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Elmira Joins Forces with Berkeley and Normandy for “Twain & Joan of Arc” Project


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 majority of these books were in French? Some of those references now reside in the Mark Twain Papers at the UC-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. While scholars have commented upon Clemens’s debt to these sources, the annotated materials remain largely untapped. Co-sponsored by the CMTS, Linda Morris (UC-Davis) and myself (U. de Lille, France) received a France Berkeley Fund Grant for a project to study just that. It is entitled: “‘The French Marginalia’ of Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1895-96) at Berkeley: Patriotism without Borders.”

The France-Berkeley Fund supported an exhaustive study of these marginalia, the result of which is to be published in the Spring 2017 issue of Mark Twain Journal. The article highlights the role played by those historical sources in the making of the most Franco-American of Clemens’s works, sheds new light on the legendary “flying leaf” incident, disentangles the complex origins of Twain’s narrator, de Contes, and reveals the author had far better command of French than he ever publicly acknowledged.

Still unfolding, the project’s next stage is a lecture, to be given by Linda Morris at Historial Jeanne d’Arc in Rouen, Normandy, a museum dedicated to the French heroine. The lecture will take place June 8, 2017, the same week as the D-Day celebrations. If you happen to be in Normandy, please join us!

There will also be the showing in Rouen of a short film illustrating Mark Twain’s lifelong fascination with Joan of Arc made, in part, of rarely seen pictures from the Berkeley archives, as well Elmira and Quarry Farm, thanks to the assistance of Vic Fischer. The film will then run for a few weeks inside the museum. It will also be aired at the Quadrennial Conference in August.

The whole project reinforces the cosmopolitan dimension the American icon is increasingly assuming. It also helps reframe Joan of Arc as the climax of Twain’s longtime and paradoxical relationship with France and the French, a crucial aspect of his biography analyzed in Mark Twain and France: The Making of a New American Identity, forthcoming in June 2017 (University of Missouri Press). This book was co-written by myself and Paula Harrington (Colby College), who is also a partner of this project.

Ronald Jenn is Professor of Translation Studies at Université de Lille, France and a former Quarry Farm Fellow.

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