Special Issue of American Literary Realism dedicated to Twain’s Joan of Arc

Illustration from Harper’s Weekly, currently located in the Louis J. Budd Collection of the CMTS Mark Twain Archive

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is pleased to announce the publication of a special issue of American Literary Realism (Winter 2019, Vol. 51, No. 2) dealing with Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (https://muse.jhu.edu/issue/39501). It originated from the workshop on Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc chaired by Paula Harrington at Elmira 2017: The Eighth International Conference of the Center for Mark Twain Studies, which was part of the France-Berkeley-Fund project headed by Linda Morris and Ronald Jenn (“The ‘French Marginalia’ of Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1895-96) at Berkeley: Patriotism without Borders”). The issue, coordinated by Ronald Jenn and Delphine Louis-Dimitrov, contains contributions by Linda A. Morris (“What is ‘Personal’ about: Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc?”), Jeanne Campbell Reesman (“Discourses of Faith vs. Fraud in Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc and Christian Science”, Susan K. Harris (“Whohoo!!! Joan of Arc!!!!!”), Geoffrey C. Williams (“What Joan of Arc can Teach Us about Human Motivation and Well-being”) and Delphine Louis-Dimitrov (“The Democratic Reconfiguration of History in Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc”). In true Twainian fashion, a twin special issue on “Joan of Arc through American Eyes / Jeanne d’Arc au Prisme de l’Amérique ” will be published in the RFEA (Revue Française d’Etudes Américaines) in Fall 2019. It will set Twain’s passion for Joan of Arc in a broader context by considering various aspects of her presence in American literature and culture.

Stemming from this work, Mark Twain et Jeanne d’Arc: L’hisoire d’une passion, a French-language short documentary about Twain’s lifelong interest in the iconic heroine, Joan of Arc, was recently awarded the top prize in the documentary category at the Anstia Film Festival in Paris. The film, written by recent Quarry Farm Fellow, Ronald Jenn, and directed by Patrice Thery, uses pictures and documents from French and American archives, including our own, to familiarize its audience with the author, the subject of his passionate interest, and, finally, the novel, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, which he published in 1896. The film can be seen here.

Of Walls & Wangdoodles

“You can call it a barrier, you can call it a wall, you can call it a wangdoodle for all I care.” – Sen. John Kennedy (Louisiana)

The above quote from the ongoing (some might say “never-ending”) discussion over what to call President Trump’s proposed border wall/fence/barrier reminds me of one of Mark Twain’s more obscure, early letters.

In a letter to William Clagett in March 1862, Twain wrote:

“Sunday.—I intended to finish this letter to-day, but I went to church—and busted! For a man who can listen for an hour to Mr. White, the whining, nasal, Whangdoodle preacher, and then sit down and write, without shedding melancholy from his pen as from a duck’s back, is more than mortal. Or less. I fear I shall not feel cheerful again until the beans I had for dinner begin to operate.”

View Complete Letter via Mark Twain Project

I certainly feel the same melancholia about the interminable border wall debate as Twain did about his “Whangdoodle preacher”—although there doesn’t appear to be an impending, cheerful release from our quandary, as he was anticipating from his. Even so, investigating the origin of such a strange word like “whangdoodle” may offer something of a pleasant diversion while we wait for the proverbial beans of our national government to begin to operate.  

According to the Merriam-Webster definition, a “Whangdoodle” is “an imaginary creature of undefined character.” The Online Etymology Dictionary adds that it is a “thing for which the correct name is not known.” There are other, less savory definitions for the word offered on “Urban Dictionary,” but I don’t want to besmirch the clean lines of the Twain Center’s new website with them.

There are literary references to Whangdoodles in beloved children’s books like Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; however, Twain’s use of it in his biting critique of The Rev. A.F. White is likely from a parody sermon that was popular out West, where Twain lived at the time. Mark Twain’s Letters, Vol. 1notes:

No doubt Clemens associated White’s pulpit style with that of the “Hard-shell Baptist” preacher whose sermon, “Where the Lion Roareth and the Wang-Doodle Mourneth,” was a staple of frontier humor. The “Whangdoodle,” a “mysterious animal, like the ‘gyascutis’ of circus fame, has never been beheld of man and its attributes and habits are entirely unknown.” 

(Maitland, 300)

In the satirical sermon, the “unlarnt” preacher offers a jumble of misspelled words and specious theology to his “brethering”:

…my tex which I shall choose for the occasion is in the leds of the Bible, somewhar between the Second Chronik-ills and the last chapter of Timothytitus; and when you find it, you’ll find it in these words: “And they shall gnaw a file, and flee unto the mountains of Hepsidam, where the lion roareth and the wang-doodle mourneth for his first born…

…Now, my brethering, “they shall flee unto the mountains of Hepsidam;” but thar’s more dams than Hepsidam. Thar’s Rotter-dam, Had-dam, Amster-dam, and “Don’t-care-a-dam”—the last of which, my brethering, is the worst of all…

In reading these words, it occurs to me that our diversionary quest for the legendary Whangdoodle’s origin has led us right back here to modern-day “Don’t-care-a-dam,” where presidential “tex” about “covfefe” and “hamberders” make Kennedy’s allusion to “wangdoodle” an all-the-more-fitting label for the elusive border wall.

CMTS is Proud to Announce Our 2019 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows!

Each year the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College welcomes a new class of Quarry Farm Fellows. These fellows receive a 2-4 week residency at Quarry Farm, as well as a stipend, to pursue research related to Mark Twain and his circle. If you are interested in applying for a Quarry Farm Fellowship, be on the lookout for the 2020 application, which will be posted here in the coming months. In the meantime, please join us in congratulating the ten scholars who will visit us this year.

