1830-1890; American Humor Magazines and Comic Periodicals; Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: American Comic Vision; and Mark Twain’s Humor: Critical Essays, among other works. He was the first Henry Nash Smith Fellow named by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College in 1987 or thereabouts.
Wednesday, May 24 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.
“The Mechanical Woman in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”
Hoi Na Kung, Indiana University
Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court abounds with comical descriptions that liken its central female character, Sandy, to an industrial machine with infinite labor power. This lecture will suggest that this novel’s peculiar automatization of Sandy gestures towards a 19th century cultural ambivalence about technology. On one hand, technology promised a “rational” order of life with an emphasis on the maximization of productivity and profit. On the other hand, technology threatened a disturbance of social order: mechanization of the workplace allowed women to leave the household for the workplace en masse, generating anxiety about women exchanging biological reproduction for industrial reproduction of commodities. Departing from much of the literary criticism that interprets Twain’s technologized modernity as a tragedy, this lecture will argue that Twain’s novel employs the figure of the mechanical woman in order to foreground both the sense of increased freedom and unfreedom for both men and women opened up by a technologized modernity.
Hoi Na Kung is currently a third-year doctorate student in the English department at Indiana University, where she specializes in 19th and 20th century American literature with an emphasis on critical race studies and gender studies. She is currently working on a project exploring representations of sensory experiences in African American and Asian American literature written in the age of globalization.
The Spring 2017 “Trouble Begins” Lecture Series is sponsored by the Michael J. Kiskis Memorial Fund. The sole purpose of this fund is to support scholars and scholarship at Quarry Farm. If you are interested in contributing to this fund, please contact Dr. Joseph Lemak at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The “Trouble Begins” Lecture Series is also made possible by the support of the Mark Twain Foundation and the Friends of the Center.