Results from the 2nd Annual Quarry Farm Fireplace Writing Contest

The winners of the 2nd Annual Quarry Farm Fireplace Creative Writing Contest have come to Quarry Farm and recieved the prize, a personal tour inside Quarry Farm for themselves and their classmates. Two area students in grades 2-6 were selected for their creative writings inspired by the fireplace tiles in the Quarry Farm Parlor: Treya Das Banerjee (Carder Elementary, Corning) and Elizabeth McNett (Finn Academy, Elmira).

Carder Elementary (Corning, NY)

Finn Academy (Elmira, NY)

Mark Twain often encouraged his children to create and tell their own stories based off the tiles adorning the parlor fireplace. The 24 tiles around the fireplace depict fables written by ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, who utilized animals, such as crows, snakes, mice, and foxes, to illustrate moral lessons.

The winning students and their classmates received a personal tour inside Quarry Farm, something that is normally only open to Twain Scholars. In addition, the were able read their story next to the Quarry Farm parlor fireplace, tour the grounds at Quarry Farm, and enjoy Mark Twain’s favorite dessert: gingerbread, vanilla ice cream, and lemonade.

CMTS has an extensive list of online resources for teachers, available to everyone at no cost to the student, teacher, or school.  To access this list, please click here.

CMTS encourages all local schools to participate next year.  For more information contact Director Joseph Lemak at [email protected]

CMTS Announces the 2019 “Park Church Summer Lectures” Series Line-Up

The 2019 “Park Church Summer Lectures” are presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies and The Park Church. The series will feature three lectures. All the lectures will begin at 7:00 p.m. and will be located at The Park Church (208 W. Grey Street, Elmira, NY). All of these lectures are open to the public at no cost.

Wednesday, August 7 at The Park Church (7:00 p.m.)

“Views of Mark Twain”: Antics and Annexation in Twain’s New York Tribune Letters on Hawai’i”

Todd Nathan Thompson, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Poster from a February 8, 1873 lecture on Hawai’i

The December 1872 death of Hawaiian monarch Kamehameha V spurred renewed interest among US citizens and politicians alike in the annexation of the Hawaiian islands. To satisfy the public’s increased curiosity about Hawai’i, in January 1873 the New York Daily Tribune sought testimony in the form of two letters from a well-known expert on the islands: Mark Twain. Twain had gained nationwide fame based on his correspondence from the Hawai’i to the Sacramento Union in 1866 and especially from his popular comic lecture, often titled “Or Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands,” which he delivered across the US and abroad between 1866-1873. In my talk I will examine how Twain’s humorous writings and lectures about Hawai’i led American editors and readers to view him as a serious authority on the islands. I will also perform contextualized readings of reprinted excerpts of his letters to the Tribune in other newspapers and magazines and consider what these editorial choices reveal about the American reading public’s views of Twain and of Hawai’i in the early 1870s.

Todd Nathan Thompson is Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is also Treasurer-Secretary of the American Humor Studies Association. Todd is author of The National Joker: Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Satire (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). His 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, Teaching American Literature, and elsewhere. He currently is at work on a book project entitled Savage Laughter: Nineteenth-Century American Humor and the Pacific, 1840-1880.


Wednesday, August 14 at The Park Church (7:00 p.m.)

“The Dread of Filth in Twain: Cultures of Mysophobia in Post-Pasteurian Medicine and 3,000 Years among the Microbes

Don James McLaughlin, University of Tulsa

Manuscript page from 3,000 Years among the Microbes,
Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut

This talk examines Mark Twain’s unfinished manuscript 3,000 Years among the Microbes, written in Dublin, New Hampshire in 1905. More precisely, I provide a historical backdrop for the manuscript by putting it in dialogue with two major shifts in medical thought at the end of the nineteenth century: (1) the rise of microbiology, introducing a new discourse for articulating the relationship of bacteria and viruses to infectious disease, established largely by Louis Pasteur’s successes in vaccination; and (2) the emergence of an international psychiatric discourse revolving around mysophobia, meaning a dread of filth and contamination. Written from the perspective of a cholera germ named Huck who has infected a tramp named Blitzowski, 3,000 Years meditates on both discourses, exploring microbiology’s ramifications for human understandings of life, agency, and subjectivity, while also pursuing a mysophobic aesthetic: a state of readerly repugnance generated by the landscape of infection and bodily functions Huck and his microbe friends inhabit. I use 3,000 Years to argue that we cannot understand the rise of mysophobia (as either a diagnosis or an aesthetic) without also understanding its historical relationship to the landscape of invisible infectious agents introduced to human consciousness through the birth of microbiology as a science.