Mark Baggett

Mark Baggett is Associate Professor of English and Law, Samford University and Cumberland School of Law. His teaching and research concentrates on American humor; American language and literature, particularly Mark Twain; Southern literature; and law and literature. His recent research on Twain’s use of legal rhetoric is an outgrowth of his teaching legal writing, now “Lawyering and Legal Reasoning,” at Cumberland since 1987. He contributed articles on legal issues in the Mark Twain Encyclopedia and is working on a book-length project on Mark Twain and the law, building on interdisciplinary research on Twain’s broad appropriation of legal rhetoric.

I propose to contextualize Twain’s legal fictions in nineteenth century movements and practices within the legal profession. Using Twain’s criteria for judging Shakespeare’s literary greatness in “Is Shakespeare Dead?”—whether Shakespeare was a lawyer who knew the “trade language” of the law—I will start by tracing the sources of his extensive knowledge of legal rhetoric. Twain’s engagements with the law are well documented, from his apprenticeships in legislative language, to his career covering court trials on the Territorial Enterprise, to his legal burlesques such as “Ye Sentimental Law Student” (the first use of the pseudonym “Mark Twain”), to the court trials in practically all of his longer works, and to his lifelong work on the copyright law. From the side of legal scholarship, however, there have been few applications of legal theory and practice to Mark Twain’s work and few, if any, full-length and studies of his attitudes toward the law. I hope to use the resources at Quarry Farm to explore the legal and political cultures that informed his life and work, and to study the degree to which his representations of the law reflect his attitudes toward the law and the American legal system and history. I propose to add a postscript of the ways the law continues to shape Mark Twain studies, including the evolution of the copyright law in recent decades, the persistent issues of censorship, and the reception of the legal community to Twain and his works.

Nathaniel Cadle

Nathaniel Cadle is an Associate Professor of English at Florida International University.  He is the author of The Mediating Nation:  Late American Realism, Globalization, and the Progressive State, winner of the 2015 SAMLA Studies Book Award, as well as essays on subjects ranging from the anti-imperial politics of W.E.B. Du Bois to the teaching of American literary realism.  In addition to a 2019 Quarry Farm Fellowship, his current research project is supported by a 2019-20 award from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

My current book project examines an important but largely forgotten literary movement at the turn of the twentieth century known as the Romantic Revival.  The renewed popularity of such old-fashioned, “romantic” genres as historical novels and sensational fiction caught the publishing industry off guard and gave rise to the first bestseller lists, which helped industry insiders keep up with rapid changes in taste.  While the implausible plots and one-dimensional characters of romance seem antithetical to the aesthetics of realism—Henry James doubted that any nineteenth-century author could inhabit the minds of characters who lived centuries earlier, and William Dean Howells dismissed the movement as an exercise in false nostalgia—nearly every major American realist wrote at least one romance, including both James and Howells.  By contextualizing these romances written by realists within the wider Romantic Revival, my project demonstrates a coherence among novels that are often dismissed as outliers in a given author’s body of work.  During my time at Quarry Farm, I will finish my chapter on the historical romances of the 1880s and 1890s, including those by Mark Twain, with particular attention paid to Twain’s seemingly singular Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896).

Lawrence Howe

Larry Howe is president of the Mark Twain Circle of America, Professor of English and Film Studies at Roosevelt University, and editor of Studies in American Humor.  He is the author of Mark Twain and the Novel: The Double-Cross of Authority and co-editor with Harry Wonham of Mark Twain and Money: Language, Capital, and Culture.

“Mark Twain and America’s Ownership Society: Property and Its Discontents” applies strategies of New Economic Criticism to expose ambivalences between Samuel Clemens active embrace of the ideal of property in American culture and Mark Twain’s more jaundiced view of the responsibilities and consequences of ownership. Working through both details of Clemens’s life and of Twain’s writings, the project seeks 1) to advance our understanding of Mark Twain’s insight into the economic basis of American culture; 2)  to correct some long-standing myths about Samuel Clemens as a failed businessman; and 3) to expose the complex rhetorical intersections of literature and economics.

Don James McLaughlin

Don James McLaughlin is an assistant professor of English at The University of Tulsa specializing in 19th-century and early American literature. He earned his Ph.D. in English at the University of Pennsylvania in July 2017. He completed his dissertation “Infectious Affect: The Phobic Imagination in American Literature” under the direction of Heather Love, Max Cavitch, Nancy Bentley, and Chi-ming Yang. The dissertation (now first book project) provides an intellectual history of phobia in American print culture as a medical diagnosis, political metaphor, and aesthetic sensation in the 18th and 19th centuries. In January 2016, an essay from the project was published in The New Republic, titled “The Anti-Slavery Roots of Today’s -PhobiaObsession.” Two additional essays from the project are currently forthcoming in Literature and Medicine and J19: The Journal of 19th-Century Americanists. In 2018, Penn English awarded Don James the Diane Hunter Prize for Best Dissertation submitted during the 2017/18 academic year. In the summer of 2018, Don James was awarded the Hench Post-Dissertation Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society to support completion of his first book. His research has also been supported by a Marguerite Bartlett Hamer Dissertation Fellowship from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and the Penn Humanities Forum.  

During my residence at Quarry Farm, I will be writing a chapter in my first book project, titled Infectious Affect: The Phobic Imagination in American Literature, on Twain’s unfinished manuscript 3,000 Years among the Microbes, written in Dublin, New Hampshire, in 1905. This chapter puts Twain’s manuscript in dialogue with two major shifts in medical thought at the end of the nineteenth century: (1) the rise of microbiology, introducing a new discourse for articulating the relationship of bacteria and viruses to infectious disease, established largely by Louis Pasteur’s successes in vaccination; and (2) the emergence of an international psychiatric discourse revolving around mysophobia, meaning a dread of filth and contamination, which coincided with and drew momentum from the triumph of the germ theory of disease. Written from the perspective of a cholera germ named Huck who has infected a tramp named Blitzowski, 3,000 Years meditates on both discourses, exploring microbiology’s ramifications for human understandings of biology, agency, and subjectivity, while also pursuing a mysophobic aesthetic: a state of readerly repugnance generated by the landscape of infection and bodily functions, which Huck and his microbe friends have made their home.

