Spring 2018 ‘Trouble Begins’ Lectures
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
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
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
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.
“’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.
Recent Past Lectures
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.
To listen to the lecture, click here.
Wednesday, November 1 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.
“Collecting Mark Twain: Obsessions over the Great Authors and The Hemingway Files”
Hal K. Bush, St. Louis University
Obsession is frequently an overlooked focus of major literary works. In novels like Moby-Dick, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Possession, The Aspern Papers, The 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 my 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 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 we get drawn into such compulsive relations with these long dead writers and other celebrities: including my own lengthy journey into the heart of Mark Twain studies, and into the composition of my novel, The Hemingway Files.
Harold K. Bush is professor of English at Saint Louis University and 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!
To listen to the lecture, click here.
Wednesday, October 18 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.
“Mark Twain and the Narrative Magic of Medieval Literary Spunk-Water Stumps” Liam Purdon, Doane University
While much instructive scholarship has been published treating Mark Twain’s interest in and use of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur as predecessor text for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, his interest in and use of works from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as potential predecessor texts for The Prince and the Pauper and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc constitute a dimension of his medievalism that invites further inquiry. We know he read Chaucer carefully since one of his Christmas presents to Livy in 1874, Thomas Tyrwhitt’s most recent edition of Chaucer’s poetical works, bears the impress of his imagination in thoughtful as well as humorous penciled marginalia in the Squire’s Tale, the Wife of Bath’s Prologue, and the Friar’s Tale. We also know the narrative structuring device of the Canterbury Tales’s pilgrimage itself caught his attention given its incorporation in A Connecticut Yankee in chapter 21 when Hank Morgan and Sandy join a “company of pilgrims” who tell tales “that would have embarrassed ‘the best English society twelve centuries later.’” However, understanding how the Squire’s Tale’s emphasis upon the relationship between effective translation and character may offer a narrative structuring device for the Prince and the Pauper, as well as understanding how the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale’s emphasis upon manipulation of differing world-conceptions may offer a narrative structuring device for Joan of Arc, provides an instructive perspective on narrative construction worthy of consideration since it sheds light on the imaginatively effective ways in which Chaucerian predecessor texts appear to help Twain align his later literary works and vision with great works identified as foundational to the establishment of English literary and cultural tradition.
Liam Purdon is Professor of English at Doane University. His field of specialization, medieval British literature, has enabled him over the years to publish and make presentations on a number of well-known works by Chaucer, the Pearl-Poet, and other medieval authors. Interest in the Wakefield Master’s “play doctoring,” a course of study encouraged by late-twentieth-century examinations of material culture in plays of the York and Chester Cycles, led in 2003 to publication of new “readings” of the Master’s play revisions in light of the late-medieval emphasis upon the morality of technology. Continuing interest in 19th and 20th century American authors in general and Mark Twain in particular has led to interest in examining Twain’s creative medievalism, as well as the relationship between contemporary American author Tom Robbins and Twain.
To listen to the lecture, click here.
Wednesday, October 11 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.
“Mark Twain and the Inventor Fiction Boom: Technology Meets American Conceit, 1876-1910”
Nathaniel Williams, 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.
Nathaniel 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 Literature, Utopian 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.
To listen to the lecture, click here.
Wednesday, October 4th in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus
“‘That heart-breaking bitch’: Aileen Mavourneen & the Transatlantic Anti-Vivisection Movement”
Emily E. VanDette, State University of New York at Fredonia
The title of this talk comes from a letter in which William Dean Howells congratulates Clemens on his 1903 anti-vivisection novella, A Dog’s Tale. Mother dog Aileen Mavourneen’s first-person account of a brutal experiment that killed her puppy is indeed heartbreaking, and it gave much-needed support to the movement against animal experimentation. In depicting animal subjectivity and challenging widely accepted social hierarchies, A Dog’s Tale, like so many of Twain’s literary interventions against the norms of his day, was ahead of its time. But also, Twain’s stance about vivisection and the status of animals in society was a part of a larger conversation that was taking place at the time on both sides of the Atlantic. This paper will situate Twain’s stance in the context of the vivisection controversy, including some leading voices who directly networked with the famous author to solicit his support for the cause, and it will connect Twain’s prescient portrayal of animal voice and identity to modern-day animal rights activism and post-humanist philosophy.
Emily E. VanDette is Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where she teaches courses in 19th-century American literature and women’s writing. As a Quarry Farm Fellow in July 2017, she conducted research for a scholarly monograph about the literature of the early animal welfare movement in the U.S., which includes a chapter devoted to Twain’s anti-vivisection writing and network. She is also currently working on a critical edition of the 1904 anti-vivisection novel Trixy by Twain’s contemporary and celebrated American author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.
To listen to the lecture, click here.
Thursday, July 13th at the Chemung Valley History Museum
“Mark Twain and Rod Serling: Moralists in Disguise” Mark Dawidziak, Independent Scholar
This lecture explores the many intriguing personal and professional parallels between Twain and Rod Serling, two authors with profound connections to upstate New York. Both writers would retreat to upstate New York each summer with their families – Twain to Quarry Farm in Elmira, Serling to a cabin on Cayuga Lake – but that’s just one of the many fascinating points of comparison linking these two iconic American writers.
Mark Dawidziak is a television critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, as well as an acclaimed author, playwright, director, and actor who often portrays Twain in performances. A recognized Twain scholar, he has edited several books on the author, including Mark My Words: Mark Twain on Writing (1996), Horton Foote’s The Shape of the River: The Lost Teleplay About Mark Twain (2003), Mark Twain in Ohio(2015), Mark Twain’s Guide to Diet, Exercise, Beauty, Fashion, Investment, Romance, Health and Happiness (2015), and Mark Twain for Cat Lovers: True and Imaginary Adventures with Feline Friends (2016).
To listen to the lecture, click here.
The “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 [email protected]
The “Trouble Begins” Lecture Series is also made possible by the support of the Mark Twain Foundation and the Friends of the Center.
ABOUT THE “TROUBLE BEGINS” SERIES
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.
Quarry Farm Barn
The barn at Quarry Farm has been repurposed and modified as lecture venue.
Directions to Quarry Farm for local attendees:
From Elmira College, head east on Washington across the Clemens Center Parkway to Sullivan Street. Turn right on Sullivan. Turn left on East Avenue. Turn left on Crane Road. Quarry Farm will appear on your left. Please park on the grassy area behind the Barn. Quarry Farm is a fragile, natural environment. Please exercise care.
If using a GPS, enter: 131 Crane Road, Elmira, NY 14901.
Peterson Chapel in Historic Cowles Hall
Lectures may also be held in Peterson Chapel in Elmira College’s Cowles Hall. The chapel features a series of stained glass windows depicted the history and traditions of the college, including one of Twain in front of his study and one of his wife, Elmira College alumnus Olivia Clemens, on front of the porch at Quarry Farm. There is also a Mark Twain Exhibit in Cowles Hall.
Directions to Peterson Chapel for local attendees:
The address of Elmira College is 1 Park Place, Elmira, NY 14901. Cowles Hall is on the east side of Park Place, behind the Fasset Commons Art building on Washington Avenue. In front of Cowles Hall is a small man-made pond known as “The Puddle” and the Mark Twain Study. Parking may be found off of North Main Street, at the north east corner of campus.