Don James McLaughlin is assistant professor of nineteenth-century American literature at the University of Tulsa and the 2018-2019 Hench post-dissertation fellow at the American Antiquarian Society. His work has been published in American Literature and the New Republic and is forthcoming in Literature and Medicine and J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists


Wednesday, August 14 at The Park Church (7:00 p.m.)

“Where the ‘Wild West’ Ends and China Begins: Rethinking the Geography of Mark Twain and Bret Harte’s Ah Sin

Sunny Yang, University of Houston

Playbill for the Washington, D.C. run of Ah Sin at the National Theatre, May 1877

In the fall of 1876, Mark Twain and Bret Harte embarked on a disastrous collaboration that would culminate in the frontier melodrama known as Ah Sin. Named after its Chinese laundryman character, who was taken from Harte’s 1870 poem “Plain Language from Truthful James,” the play is widely acknowledged as a literary and financial failure that contributed to the demise of Twain and Harte’s friendship. Yet despite its dubious artistic merit, Ah Sin has captured some critical attention because of the central role played by its titular Chinese character. Scholars have debated the play’s intervention into nineteenth-century American stereotypes about the Chinese and have exclusively interpreted the work in the context of domestic debates over Chinese immigration and legal testimony. This talk takes a different approach by analyzing Ah Sin through the lens of nineteenth-century commentary on Sino-American relations, focusing in particular on the U.S. foreign policy of extraterritoriality in China. Resituating the play in this transnational legal context offers fresh insights into Twain’s anti-imperialism at this moment in his career, while also suggesting new avenues for interpreting representations of Chinese immigrants and Chinese American politics in nineteenth-century American writing.

Sunny Yang is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Houston, where she specializes in American and multiethnic American literature of the long nineteenth century. Her research explores the imperial contexts of U.S. racial formation and cultural production with an emphasis on the intersections of law and literature. She received her PhD in English with a certificate in Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently completing her first book project, Fictions of Territoriality, with the support of fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Association of University Women.


About the Center for Mark Twain Studies
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.

About The Park Church
Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some members of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain.  Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community.  Currently, it is an “Open and Affirming Congregation,” welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.

Interactive Map of 1901 Elmira Now Available

In collaboration with SmallTown 360, the Center for Mark Twain Studies has created an interactive map of 1901 Elmira. The map highlights the important people and places that shaped Mark Twain and the Langdon family during his summers in Elmira. Key points include Quarry Farm, the Langdon Mansion, and the Park Church. The map also points out lesser known places like the home of Darius Ford, friend of Twain and Elmira College professor who was offered to accompany Charley Langdon as a companion and tutor on a round the world tour; the home of John Slee, associate of Twain during his Buffalo days and the eventual manager of J. Langdon & Co.; the Lyceum Theater, where in 1868 Twain first performed in public in Elmira, with a young Olivia Langdon in the audience; and the Elmira Reformatory, a prison in which Twain performed for the “captivated” audience – Twain later wrote that he found the group extremely satisfactory.

The map is located under CMTS “Online Resources” and can be accessed HERE.

The Center for Mark Twain Studies hopes that this map is used by all teachers, students, and Twain enthusiasts with the goal of promoting Mark Twain’s important legacy in Elmira. At the same time, CMTS endeavors to celebrate its own local history as a vibrant, cosmopolitan upstate New York town in the latter half of the19th and early 20th century.

CMTS would like to thank the following people with their help on this project:

Winners Announced for the Second “Quarry Farm Fireplace Creative Writing Contest”

Winners have been selected for the Quarry Farm Fireplace Creative Writing Contest sponsored by the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Two area students in grades 2-6 have been selected for their creative writings inspired by the fireplace tiles in the Quarry Farm Parlor: Treya Das Banerjee (Carder Elementary, Corning) and Elizabeth McNett (Finn Academy, Elmira).

