Twain in Hawaii is the focus of the next Trouble Begins Lecture


Elmira, New York — The spring portion of the 2017-2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues Wednesday, May 23 in Cowles Hall, Elmira College.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

From Chapter 73 of the First Edition of “Roughing It” (1872)

The third lecture, “An American Cannibal at Home: Comic Diplomacy in Mark Twain’s Hawai’i” will be presented by Todd Nathan Thompson from the 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.

Thompson, is an 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 EditingEarly American LiteratureESQNineteenth-Century ProseJournal of American CultureStudies in American HumorTeaching American Literaturethe 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.

This week’s lecture also includes the announcement of two annual contests: the 2018 “Portraying Mark Twain” Art Competition awards and the 2018 “Mark Twain Essay” prize.  Each year, a panel of judges chose from both art and prose submissions by Elmira College students, some of which may be featured in future CMTS publications.

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures 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.

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