Dispatches From Quarry Farm: Sympathetic Funk

Caretaker Steve Webb and his son are the only year-round residents of Quarry Farm. Steve provides us with occasional, not always altogether reliable, updates from the premises.

“If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” – Mark Twain

If a skunk walks into your house at 2:30 in the morning you may not notice. You might, and will most likely, sleep right through the visit. It is, if fact, in your best interest to sleep through the visit; startling any creature at such an ungodly hour—especially a loaded one—is risky behavior. 

Knowing this—at least on a subconscious level—was why I kept my eyes shut. If I pretended to be asleep maybe would it just go away? I had to try. Please, I begged my own brain as my trachea constricted in self-defense, this has to be a weird dream.  Little paws, soft leather steps, on the wooden floor around my bed in the dark. The math. The odds of a skunk finding the secret cat door under the house and entering and climbing the stairs and pushing my door open and strolling right past the dog and jumping on my bed: slim. 

Mark Twain’s pet cats “Awake”

I sprang up, startling the animal (the damage had already been done,) and flailed around for the light by my bed. It was hard to function through the gagging; it was hard to see through the invisible-green sulfur cloud in the dark; I could only hear the quick, scratching claws on the door as the animal deftly pulled it open enough to slip out. My Olfactory senses were desperately trying to outsource and my stomach was refusing the work. 

I stumbled across the room blinded by the light and the stench and followed the trail. I thought about how much better it is to be sleeping at 2:30 in the morning. I wondered why humans feel it’s so fun to have pets. I wondered if a tomato juice bath is just an urban legend? 

In the adjoining room on the desk where I write massively important stories about cats, dogs, my kid and Mark Twain sat a soggy, disheveled animal hacking up the remnants of a confrontation—perhaps a date gone really wrong—on all the notes and papers in my disorganized, organized piles.

Everyone’s favorite Quarry Farm cat, Mr. Cat felt that it was ok to take a direct hit in the face from a skunk and then stroll into my room in the middle of the night and tell me all about it. Well, he’s actually a very literary animal; he showed me as opposed to telling me. He showed me how repugnant the nightlife can be by filling our entire home with a cloud of his bad decisions. 

With gentle hatred I grabbed the animal by the back of the neck and carried him as far away from my body as I could—there are no arms long enough—to the bathtub where I threw him, ever so delicately, in and slammed the shower door shut. 

A tomato juice bath isn’t a thing, which is good, because I didn’t have any tomato juice. Google was quick to find me the solution: hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish soap which is bad because I didn’t have any of that either—except for the dish soap. All the articles stressed the importance of working quickly before the oils in the spray “set”—A very inconvenient fact at that time of night. Once they do set it takes about six to eight weeks for the smell to dissipate. 

Caretaker Webb’s feline charge at Quarry Farm

A dish-soap bath for a cat in full protest while the glass, shower doors rattled in their tracks and I flailed with the howling, clawing animal is not a quiet affair. Yet, all the while, my son—one of those humans that thinks it’s fun to have pets—slept peacefully in the next room as I wrestled the soppy, raging pin-bag. It did cross my mind that he should share the joy pet ownership with me but I resisted the urge to wake him and did my best to quiet the beast. I considered some extended time under water to quiet him down but I also considered that the inclinations of the disturbed mind at 2:30 in the morning shouldn’t always be trusted. 

The dish-soap bath did almost nothing and I was not relieved as I wrapped the somewhat defeated creature in a couple of old towels and carried him to the basement where he would be quarantined until the Baking Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide Store opened. 

Unable to fall back asleep with all the gagging I stripped my bed and tried to wipe down all the things I think he may have touched or rubbed up against before I woke up. This was a task of blind guessing and seemed pointlessly impossible. I felt that I was getting used to the smell and at the same time smelling it absolutely everywhere. 

I put some new sheets on my bed and lay down and stared into the darkness. It was almost four in the morning and the sky outside my window was black. The old iron radiators hissed and clinked, tired from the long winter. The neurotic little footsteps of a squirrel in the attic came and went it short bursts. The dog snored softly in the corner. The window lightened shade by minute shade until the trees outside became clear and towering into view. The alarm chirped from my phone—bird sounds—and I clicked it off almost before it started, only six weeks to eight weeks, I thought. 

I woke the small person with an apologetic look on my face as I could see the toxic air sink into his. “What the…?” (At eleven he’s not quite into his free-use-of-expletives-in-front-of-dad phase but I could tell what he wanted to say and I wouldn’t have punished him for it.) 

“Yeah, your friend, Cat, got into some serious business with a skunk last night. Not good.” Our furrowed expressions of funky disgust mirrored each other’s, although I was almost used to it by then he was experiencing it for the first time, so my expression was that of sympathetic funk. 

And getting used to it did not ease my mind; personally, that’s great, but publically it’s a real problem. I noticed at the gym later, after I dropped the boy off at school, that the woman on the treadmill next to me wilted like a water deprived seedling and flung off the back of the motorized track with a zing and a thud. I wanted to believe it was just a simple heart attack—she was well into her golden age—but deep down I knew and let the commotion of rubberneckers and EMTs be a distraction for my slinky disappearance.

And when I went to pick the boy up from school he had a very strange look on his face. “Today was a weird day.” He said with a ghostly expression. “I’ll tell ya in the car.” 