Mark Twain often encouraged his children to create and tell their own stories based off the tiles adorning the parlor fireplace. The 24 tiles around the fireplace depict fables written by ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, who utilized animals, such as crows, snakes, mice, and foxes, to illustrate moral lessons.

The winning students and their classmates will receive a personal tour inside Quarry Farm, something that is normally only open to Twain Scholars. In addition, the winning students will be able to read their story next to the Quarry Farm parlor fireplace, tour the grounds at Quarry Farm, and enjoy Mark Twain’s favorite dessert: gingerbread, vanilla ice cream, and lemonade.

CMTS has an extensive list of online resources for teachers, available to everyone at no cost to the student, teacher, or school.  To access this list, please click here.

CMTS encourages all local schools to participate next year.  For more information contact Director Joseph Lemak at [email protected]

Special “Trouble Begins” Event Features Play and Lecture

The spring portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues on Wednesday, May 29 in the Barn at Quarry Farm, with a special theatrical reading of a one-act play followed by the lecture.  The play and lecture are free and open to the public.

The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. with the theatrical reading of “Waiting for Susy,” a one-act play by Bruce Michelson from the University of Illinois. The play is a one-act comedy about a famous, momentous, historic encounter that never took place. The setting is the great square in front of Rouen Cathedral in France; the time is October of 1894. Sam Clemens and his daughter Susy, living with the rest of the family in nearby Étretat, have come to town shopping for night-gowns and cigars. With brushes and an easel, and parked comfortably on a stool in this plaza, a strange, round, bearded French gentleman is dabbing at a couple of his paintings. What happens next is entirely made up, and you can safely believe every word of it.

The play will be followed by The Trouble Beings lecture, “Mark Twain’s Homes and the Public Private Life,” at 7:00 p.m., which will also be presented by Bruce Michelson. When Sam Clemens was still young, a technological revolution in publishing — including breakthroughs in printing of pictures — provided new ways to fuel and gratify an unprecedented curiosity about the private lives of famous writers, and doing so became a lucrative sport. Where they were born and where they resided; the byways they wandered for epiphanies or Deep Thoughts; where their spouses or their Lost Loves grew up or passed away – all of this and more became fair game for mass-market words and pictures. Over the course of Mark Twain’s life we can trace this cultural transformation, and see how Quarry Farm, the Hartford mansion, and other residences here and abroad figured in a long campaign by Sam and his family to live in this new limelight, and also to evade it. The Clemenses performed a “private” family life in some places, and tried to sustain the real thing in others — in an era before television, social media, paparazzi, data mining, and all the rest of it brought American personal privacy to an end.

Michelson is the author of Mark Twain on the Loose and Printer’s Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution, as well as many articles and book chapters about Mark Twain and other writers. He is Professor Emeritus of American Literature at the University of Illinois, and a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America and The American Humor Studies Association. A contributing editor at Studies in American Humor, he is also a Fulbright Ambassador, having received two fellowships from the Fulbright Program. His most recent work includes a translation of George Clemenceau’s writings on Claude Monet and the fine arts, and a one-act comedy about Sam Clemens, his daughter Susy, and a Mysterious Stranger in France.

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. 

Next “Trouble Begins” Lecture Focuses on the History and Preservation of Quarry Farm

The spring portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues on Wednesday, May 22 at 7:00 p.m. in Cowles Hall at Elmira College.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

