Fall Trouble Begins Lectures Continue With Lecture Focusing on “Tom Sawyer Abroad”


The fall portion of the 2017-2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues Wednesday, October 11 at 7:00 p.m. in the Barn at Quarry Farm, with a lecture that explores the “boy-inventor publishing explosion” of the late 1800s.

The lecture, “Mark Twain and the Inventor Fiction Boom: Technology Meets American Conceit, 1876-1910” will be presented by Nathaniel Williams, from the University of California, Davis.

In Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), Mark Twain sends his most famous characters – Tom, Huck, and Jim – on an airship voyage across the Atlantic into Africa. By the time Twain wrote that novel, nearly 100 similar stories about young Americans in imaginary aircraft and other vehicles had appeared in magazines and serials. They featured boy inventors using their ingenuity and technology to take over remote locales, not unlike Twain’s Hank Morgan in A Connecticut Yankee (1889). By looking at Twain’s work in the context of the boy-inventor publishing explosion, we find new insights into the early stirrings of his anti-imperialist fervor, his complex views on race, and his wilting faith in technology. Surprisingly, some now-obscure dime novelists wrestled with those same concepts before Twain (and helped birth modern “steampunk” along the way). This presentation covers some of their works along with Twain’s unique contributions to the genre.

Williams is a lecturer for the University Writing Program at the University of California, Davis. His book on Twain and 19th-century technocratic adventure fiction is forthcoming from University of Alabama Press. He has recently written chapters for The Centrality of Crime Fiction in American Literary Culture and the upcoming Cambridge History of Science Fiction. His essays have appeared in American LiteratureUtopian Studies, and elsewhere. He serves on the advisory board of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction housed at his alma mater, The University of Kansas.

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

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