Lisa McGunigal

Lisa McGunigal is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the English Department at the Pennsylvania State University, where she received her Ph.D. specializing in late nineteenth-century American literature. Her current book project argues that popular entertainments and cultural performances influenced the formation of American realist novels. She has published on the shared performance strategies between Mark Twain and the character of Huck Finn in The Mark Twain Annual and has an article forthcoming this year in American Literary Realism on the place of the literary salon in Henry Adams’s work.

“Considered a satirist, travel writer, and lecturer, Twain was rarely presented as a poet or appreciator of poetry to the public during his life—and still today many people assume an antagonistic relationship between Twain and verse. In fact, Twain penned 120 poems (the bulk being of a humorous nature) and was an avid reader and performer of Robert Browning’s works. Additionally, Twain was clearly familiar with the popular poets of his era as he frequently parodied them within his novels; he also wrote marginalia within poetry collections that he owned. I plan to contribute to the fields of Twain marginalia, Twain as editor, and his relationship with poetry by building an article around his poetry collections within his personal library. Focusing on grammar and writing style, Twain offers a commentary laced with snark. I will connect this approach to other instances of Twain writing between and within the lines of “bad” poetry.” 

Linda Morris

Linda A. Morris is Professor Emeritus, Department of English, University of California, Davis.  Her book-length studies include Women’s Humor in the Age of Gentility:  The Life and Works of Frances Miriam Whitcher, American Women Humorists: Critical Essays (Ed.), and Gender Play in Mark Twain:  Cross-Dressing and Transgression.  She has written a number of essays about Mark Twain, including “What is Personal about Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc?”, “The Sources of Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc” (with Ronald Jenn), “Gender Bending as Childs’ Play,” “Identity Switching in Huckleberry Finn,” “Twice-Told Tales:  Aunt Sally Phelps and the ‘Evasion’ in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “the Eloquent Silence in ‘Hellfire Hotchkiss’”, and an in-press essay on “Mark Twain and Sexuality,” for Mark Twain in Context.” Her essays on American women’s humor include “Good Food, Great Friends, Cold Beer:  The Domestic Humor of Mary Lasswell,”  “Domestic Manners of the Americans:  A Transatlantic Phenomenon,” and most recently “Roz Chast:  From Whimsy to Transgression.”  She was the recipient of “The Charlie Award” by the American Humor Studies Association, and “The Olivia Langdon Clemens Award” by the Mark Twain Circle of America. 

My project is to write a comprehensive, I hope definitive, essay about Susy Clemens.  While much has been written about Susy in passing, there has been no in-depth analysis of her life.  We know that Susy occupied a unique place in the Clemens family, both as a living, eldest daughter, and in the aftermath of her unexpected death, but I want to focus as well on Susy herself.  In assessing the impact of her death on her parents and sisters, I want to distinguish more fully those effects on her mother, Livy, and her father, effects that I believe have been conflated.

Germaine to this study will be the many stories about her as a precocious child, but also her bid for greater independence as a young woman.  Not incidentally, Quarry Farm plays a special role throughout.  I will examine her own writing, her biography of her father, “Papa,” her dramatic writing and acting, and her relationship with fellow Bryn Mawr student Louise Brownell. 

Walter Ritchie

Walter G. Ritchie, Jr. is an independent decorative arts scholar and architectural historian specializing in nineteenth-century American domestic architecture, interiors, and furniture.  He has written, lectured, and taught courses on a variety of decorative arts subjects, in addition to organizing decorative arts exhibitions for museums and researching and developing furnishings plans for the restoration of period rooms in historic house museums.  Prior to becoming an independent consultant, Mr. Ritchie held the position of director of furniture and decorative arts at several auction houses.  He also served as executive director and curator of a number of historic house museums. After earning a bachelor’s degree in the history of art and architecture from Carnegie-Mellon University, he pursued graduate studies in the history of decorative arts at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum/Parson’s School of Design Master’s Program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design.  Mr. Ritchie is currently researching and writing a book on the history, furniture, and interior decoration of Pottier & Stymus, one of the leading cabinetmaking and decorating firms in New York City during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Mark Twain included in his novel Life on the Mississippi a chapter titled “The House Beautiful,” in which he described in almost excruciating detail the furnishings and decorations typically found in the parlors of upper-class homes in the South.  While the image he conjured was accurate, his tone was disparaging and his use of the title, ironic.  The type of interior detailed by Twain was woefully out of fashion when he wrote his memoir about his personal experiences as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River.  The title he sardonically chose for the chapter was no doubt adopted from a highly popular book that discussed the period’s most advanced theories regarding household furniture and interior decoration, The House Beautiful (1878), which advocated design principles that, if followed closely, would result in tasteful and aesthetically pleasing rooms characterized by simplicity, balance, and harmony.  By the time Twain published Life on the Mississippi in 1883, he was already intimately acquainted with the ideas associated with what came to be known as the “Household Art Movement,” allowing the tenets of design reform to guide the decoration and furnishing of his own home in Hartford, Connecticut.

Preliminary research into the maturation of Samuel and Oliva Clemens as “aesthetes” who followed the dictates of the Household Art Movement was inspired by my investigation and analysis of the surviving late-nineteenth-century furnishings and interior decoration at Quarry Farm in the summer of 2017.  A close examination of the Quarry Farm interiors brought to light many parallels with the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut.  Similar types and styles of furniture and interior architectural decoration, while simpler and less expensive than those in the Mark Twain House, are found in the rooms of Quarry Farm, indicating that there was most likely an exchange of ideas between the Clemenses and Susan and Theodore Crane about how to tastefully and artistically decorate and furnish the home.