Quarry Farm in the 1870s

The lecture, “Quarry Farm: Family Retreat with 1,631 Lightning Rods,” will be presented by preservation architect, Elise Johnson-Schmidt, AIA. In May 1869, Jervis Langdon purchases the land on Elmira’s east hill. It is there that he establishes the Langdon’s summer home, Quarry Farm – a place of respite which the family enjoys for 100 years. Sadly, Langdon dies shortly after its completion, but his oldest daughter, Susan Crane, inherits the house. She generously and joyously shares Quarry Farm with her sister, Olivia Clemens, Livy’s new husband, Samuel Clemens, and the Clemens children for the next twenty years. Sam and Livy embark on their “long European sojourn” in 1890 and do not return until 1895. During a time of transition, before Susan and Theodore Crane begin their chapter of life at Quarry Farm, Sam Clemens is “running two households – one up here on the farm & one in Buffalo…and Mr. and Mrs. Crane stay here with us, & we do have perfectly royal good times.” This lecture will focus on how Quarry Farm was used by the family and changes made to the house by Langdon family members. It will also discuss the lecturer’s interpretation of a story written during Clemens’ management of the farm – “The Lightning Rod Story” – a satire about dealing with contractors – which could be as true today as it was then.

Quarry Farm Today

Johnson-Schmidt is a preservation architect with 35 years of experience, whose firm specializes in historic preservation. Her firm has undertaken over 200 revitalization and restoration projects. She was also formerly the director of Market Street Restoration Agency. She previously worked on the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in NYC & Boston’s Trinity Church. She is a frequent lecturer across NYS on revitalizing historic buildings, and a (former) longtime member of NYS’s Board for Historic Preservation. Her firm is currently writing the Historic Structure Report for Quarry Farm.

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. 

2019 Elmira College Twain Art and Writing Contest Winner Announced

The Center for Mark Twain Studies has announced the winners of the Annual Portraying Mark Twain Art Contest and the Mark Twain Essay Contest. First place prizes were awarded to Jamie Dorsey ’21 and Rebecca Heagy ’19, respectively. Jamie’s winning piece in the Art Contest was a photograph of the Mark Twain gravestone taken from a dramatic angle that emphasized “Twain.” His photo has already been used to advertise the spring Trouble Begins lecture series on the CMTS Facebook page. Rebecca was this year’s annual essay contest winner.

Honorable mentions in the Art Contest were awarded to Emily Selbert ’20 for her photo highlighting several volumes of “Mark Twain’s Letters”; Erica VanNostrand ’20 for her self-portrait standing at the doorstep of the Mark Twain Study; and Shannon Strawinski ’19 for her digitally enhanced photo of the Mark Twain statue outside of Harris Hall.Each student was awarded a monetary prize ranging from $75-$250 for their artistic and writing skills.

The 2020 Portraying Mark Twain Contest will open for entries at the end of May, 2019. All Elmira College students are encouraged to submit artwork that reflects some aspect of Mark Twain, his writings, or his life in Elmira. More information is available here.

Upcoming Lecture on Twain and the “Trade Language” of the Law

The spring portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues on Wednesday, May 15 at 7:00 p.m. in Cowles Hall at Elmira College.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

From the 1899 Harper & Brothers Edition 
of Puddn’head Wilson

The lecture, “‘Infinitely-Divided Stardust’: Mark Twain and Lawyer Talk,” will be presented by J. Mark Baggett from Samford University. Told by the New Orleans fortune teller Madame Caprell that he should have been a lawyer, Samuel Clemens dismissed the law as “too prosy and tiresome.” But his immersion in legal language and legal fictions betrayed him. From the early days of his career, covering the Nevada Territorial legislature and reporting on the police and court beat in the Territorial Enterprise, he plied what he called the “trade language” of the law. His legal burlesques of that formative period, including the first use of the pseudonym “Mark Twain” in “Ye Sentimental Law Student,” show the emerging burlesque patterns that appear in his novels. These burlesques also parallel important 19th century movements in American law that democratized and simplified legalese. This lecture will explore these burlesques from a legal perspective and trace their influence, particularly in the dramatic stagings of court trials that appear so often in his longer works. Twain himself once pronounced that a great writer must have an “infinitely divided stardust,” a genius who understood humanity from the two essential disciplines: literature and the law.

Baggett  is Associate Professor of English and Law at Samford University and Cumberland School of Law. His recent research on Twain’s use of legal rhetoric is an outgrowth of his teaching law at Cumberland since 1987. He contributed articles on legal issues in the Mark Twain Encyclopedia  and is working on a book-length project on Mark Twain and the law, building on interdisciplinary research on Twain’s broad appropriation of legal rhetoric

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. 

