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.
The Spring 2017 Lecture Series
Wednesday, April 26 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.
“These Hideous Times:” Mark Twain’s Bankruptcy and the Panic of 1893”
Joseph Csicsila Eastern Michigan University
An old standby of Twain biography is that Mark Twain was a bad businessman, plain and simple. Critics routinely cast him as a reckless speculator, a foolish investor, a failed entrepreneur as they advance the notion that Twain was hopelessly irresponsible with his wealth, making poor financial decisions one after another throughout much of his adult life, and that this led inevitably to his well-publicized and personally humiliating bankruptcy in April 1894. Twain studies, however, has yet to consider in any detailed fashion the context of the Panic of 1893 and the considerable role that it played in Twain’s financial ruin. The country’s first major industrial collapse, what many historians regard as America’s first full-scale economic depression, the Panic of 1893 took down thousands of businesses and ruined millions of Americans in truly historic fashion. As it turns out, Mark Twain’s bankruptcy may have had less to do with his financial decision-making than the times in which those decisions were made.
Joseph Csicsila is Professor of English Language and Literature at Eastern Michigan University. His writings include Canons by Consensus: Critical Trends and American Literature Anthologies (2004); Centenary Reflections on Mark Twain’s No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger (2009), co-edited with Chad Rohman; and Heretical Fictions: Religion in the Literature of Mark Twain (2010), co-authored with Lawrence Berkove. Csicsila is also editor of the Modern Library edition of Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age (2005) and the Broadview Press teaching volume of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (Forthcoming 2017). He is currently at work on a full-scale study of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which will appear in 2018.
Wednesday, May 3 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.
“Roughing It: Twain’s Take on Brigham Young, Polygamy, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre”
Barbara Jones Brown Independent Scholar
In 1861, young Samuel Clemens gave up his job as a Mississippi riverboat pilot and departed St. Louis to venture west. He traveled with his older brother, Orion, the new secretary of the recently created Nevada Territory. Samuel sought his fortune in the West through mining, but discovered his future instead through his writing, under the pen name Mark Twain. In his 1871, travel narrative Roughing It, Twain famously wrote of his passing through Utah, including his observations of Brigham Young, Mormon polygamy, and the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre in southern Utah. This presentation looks at the circumstances that led to Twain’s writing Roughing It at Quarry Farm and compares his humorous reminiscences with what actually happened on his 1861 journey, based on historical sources.
Barbara Jones Brown is an independent historian of the American West. She is currently at work on a volume about the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which Mormon militiamen slaughtered a California-bound wagon train of Arkansas emigrants in southern Utah. This forthcoming volume, published by Oxford University Press, will include research Brown conducted, as a Quarry Farm Fellow, on Twain’s 1861 visit to Utah and his observations on the massacre. Brown holds an M.A. in American History from the University of Utah. She lives in Park City, Utah.
Wednesday, May 17 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.
“Mark Twain, Unchaining the American Eagle”
David E.E. Sloane New Haven University
Twain’s predecessor Artemus Ward claimed he could live in Canada in the capacity of a Duke, if a vacancy occurred, but Mark Twain unchained Ward’s eagle in the four main components of his humor which fulfilled Ward’s comic promise. Relying on entrepreneurialism, egalitarianism, egregiousness, and empathy, Twain stated the American vision through humor as no other American has before or since. Jokes from the humor of the Old Northeast and Twain’s own writings demonstrate his vision and how he presented it to the world.
David E.E. Sloane is Professor of English at the University of New Haven. He earned his Ph.D. degree from Duke University in 1970 and has been incorrigible ever since. His books include Mark Twain As A Literary Comedian; The Literary Humor of The Urban Northeast, 1830-1890; American Humor Magazines and Comic Periodicals; Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: American Comic Vision; and Mark Twain’s Humor: Critical Essays, among other works. He was the first Henry Nash Smith Fellow named by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College in 1987 or thereabouts.
Wednesday, May 24 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.
“The Mechanical Woman in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”
Hoi Na Kung Indiana University
Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court abounds with comical descriptions that liken its central female character, Sandy, to an industrial machine with infinite labor power. This lecture will suggest that this novel’s peculiar automatization of Sandy gestures towards a 19th century cultural ambivalence about technology. On one hand, technology promised a “rational” order of life with an emphasis on the maximization of productivity and profit. On the other hand, technology threatened a disturbance of social order: mechanization of the workplace allowed women to leave the household for the workplace en masse, generating anxiety about women exchanging biological reproduction for industrial reproduction of commodities. Departing from much of the literary criticism that interprets Twain’s technologized modernity as a tragedy, this lecture will argue that Twain’s novel employs the figure of the mechanical woman in order to foreground both the sense of increased freedom and unfreedom for both men and women opened up by a technologized modernity.
Hoi Na Kung is currently a third-year doctorate student in the English department at Indiana University, where she specializes in 19th and 20th century American literature with an emphasis on critical race studies and gender studies. She is currently working on a project exploring representations of sensory experiences in African American and Asian American literature written in the age of globalization.
Retrospective of the 2016 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.
“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.
“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.
The Trouble Begins at Eight is made possible by the support of the Mark Twain Foundation and the Friends of the Center.