The purpose of my project is to explore in greater depth how Samuel and Olivia Clemens familiarized themselves with the reform principles of the Household Art Movement.  As part of my research, I shall attempt to identify the published material—including periodicals, trade journals, and home decorating advice books—as well as the designers, purveyors of household furnishings, and actual domestic interiors that influenced the Clemenses’ development from mid-Victorian householders with commonplace tastes to sophisticated cosmopolites who adroitly created an aesthetically advanced home that reflected the most fashionable theories of the day. Consideration will also be given to the similarities between the interiors of Quarry Farm, as they appeared in the late nineteenth century, and those of Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, and how ideas regarding the creation of “artistic” interiors were exchanged between the Clemenses and the Cranes.

Todd Thompson

Todd Nathan Thompson is Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he also serves as Assistant Chair of the English Department. He is also Treasurer-Secretary of the American Humor Studies Association. Todd is author of The National Joker: Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Satire (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). His 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, Teaching American Literature, and elsewhere. He currently is at work on a book project entitled Savage Laughter: Nineteenth-Century American Humor and the Pacific, 1840-1880.

Mark Twain cuts a large and persistent figure throughout Savage Laughter. First, I will analyze Twain’s jokes about cannibalism in Chapter 3, “‘Cheering for Ye, Cannibal’: The Politics of Boiled Missionaries,” which will feature cultural close readings of “cannibal and boiled missionary” jokes (and, sometimes, accompanying cartoons) that were ubiquitous throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. My analysis will demonstrate how such jokes express, and attempt to laugh away, anxieties about Pacific Islanders’ otherness, thus reinforcing stereotypes and reproducing the unease of contact. In making (and mocking) blanket accusations of cannibalism, the jokes juxtapose for comic effect Pacific Islander and Western epistemologies, as represented through alleged cannibalism and western travelers’ genteel (or similarly savage) reactions to it. But these jokes also allow their tellers and auditors to pithily, and without much risk, question cultural imperialism by comically celebrating the demise of missionaries. That is, there are two butts to every cannibal and missionary joke: the cannibal, whom we laugh at in disgust and terror at an inhumane act, and the missionary, who gets his comeuppance for cultural and religious imposition.

I will examine other elements of Twain’s travel writing in Chapter 4, “Pacific in Repose: Genial Travel Writing and the Lure of the Polynesia,” which focuses on the centrality of comic geniality to Americans’ visions of the Pacific and its inhabitants. This chapter explores how popular, humorous, travel writing about the Pacific by Herman Melville and his literary inheritors—including Twain, Edward T. Perkins, Conflagration Jones, and others—shaped a persistently jovial and inviting image of the Pacific Islands through their easygoing humor. Certainly all these humorists set out to puncture their readers’ preconceptions as much as they add to them; but even so, as their genial style lent to their depictions of the Marquesas, Tahiti, and Hawaii an alluring sense of comic repose that augmented earlier and more poetic depictions of the South Seas as an Eden. At the same time, I will argue, the good-natured self-searching of their authorial voices led them to challenge imperialist and missionary assumptions about “civilized” superiority over “savage” innocence. I will investigate the comic strategies these humorists deploy in their travel writings—particularly self-effacement, satiric levelling, comic foils, physical comedy, and sarcastic irony—to show how they leveraged the ambivalence of social humor to stoke Americans’ interest in Pacific Islands while (at times) defending Pacific Islanders from “other”-ing stereotypes that were intimately tied to Americans’ imperialist urges.

I will also treat Twain somewhat more briefly in Chapter 5, “‘Didn’t our people laugh?’: Humor as Resistance,” in which I consider Twain’s account of half-Hawaiian Bill Ragsdale’s subversive translations, and in Chapter 6, “Collecting the Pacific,” in which I perform a reading of Twain’s character Brown’s ruinous appetite for collecting specimens from the Hawaiian Islands. In addition to studying the travel writing of canonical figures like Twain and Melville, Savage Laughter investigates how and why American humor—most notably Southwestern almanac humor, Yankee humor, sea yarns, joke books, newspapers and periodicals, burlesque museum exhibits, and blackface minstrelsy—appropriated (imagined) South Seas geography and culture into its comic myth-making. It also seeks to analyze humorous moments in literary, missionary, and travel writing to detail the subversive power of Pacific Islanders’ comic resistance to imperialism.

Sunny Yang

Sunny Yang is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Houston, where she specializes in American and multiethnic American literature of the long nineteenth century. After receiving her PhD in English with a certificate in Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, she was a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and an Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University. She is currently completing her first book manuscript, Fictions of Territoriality, with the support of fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Association of University Women.

Fictions of Territoriality examines how U.S. national boundaries and racial hierarchies were consolidated and contested from 1844 to 1914. Analyzing legal and cultural documents from four sites of study (extraterritorial cities in China, the Panama Canal Zone, the Mexican Cession, and Indian Territory), the book uncovers the competing narratives about race and geography that structured both U.S. imperial governance and the alternatives proposed by anti-imperialists and writers of color. At Quarry Farm, Sunny will revise the first chapter of this manuscript, which centers on Ah Sin (1876),a convoluted frontier melodrama that Twain co-authored with Bret Harte. Though widely dismissed as a literary and financial failure (and even blamed for the demise of the authors’ friendship), the play has generated some critical attention because of the central role played by its titular Chinese character. While this scholarship has importantly situated the melodrama in contemporaneous American debates on race, it has interpreted Ah Sin through an exclusively domestic lens that foregrounds its critique of U.S. attitudes and policies towards Chinese immigrants. By examining Ah Sin alongside Twain’s commentary on Sino-American foreign relations (and specifically, the policy of extraterritoriality), my chapter reveals the transpacific concerns that animate the play and offer new insights into Twain’s complex anti-imperialism at this moment in his career.

Melissa Scholes Young

Melissa Scholes Young is the author of the novel Flood, winner of the Literary Fiction Category for the 2017 Best Book Award. Her writing has appeared in the AtlanticWashington PostHuffington PostNarrativePloughsharesPoet Lore, and Poets & Writers. She’s a Contributing Editor for Fiction Writers Review and Editor of Grace in Darkness: D.C. Women Writers. She’s an Associate Professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.