Linda Morris Kicks Off the 2019 Trouble Begins Lectures with a Discussion of Twain and Sexuality

The spring portion of the 2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues Wednesday, May 8 in the Barn at Quarry Farm. The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

“Writing About Sexuality: Mark Twain’s Private Work Made Public”

Linda Morris, University of California, Davis

After a relatively free-wheeling period in his life in the American West, Mark Twain courted and married a genteel young women from a prominent Elmira family, and he became the paterfamilias of a thoroughly Victorian family of his own. His major published works were deemed suitable reading for young men and women alike, and he raised his three daughters in a strictly Victorian, protected, and proper mode. Nevertheless, when speaking before all-male groups, or writing privately, he addressed sexual topics with frankness suffused with humor. Later in his life, in work not intended for publication, he let loose with explicit sexual references and frank talk about both male and female sexuality. This talk will examine a range of the works in which sexuality plays a major role, the language and metaphors he used to express sexual topics, and the sometimes surprising attitudes the work reveals.

Linda A. Morris is Professor Emeritus, University of California, Davis. She has writ- ten extensively about women’s humor in 19th and 20th century America, including a book-length study on the writer Miriam Whitcher (“The Widow Bedott”), and essays on Mary Lasswell and Roz Chast. Her work on Mark Twain includes her book Gender Play in Mark Twain: Cross-Dressing and Transgression, and essays on Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, “Gender Bending as Child’s Play,” Aunt Sally Phelps in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and “Hellfire Hotchkiss.” She was the 2017 recipient of “The Olivia Langdon Clemens Award” by the Mark Twain Circle of America, and the 2018 recipient of “The Charlie Award” by the American Humor Studies Association.

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.

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Mark Twain’s Literary Resources: A Reconstruction of His Library and Reading (Volume 1) by Alan Gribben

Editor’s Note:CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

Mark Twain’s Literary Resources: A Reconstruction of His Library and Reading. Volume 1. By Alan Gribben. NewSouth, 2019. Pp. 350. $60.00. ISBN 978-1-58838-343-3 (cloth). ISBN 978-1-60306-453-8 (ebook).

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac Donnell

Anyone familiar with Twain studies of the last four decades knows that the most eagerly anticipated work in the field is the revised and enlarged edition of Alan Gribben’s Mark Twain’s Library: A Reconstruction (1980). The first edition itself was eagerly anticipated: Six years before it appeared, Hamlin Hill’s famous must-read essay “Who Killed Mark Twain?” appeared in American Literary Realism, where Hill predicted that “source and influence hunters will have a field-day tracking through its encyclopedic catalog of volumes the humorist owned and annotated.” Published in an edition of 500 copies, nearly all were sold to libraries and the book quickly went out of print, driving the price for used copies as high as $450, putting it out of the reach of most Twainians. This was especially unfortunate because the immense utility of the work–the result of its ingenious conception and meticulous execution–had advanced the direction and scope of Twain studies more than any other work published since. It may be counted as one of the handful of essential reference works on Twain, along with Paine’s (albeit flawed) biography of Twain, the Mark Twain Project editions of Twain’s Letters and Autobiography, and R. Kent Rasmussen’s Mark Twain A to Z.

The first of the three volumes of the new edition has now been published; the second and third volumes will appear later this year and in 2020, and will be reviewed separately as they are published. Those second and third volumes will contain the catalogue of the books Twain actually owned or read, describing their editions, annotations, and ownership markings, and their influence on Twain’s writings. This first volume sets the stage for the two volumes to follow, and must be read first in order to fully understand Twain’s library, how he used it, and how best to apply that knowledge to any study of his creative process.

This first volume gathers together twenty-five of Alan Gribben’s essays about the formation, influence, and dispersal of Mark Twain’s library, along with a new introduction by Gribben, a foreword by R. Kent Rasmussen, and an expanded Critical Bibliography that nicely captures the crowded shelf of studies based upon Twain’s readings. The critical bibliography begins with Paine’s 1912 biography which foolishly projected Twain’s “reading interests during his final four years onto other periods of his life . . .” (269). The critical bibliography even includes a 1924 master’s thesis that was the earliest guide to Twain’s reading.

