A Scandal at Stormfield Concludes the Spring Trouble Begins Lectures

The spring portion of the 2019-2020 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes on Wednesday, June 3.  The lecture may be accessed for free on marktwainstudies.org.

Sam Clemens with Isabel Lyon and Ralph Ashcroft (circa 1908)

The lecture, “Scandal at Stormfield: Mark Twain’s ‘Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript’,” will be presented by Lawrence Howe of Roosevelt University in Chicago. In 1908, when Sam Clemens moved into his Italianate mansion, Stormfield, in Redding, Connecticut, he seemed to have turned the page on his sadness of recent years and begun a happy chapter. About a year later, this happiness was disrupted by a scandal: his personal secretary Isabel Lyon and his business manager Ralph Ashcroft betrayed his trust. Mark Twain addressed their deceptions in his final text, the “Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript,” a tortured piece of writing in which he struggles to come to terms with their treachery. In this presentation, Howe will offer an account of the events and Twain’s text that disputes criticism of the manuscript as evidence of his irascibility and exhausted talent.  Instead, Howe will show how the text’s compositional problems provide insight into Clemens’s vulnerability in the last stage of his life. In light of evidence proving that the trusted couple exploited him, the text documents a crime that we now recognize as elder abuse. Twain’s emotional tone in this text signals how unsettling this nearly disastrous episode was for him. Indeed, the Ashcroft-Lyon manuscript is his attempt to regain control of his life by the means he knew best—through narrative.  

Lawrence Howe is Professor of English and Film Studies at Roosevelt University, is a member of the 2019 class of Quarry Farm Fellows, past-president of the Mark Twain Circle of America, and editor of Studies in American Humor.  His publications include Mark Twain and Money: Language, Capital, and Culture, edited with Henry Wonham, and Mark Twain and the Novel: The Double-Cross of Novelistic Discourse. And he is currently at work on a book on Mark Twain and property. He has lectured throughout the United States and Europe on Mark Twain and other topics in American culture. His testimonial about Quarry Farm can be found HERE.

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.