Since Flood’s publication, I’ve been researching and writing on the topic of “Reimagining Becky Thatcher.” Often girls who grow up in  Mark Twain’s boyhood home, as did I, aspire to the portrait of Becky Thatcher in our town’s annual pageant, even when it doesn’t fit. In my debut novel, set in Hannibal, Missouri during and after the 500-year flood of 1993, I reimagine Becky Thatcher through a female friendship more akin to Tom and Huck’s famous mischief. Flood’s protagonist, Laura Brooks returns home to wrestle with the story she’s been telling herself in contrast to her family’s expectations. Her high school sweetheart, Sammy McGuire, is narrated through Laura’s limited point of view. Some readers have wished my characters would behave themselves better as they are often more comfortable with the ‘boys will be boys’ story Clemens celebrated in America’s Hometown. 

In 1895, Samuel Clemens wrote in his notebook: 

We easily perceive that the people furtherest from civilization are the ones where equality between man and woman are furtherest apart—and we consider this one of the signs of savagery. But we are so stupid that we can’t see that we thus plainly admit that no civilization can be perfect until exact equality between man and woman is included.

Are Clemens’ beliefs in equality reflected in his fictional portrayals of females? Especially lacking is Becky Thatcher, who was based on his first sweetheart and lifelong friend, Laura Hawkins. Becky is statically portrayed through Tom Sawyer’s adoring eyes. She flips her blond braids and alternates as flirt and damsel in distress. The redeeming quality that intoxicates a young Tom is Becky’s looks. Becky is stuck undeveloped on the page in a cameo starring Clemens’ youthful assessment of a permissive culture for boys and a strict society for girls. 

Of course the context of Clemens’ drafting of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, almost twenty years before he penned his declaration of equality in his notebook, matters too. It is a nostalgic examination of his own childhood. His daughters were toddlers when he wrote it, and he was more interested in entertaining them with tame stories than in considering their futures as females in world that might not receive their talents with an equal appreciation. Clemens had work to do and his future characters, such as Eve, Joan of Arc, and Roxy, demonstrate his development. 

Clemens imagined a civilization where men and women are equal and my hope as a creative writer is that modern literature can create narratives that consider where we’ve been and what we hope to be through complicated characters that reflect our true potential and challenge readers to imagine a more just world, even as we live and write in a flawed one. My time in residence at Quarry Farm will allow more research into Becky’s portrayal in comparison to other contemporary characters in literature and to consider how this influence is reflected in my next novel. 

Mark Twain, Mary Baker Eddy, and the News

Produced by The Mary Baker Eddy Library, the Seekers and Scholars podcast explores the relevance of Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910) to contemporary scholarship in a variety of disciplines and fields.  Guests have frequently conducted research in the Library’s collections, which have contributed to publications with notable academic presses.

Mary Baker Eddy (1886) from the Mary Baker Eddy Library

Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) was an influential American author, teacher, and religious leader, noted for her groundbreaking ideas about spirituality and health, which she named Christian Science. She articulated those ideas in her major work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, first published in 1875. Four years later she founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, which today has branch churches and societies around the world. In 1908 she launched The Christian Science Monitor, a leading international newspaper, the recipient, to date, of seven Pulitzer Prizes.

Dr. L. Ashley Squires, guest speaker for the podcast episode “Mark Twain, Mary Baker Eddy, and the news,” has had two fellowships at the Library. Her archival research provided important information and insights for her book Healing the Nation: Literature, Progress, and Christian Science (Indiana University Press, 2017).  Squires’s thesis seeks to fill what she perceives is a void in understanding Eddy and the impact Christian Science has had on literature and the media in the Progressive Era.   

In this episode Squires explores Twain’s views on Eddy and Christian Science, discussing how we can better discern them.  Twain is a key figure for Squires—a major literary and cultural force whose fixation with Eddy stands out. She notes that, while his critique of Eddy “is still the best known and most frequently studied . . . it is not particularly well understood” (Healing the Nation, 3).

The Library provides public access to original materials and educational experiences about Mary Baker Eddy; the ideas she advanced; her writings; and the institutions she founded and their healing mission.

The podcast can be found by clicking here.

Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes will perform “Mark Twain’s Music Box”

By 1878 Sam Clemens had accomplished substantial wealth and fame and was living comfortably with his wife Livy and their family near Hartford, Connecticut.  Yet something important was missing.  A wide gap persisted between his personal cultural development and that of his upscale neighbors and social circles in the Hartford area. 

Sam and Livy resolved to fix this gap by extended travel and cultural study in Western Europe.  Beginning in 1878 they set out to tour seven countries in Western Europe.  Given the prevailing stylistic differences between European and American music at the time, confrontation of these differences was inevitable.  Following a symphonic musical performance in Baden Baden, Germany by the Baden Baden Philharmonie, Sam wrote his compelling and introspective analysis of music, defining the place of music in human society.  Although he showed an interest in music and made passing reference to his musical preferences on prior occasions, this time he faced music head-on with a clear and compelling message.  It was a time of an obvious inflection point in his cultural development regarding music.   

In the musical production Mark Twain’s Music Box, the important role of a music box is woven into the story of Sam Clemens’ relationship to music.  The mysteries surrounding the music box extend to this day.  Perhaps our audience can play some role in finally resolving these 140 year old conundrums.  Join the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes Chamber Ensemble, consisting of what Twain would call ten “high grade” musicians, as they deliver the intriguing story of the music box and Mark Twain’s relationship to music. 