Gribben’s essays, published over the last forty-seven years tell one fascinating tale after another. He describes Twain’s “Library of Literary Hogwash” which consisted of books so bad that they were relished by Twain as “exquisitely bad.” He describes Twain’s uncanny ability to read sense into Robert Browning’s dense poetry, the evocative story behind Susy Clemens’s set of Shakespeare, Tom Sawyer’s (and America’s) falling under the spell of romantic adventure stories, the literary knowledge on display in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s favorite books, Twain’s earliest literary exposures, the popular myth of Twain as an unlettered author and how Twain himself promoted that public illusion, Twain’s familiarity with the Arthurian legends, Twain’s debt to “boy’s books” when composing his own greatest works, the ways certain books influenced particular writings by Twain, and how Twain’s reading habits and tastes evolved over time. Written during five decades, these accounts interconnect, and they are all page-turners, especially when Gribben describes his adventures in tracking down Twain’s widely dispersed library. He tracks down nearly 100 books from Twain’s library that had been given to Katy Leary. Another book from Twain’s library shows up through interlibrary loan. Forgeries are discovered in public and private collections. The maddening story of how Twain’s library was scattered in all directions is balanced by the gratifying story of how much of it has been recovered and preserved.

In addition to enlarging the inventory of surviving books and identifying the specific editions of the books listed in the various sales of books from Twain’s library, Gribben has also identified much new evidence of Twain’s readings in Twain’s own writings. In his writings Twain often mentions authors or books by name, but he more often alludes to people or events, both fictional and nonfictional, that reflect his own reading. Of course, Gribben is not the only person who has identified such sources, and he includes the findings of many others’ work, all reflected in his extensive Critical Bibliography or in the individual catalogue entries.

Twain’s reading habits had already expanded beyond the horizons of Hannibal when, as a teenager in 1852, he read an issue of the Philadelphia Courier that gave him the idea of writing an essay about Hannibal that he published in that paper a short time later. He would remain a daily reader of newspapers for the rest of his life. Thanks to the newspaper exchange system, he read papers from all over the country every day, seeking fodder to fill the pages of the newspapers where he was employed early in his career, and later as a newspaper owner and editor. As a young man he read obscure short-lived comic journals, and all his life he read the major magazines of his day. He was photographed with piles of magazines and newspapers, sometimes reading a magazine or paper whose name and date can be identified.

Twain was a life-long patron of libraries, taking advantage of two printers’ association libraries (one held 4,000 volumes) while employed as a type-setter in New York City in 1853. He was awarded a sterling silver key in return for officiating at a library opening in England, and he befriended Andrew Carnegie, who established more public libraries in the United States than any other library benefactor in US history. Twain himself gave books from his own library to libraries several times in his life, most notably establishing a public library in Redding, Connecticut, with a large donation of books from his own shelves.

Mark Twain was as much a reader as a writer, a bibliophile and connoisseur who appreciated fine printing and elegant bindings, and also an avid reader who literally consumed books, sometimes tearing or cutting them to pieces. Twain’s copy of Francis Galton’s Finger Prints (1892) does not survive, but he clipped out the illustration of fingerprints from the title-page of his copy and sent it to his publisher when brainstorming an idea for the title-page design for Pudd’nhead Wilson. On the other hand, the books he gave his wife and daughters were often sumptuously bound with heavily gilt full leather bindings with silk end papers, like the edition of Browning he gave his daughter Susy, or a set of Sir Walter Scott he gave his wife. A copy of Bayard Taylor’s Home Ballads (1882) that Olivia Clemens gave her mother on behalf of Jean and Clara (Susy was then old enough to select her own gift for her grandmother) was elaborately bound in leather with striking bird’s-eye maple panels inset on the front and back covers. Although Twain sometimes destroyed books in the service of his art, beautiful examples of the book arts adorned the shelves of the Clemens family library and were prized.

….continue reading Kevin Mac Donnell’s review on the Mark Twain Forum

Copyright © 2019 Mark Twain Forum

This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.