The Trouble Begins at Eight


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.

The entrance to the barn at Quarry Farm

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.

Retrospective of the 2016 Spring and Fall Lecture Series

Spring 2016 lectures included:

“Following the Indian Equator: Mark Twain in India” presented by Seema Sharma, Associate Professor of English Literature at the University of Mumbai and Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholar at Stanford University, which was followed with a brief interview conducted by Susan K. Harris of the University of Kansas.  The presentation explored Mark Twain’s three-month lecture tour across the Indian subcontinent in 1896, how the experience may have influenced his later writings.

Seema Sharma’s presentation in the Quarry Farm barn about Mark Twain in India

“Grieving Tom Sawyer: Mark Twain, Loss, and the Transformation of a Writer” presented by Joseph Csicsila, Professor of English Language and Literature at Eastern Michigan University.  In his presentation, Csicsila discussed new evidence that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer may not be a nostalgic look back at Mark Twain’s childhood, but rather about Twain grieving the loss of his 18-month-old son, Langdon Clemens.

Joe Csicsila offers a revolutionary new way to view the inspiration of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

“The Rhyme of Crisis: Mark Twain on Banks, Bubbles & Bailouts” presented by Elmira College Assistant Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies, Dr. Matt Seybold.  Dr. Seybold explored the idea of Twain as an economic theorist and historian whose perspective remains highly relevant to the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing recession.

Fall 2016 Lecture Series Included:

“Mark Twain & France: The Making of a New American Identity” presented by Ronald Jenn, Professor of Translation Studies at Université de Lille, France.  Dr. Jenn lectured on Twain’s ever-changing impressions of the French.  He presented the book he has co-authored with Dr. Paula Harrington, forthcoming at University of Missouri Press.

“You know the secret places of our hearts”: The Mark Twain-Joe Twichell Letters” presented by Peter Messent, Emeritus Professor of Modern American Literature at the University of Nottingham, U.K.  Dr. Messent used selected highlights from the The Mark Twain-Joseph Twichell Letters (edited by Hal Bush, Steve Courtney, and Peter Messent, published by the University of Georgia Press in early 2017) in order to trace the development of the forty-year friendship between Mark Twain and Joseph Twichell, the Hartford Congregation minister.

“Dressing for Success: Mark Twain Fashions an Image to Suit His Disguise” presented by Martin Zehr, Dr. Zehr is an independent Mark Twain scholar and a member of the Board of Directors of the
Mark Twain Boyhood Home Foundation in Hannibal, Missouri.  While famous for the attention-getting white linen suits he donned in his later years, Mark Twain was aware of the functional value of outer coverings throughout his life.  Dr. Zehr gave a survey of Sam Clemens’s wardrobe choices which underscored Twain’s sensitivity to the status value, shock value and even,in some cases, the capacity for crossing gender and social boundaries provided by garments.

“Mark Twain’s Brand: Comic Performance and the Modern American Self” presented by Judith Yaross Lee, Distinguished Professor of Communication Studies and Charles E. Zumkehr Professor of Rhetoric & Culture in the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University.  Samuel L. Clemens pioneered a modern understanding of the new information economy emerging in the U.S. in the years after the Civil War because he understood and marketed Mark Twain as a brand-name comic commodity.  Lee explained how Clemens managed the Mark Twain brand by extending it to some activities, excluding it from others, and exploiting its modern conception of the self in his public performances.

Judith Yaross Lee discusses the complexities of Twain’s branding of his own image


The Trouble Begins at Eight is made possible by the support of the Mark Twain Foundation and the Friends of the Center.