We wish to thank the following organizations and individuals for their important contributions and collaborations in the development and presentation of Mark Twain’s Music Box:

  • The Park Church
  • Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies
  • Dr. Barbara Snedecor, former Director of CMTS
  • Dr. Joseph Lemak, current Director of CMTS
  • The Baden Baden Philharmonie, Baden Baden, Germany
  • Herr Arndt Joosten, Orchestermanager
  • Kiril Nikolow, Principle Cello
  • Dr. Kerry Driscoll, University of St. Joseph, Hartford, Connecticut

Concert details:

The Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes is proud to announce its third Musicians’ Choice Chamber Series concert of the 2018-19 season.  This concert, titled Mark Twain’s Music Box, will be held in the majestic sanctuary of the historic Park Church in Elmira on Friday, February 8 at 7:30 PM.  All ages are welcome.

Mark Twain’s Music Box explores Sam Clemens’ (Mark Twain’s) fascinating personal relationship with music.  The production is filled with live music, drama, mystery, and the comedy befitting the title character.  Mark Twain’s Music Box is a one of a kind concert that uses fine music to teach about important history, while using important history to teach about fine music. 

25% Off Group Discount for 10 or more, group rates available by phone or in person.

Mark Twain Day By Day Database Now Live!

You may have noticed that things look a little different around here. We are kicking off 2019 with a redesign by Paul Stonier. In addition to our fresh look, the relaunched site has a wider range of functionalities, which will make it possible for us to undertake exciting new projects and introduce valuable new resources in the coming years.

MARK TWAIN DAY BY DAY by David Fears, print volumes

First among these is the digital edition of David Fears’s Mark Twain Day By Day. This exhaustive chronology of the life of Samuel Clemens was originally published in four enormous print volumes between 2008 and 2014. It has since become and invaluable reference for scholars who have the good fortune of having access to it, but the size and expense of the books have kept it primarily confined to university libraries and a few private collections. 

That is, until now. 

Independent Twain scholars, teachers, students, hobbyists, and all variety of Twainiac can now access a fully-searchable online edition of Mark Twain Day By Day for free from anywhere with an internet connection.

CMTS is incredibly grateful to Mr. Fears for entrusting us with the fruit of his extraordinary labors, and also to the late Dr. Thomas A. Tenney, Dr. Barbara Snedecor, Leslie Myrick, Dr. Susan K. Harris, and Nathanial Ball, all of whom donated time and labor essential to getting this project online.

Check it out!

Documentary About Mark Twain & Joan of Arc Wins Top Prize at Paris Film Festival

Mark Twain et Jeanne d’Arc: L’hisoire d’une passion, a French-language short documentary about Twain’s lifelong interest in the iconic heroine, Joan of Arc, was recently awarded the top prize in the documentary category at the Anstia Film Festival in Paris.

The film, written by recent Quarry Farm Fellow, Ronald Jenn, and directed by Patrice Thery, uses pictures and documents from French and American archives, including our own, to familiarize its audience with the author, the subject of his passionate interest, and, finally, the novel, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, which he published in 1896.

The film made its US debut in August of 2017 here in Elmira, as part of our 8th Quadrennial Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies. It prominently features Elmira College alumna, Olivia Clemens, and discusses the importance of Elmira and Quarry Farm in Twain’s life.

Jenn, who is also a professor at Universite Lille, reports,

“The jury, comprised of an iconic anchorwoman from France 3, a state-owned TV channel, a journalist from the same channel and two photographers/film-makers said that the movie stood out as exceptionally well-written, especially intriguing as to its topics and very well-made thanks to the wealth of quality images provided by the Mark Twain Project. They underlined the way research was made accessible to a large audience and the obvious international scholarly collaboration the film was the fruit of.”

We are so proud to have played our small part in that collaboration and offer a hearty congratulations to Professor Jenn and the other filmmakers. We thank them for promoting this under-appreciated piece of Twain’s legacy. We hope you will take a few moments to watch the film (with English subtitles) embedded below.

New Documentary focuses on Twain’s Time in Buffalo

For over three decades I poked around in the area of Twain’s connection to my hometown, Buffalo, NY.

Mark Twain’s home in Buffalo (472 Delaware Avenue) as pictured in 1947. The home was demolished in 1963.

I spent countless hours in the Grosvenor Room of the Central Library in downtown Buffalo flipping through pages of the over one hundred volumes of the Local History and Local Biographies scrapbooks, taking notes from pasted newspaper clippings that contained relevant information. I read and cross-referenced entries in Buffalo City Directories of the late 1860s and 1870s searching for names and addresses of Twain’s Buffalo Express colleagues, his fellow renters in a boarding house on East Swan Street while he was still a bachelor, various friends and associates that he socialized with, and neighbors in the posh Delaware District community that he moved into once he married Olivia Langdon. A kind and trusting Buffalo History Museum research librarian once even let me borrow an 1869 Buffalo City Directory that had belonged to Millard Fillmore for a weekend so I could study it at home.

I also logged hour after hour hunched over at cumbersome, hand-cranked, dimly-lit microfilm reader machines at public libraries in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Elmira, at the former Buffalo Courier-Express library, at the Niagara Gazette library, at the Elmira College archives, and at SUNY Buffalo State’s E.H. Butler Library, scrutinizing each issue of the Buffalo Express, the Buffalo Daily Courier and the Buffalo Commercial-Advertiser from 1869 to 1871 for any references to items related to Twain and the Buffalo he resided in, worked at and wrote about.

Finally, I spent much of those thirty-plus years exploring leads gleaned from obituaries, tips from human sources and hunches that led me to identify and contact living descendants of Twain’s Buffalo professional and social circle who generously shared nuggets of family lore about their forbearer’s association with Twain. I was extremely fortunate to have mentors, too, like Vic Doyno, Bill Loos, Charles Brady, and Martin Fried, and countless other librarians, scholars, friends and family members, to nudge me in the right direction. The research was never tedious or boring. Rather, the detective work was gratifying, often exhilarating. Along the way, I published bits of my findings in academic journals, magazines and newspapers, delivered presentations at Twain conferences and gave illustrated lectures to many service organizations.

Next, I embarked on a book-length project intended to comprehensively document Twain’s affiliation with Buffalo. The result was the publication of Scribblin’ for a Livin’—Mark Twain’s Pivotal Period in Buffalo in 2013. In the four years after its release I participated in over sixty book talks and signings. Occasionally, I met people who provided new insights into Twain’s relationship with Buffalo, and on my own I continued to make startling discoveries. Frankly, I was surprised to be stumbling across heretofore unknown facts in the aftermath of what I had hoped would become the “seminal” book about Twain’s Buffalo experience.

I decided that I wanted to add these new revelations and discoveries in a second, revised version of the book. Unfortunately, after the initial print run of 1,500 copies was fully distributed and sold, the original publisher insisted on only filling subsequent orders “on demand.” These print-on-demand (POD) products were inferior—smaller than the original book, with virtually photocopied pages, and with a lower quality cover–in short, an embarrassing-looking book. Furthermore, when I inquired, the publisher was not at all interested in sponsoring a revised edition with new, additional insights into Twain and Buffalo.

So, in January of 2018 I hired an attorney to pursue termination of my contract. Within a few weeks a legal agreement was struck terminating the contract and reverting all rights for the book to me. By springtime, I had lined up a new publisher, NFB Publishing, and by the end of June, a new, expanded version of Scribblin’ for a Livin’, with thirty additional pages of text, a couple of new images, an improved index, and a colorful new cover design, was available.

Around that time I had noticed on NFB Publishing’s website that one of their book titles—a biography of hall of fame 1920s-30s boxer Jimmy Slattery—was accompanied by an entertaining 10-minute documentary about Slattery; the film was meant to tie-in to the new Slattery biography. When I asked if something similar could be done in conjunction with my expanded edition of Scribblin’, the publisher, Mark Pogodzinski, put me in touch with videographer Kevin Heffernan of Rise Collaborative. I invited Amy Pickard, curator of Rare Books for the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library and supervisor of their Mark Twain Room, and Bob Butler, an Emeritus Professor of English at Canisius College, to be interviewed for their thoughts on Twain’s life and times in Buffalo, and I sought permission ffrom various sources to include still images. Kevin Heffernan filmed the interviews with Bob, Amy, and I in late September and early October of 2018 at Canisius and at the Central Library.

In late November, the 10-minute documentary went public, including a sparkling narration by Holly Kirkpatrick, and extra video “bonus commentaries” by Amy and me. The film covers Twain’s Buffalo period and helps to promote the expanded edition of my book. To my knowledge, it represents the first extended documentary ever produced that focuses on Twain in Buffalo.

COMMENTARY: Scribblin’ For a Livin’ – Mark Twain’s Pivotal Period In Buffalo

BONUS COMMENTARY: Mark Twain Used his Bully Pulpit to both Help his Family, Denounce Racism

BONUS COMMENTARY: Buffalo and Erie County Public Library’s Manuscript of Huckleberry Finn

Thanksgiving Steeple-Jumping: The Sesquicentennial of Mark Twain’s “Conditional” Engagement

On Thanksgiving Day, 1868, Olivia Langdon “yielded a conditional consent” to Sam Clemens’s third proposal of marriage. They had know each other for less than a year, having been introduced on the occasion of a Charles Dickens reading in New York City the previous New Year’s Eve. Sam had made himself a fixture in Elmira during the Summer and Fall of 1868, going out of his way to visit the Langdons whenever there was an interruption in his American Vandal lecture tour.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, following a sold-out show in Cleveland, Mark Twain scheduled a pro bono performance at the Elmira Opera House, donating the proceeds to a local fire department, and creating a convenient excuse for Livy to see him perform and for Sam to again impose upon her family for the holiday. Clemens told his friend Mary Fairbanks that, though Livy had been slowly falling for him during the preceding weeks, as he bombarded her with love letters, “the lecture Monday night brought the disease to the surface.”

He redoubled his efforts during Thanksgiving week, so frequently seeking time alone with her that her father made a joke of having the drawing-room measured while they were in it, to see if it was big enough to accommodate three people.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Elmira

The day before Sam was required to travel to his next booking, Livy “yielded,” sending the famously mercurial Clemens into fits of manic delight. In reporting their engagement to a few of his closest friends, he repeatedly joked, “If there were a church in town with a steeple high enough to make it an object, I would go out and jump over it!” (For those familiar with Elmira, a town with numerous steeples, this hyperbole was even richer.)

Writing to Livy after his lecture two days later, he said, “Never was a lecture so full of parentheses before. It was Livy, Livy, Livy, Livy, all the way through! It was one sentence of Vandal to ten sentences about you. The insignificant lecture was hidden, lost, overwhelmed, and buried under a boundless universe of Livy!”

But while Sam was driven to distraction by his eagerness to exclaim his love, the marriage was still far from assured. Its “conditions” being foremost the approval of Livy’s parents, Jervis and Olivia Lewis Langdon. Sam had announced his intentions on Thanksgiving, but they were not immediately agreed to. The Langdons were hesitant, perhaps understandably, to give their daughter away to a self-described vandal, cannibal, and wild man. The Elmira lecture, on this front, may not have worked to his advantage.

The Langdons asked Mr. Clemens to supply references (many of which, infamously, failed to testify on his behalf) and to demonstrate to their satisfaction that he was “a good, steady, reliable character” and “a Christian.” Sam consented to all these terms and, eager to please, volunteered to also quit drinking and only “seek the society of the good,” neither of which were asked of him and neither of which he followed through on, even temporarily.

When Livy’s mother wrote to Mary Fairbanks herself a few days later, asking for advice regarding Mr. Clemens, she admitted to being strongly prejudiced against him. “At first our parental hearts said no,” she wrote, “to the bare thought of such a stranger, mining in our hearts for the possession of one of the few jewels we have.” And the way she frames her request to Mrs. Fairbanks betrays the nature of her concern:

Olivia Lewis Langdon

“What I desire is your opinion of him as a man; what the kind of man he has been, and what the man he now is, or is to become. I have learned…that a great change has taken place in Mr. Clemens, that he seemed to have entered upon a new manner of life, with higher and better purposes actuating his conduct. The question…is – from what standard of conduct – from what habitual life, did this change, or improvement, or reformation commence? Does this change, so desirably commenced make of an immoral man a moral one, as the world looks at men? – or -does this change make of one, who has been entirely a man of the world, different in this regard, than he resolutely aims to enter upon a new, because a Christian life?”

I would be very hesitant to characterize the Langdons as prudish or risk adverse. To their credit, they would come to accept Sam’s proposal, after several months, and, despite his lack of character references, treated themselves as sympathetic witnesses to his mature temperament.

But the question that troubled them, the day after Thanksgiving, 1868, was whether a man who had not only made a habit, over his nearly 33 years, of committing vandalism, profanity, and heresy, but had recently risen, via his ironic promotion of such habits, to the status of “a somewhat celebrated personage,” had any incentive to change. If being the immoral Mark Twain had served him so well, why should anybody trust the sincerity of Sam Clemens’s pledges to be moral?

In the coming months, Sam would grow restless waiting for the Langdons to give their blessing. He would become defensive, presuming that the well-to-do family was shunning him for his humble origins and uncertain prospects. Writing directly to Livy’s mother the following February, he defiantly proclaimed, “I have paddled my own canoe since I was thirteen, wholly without encouragement or assistance from any one, and am fully competent to so paddle it the rest of the voyage, and take a passenger along, beside…we can make the canoe go, and we shall not care a straw for the world’s opinion about it if the world chooses to think otherwise.”

But what Olivia Lewis’s letter to Mary Fairbanks reveals is that the Langdons were not the least bit concerned about their daughter’s financial security. To the contrary, they seemed to take his increasing fame and fortune as a given, worrying rather that the wealth itself might be damaging to his character, reinforcing habits and values of a lower order by proving them profitable.

The Apocryphal Twain: “Politicians are like diapers.”

There is perhaps no greater testament to Twain’s lasting reputation than the habitual misattribution of miscellaneous wit and wisdom to his name. The circulation of such apocryphal aphorisms was common enough in the 20th century. It has only increased with the popularization of digital media. The most common question addressed to the Center for Mark Twain Studies is some variety of “Did he really say that?” Whenever possible, we track down the original source, as well as attempt to trace how their words came to be imagined in Twain’s mouth.

Mark Twain did not hold politicians in high esteem. He was particularly spiteful towards the legislative branch in novels like The Gilded Age (1873) and short stories like “Cannibalism in the Cars” (1868). “There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress,” he wrote in Puddn’head Wilson (1894). In “What is Man?” (1906) he speculated that “Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can.” Given the viciousness of his real attacks on elected officials, spanning across his whole career, it is probably no surprise that the corpus of Twain apocrypha includes many pot-shots at politicians.

On the eve of what is anticipated to be one of the highest-turnout midterm elections in US history, one such aphorism is proving particularly popular:

While he might have appreciated the sentiment, it is pretty easy to determine that this is not something Twain actually said. Not only does the quote fail to appear in his published works, nor in his many accessible private writings, I can’t even find an instance of Twain using the term diaper, except in a joke about the “Royal Diaperer” in The Prince & The Pauper (1891). That he would only invoke the term in a novel which is, in part, a send-up of British aristocracy, is telling. The word diaper was not part of the common parlance of America during most of Twain’s life. As the following Google ngram shows, diaper did not supplant the nappy (or napkin) in American vocabulary until late in the 19th century, and did not achieve anything rivaling its widespread contemporary usage until the second half of the 20th.

Rather than Twain, the man most responsible for the popularity the aphorism now enjoys in probably Robin Williams. In the film Man of the Year (2006), Williams’s character utters the lines, “Remember this ladies and gentleman: It’s an old phrase, basically anonymous, politicians are a lot like diapers, they should be changed frequently, and for the same reasons. Keep that in mind the next time you vote.”

This speech not only appears near the climax of the film, but also figured prominently in the publicity campaign surrounding the film’s release in the Fall of 2006. Predictably, the quote started appearing regularly on social media soon thereafter. However, I can find no instance of its being attributed to Twain until two years later, first in a series of tweets by Dr. Larisa Varenkova. It was retweeted several times, then bounced around social media in relative obscurity until, in September of that year, Mike Hanes, a motivational speaker with tens of thousands of followers, took it upon himself to start tweeting it multiple times every day from two separate accounts. This continued for several months, and probably marks the point after which the misattribution to Twain became widely accepted.

But who is actually responsible for this nugget of bawdy political wit?

It seems likely that Barry Levinson, the screenwriter for Man of the Year, got it from Paul Harvey. Williams’s character is populist political commentator with folksy charm, which is also an accurate description of Harvey, whose syndicated “The Rest of the Story” was a staple of ABC Radio for more than half a century. Obituaries for Harvey in the New York Times and Forbes following his death in 2009 give him credit for a very similar aphorism targeting “occupants of the White House” and it also appears in newspaper accounts of his public appearances from the 1990s.

But Harvey himself, in a syndicated editorial from June 1994, credits the exact quote – “Politicians, like diapers, should be changed often. And for the same reasons.” – to Tom Blair, a longtime columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Harvey likely got this attribution from a 1993 issue of Reader’s Digest in which the aphorism was excerpted with Blair’s byline.

But, when one tracks down the article which Reader’s Digest quoted from, one discovers that Blair himself was quoting a local candidate on the Libertarian ticket. John Wallner used the line repeatedly during his unsuccessful bid for a congressional seat in 1992, and thus it found its way into several major papers, including the Los Angeles Times, which dubbed it “the best line in a losing cause.”

One can’t help wondering whether Wallner would’ve still endorsed this catchphrase had he won.

Be kind to each other this Election Day…if not to your Congressmen.