Apparently our hero, Mr. Cat, had rubbed all up on his backpack after the incident because when he arrived at school the entire class groaned in disapproval and he experienced his first taste of social ostracization. The teacher procured a trash bag and his backpack was sentenced to solitary confinement for the day; tied up tight in that bag and shoved deep into the closet. “It was really embarrassing, dad.”

“Well, at least you didn’t kill somebody.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind.” 

The boy went on to say that a couple of his friends were extra nice to him because they could tell he was super embarrassed and we had an at-least-you-know-who-your-real-friends-are Hallmark kind of moment; it was touching and profound and by no means worth it. At the same time, even though I didn’t wake him during the incident, he still got to experience the joy of pet ownership and I can’t say that was worth it but there is some relief in a deeply rooted, involuntarily blossoming, smirk. 

Lecture focusing on Twain’s friend from New Orleans starts the Fall 2018 Trouble Begins Series

The fall portion of the 2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, begins Wednesday, October 10 in the Barn at Quarry Farm.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

Portrait of Grace King

The first lecture “Getting to Know Mark Twain through the Eyes of Grace King, a Southern Woman of Letters” will be presented by Miki Pfeffer, from Nicholls State University. New Orleans writer, Grace King, enjoyed a two-decade friendship with Sam and Livy Clemens and their daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean. King visited the family in Hartford in 1887 and 1888 and in Florence in 1892. She wrote to her family about the Twain homes, meals, dress, and habits. From New Orleans, she exchanged letters with each Clemens, especially Livy, with whom she became a confidante. As each family member died, she kept in touch with the living, right through Clara’s brief messages around 1918. Miki Pfeffer will read from some of King’s captivating letters that offer a fresh view of the Clemenses and of Mark Twain as loving homebody, father, and generous friend to this ambitious southern woman.

Miki Pfeffer holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature and a Ph.D. in Urban History from the University of New Orleans. She is a visiting scholar at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Louisiana. Her book, Southern Ladies and Suffragists: Julia Ward Howe and Women’s Rights at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair, was awarded the 2015 Eudora Welty Prize for scholarship in Women’s Studies and Southern Studies from the Mississippi University for Women.Her current mission is to see Grace King’s letters published and appreciated, and she offers the collection of the family of Twain in a book to be published in 2019.

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.

CMTS’ Fall 2018 Trouble Begins Lectures Series Set

The fall portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies features four lectures, with the first event set for Wednesday, October 10 in The Barn at Quarry Farm.  All four lectures begin at 7:00 p.m., and are free and open to the public.

Wednesday, October 10 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Getting to Know Mark Twain through the Eyes of Grace King, a Southern Woman of Letters” Miki Pfeffer, Nicholls State University

Grace King

New Orleans writer, Grace King, enjoyed a two-decade friendship with Sam and Livy Clemens and their daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean. King visited the family in Hartford in 1887 and 1888 and in Florence in 1892. She wrote to her family about the Twain homes, meals, dress, and habits. From New Orleans, she exchanged letters with each Clemens, especially Livy, with whom she became a confidante. As each family member died, she kept in touch with the living, right through Clara’s brief messages around 1918. Miki Pfeffer will read from some of King’s captivating letters that offer a fresh view of the Clemenses and of Mark Twain as loving homebody, father, and generous friend to this ambitious southern woman.

Miki Pfeffer holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature and a Ph.D. in Urban History from the University of New Orleans. She is a visiting scholar at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Louisiana. Her book, Southern Ladies and Suffragists: Julia Ward Howe and Women’s Rights at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair, was awarded the 2015 Eudora Welty Prize for scholarship in Women’s Studies and Southern Studies from the Mississippi University for Women.Her current mission is to see Grace King’s letters published and appreciated, and she offers the collection of the family of Twain in a book to be published in 2019.

 

 

Wednesday, October 17 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7p.m.

“Mark Twain, TV Star” David Bianculli, Rowan University and NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Woody Harrelson as Mark Twain

The real Mark Twain, Samuel L. Clemens, appeared in only one film in his lifetime, shortly before his death: a short silent movie of him walking around his Stormfield home, photographed by Thomas Edison’s Edison film company in 1909. But since then, Mark Twain has been on television dozens of times – immortalized, and impersonated, by a frankly startling array of actors on the small screen. The
best of them, Hal Holbrook in his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight!, you know, and should. But the rest of them? Other actors portraying Mark Twain, in various programs over the 70-year-history of television, have ranged from Jimmy Stewart and Bing Crosby to Woody Harrelson and William Shatner. The character and image of Mark Twain have been kept alive by shows ranging from Bonanza and The Rifleman to Touched by an Angel and Star Trek: The Next Generation. David Bianculli will discuss and show clips from all these and more.

David Bianculli has been the TV critic for National Public Radio’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, where he also appears as occasional guest host, since 1987. Beginning in 1975, he’s worked as a TV critic for newspapers in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, most recently for the New York Daily News from 1993-2007. Currently, he is a full-time professor of TV and film history at Rowan University, and editor of the website TV Worth Watching (www.tvworthwatching.com) which he launched in 2007. Bianculli has written four books – The Platinum Age of Television: From ‘I Love Lucy’ to ‘The Walking Dead,’ How TV Became Terrific; Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’; Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously; and Dictionary of Teleliteracy – and has written chapters for and co-edited, with Douglas Howard, Television Finales: From ‘Howdy Doody’ to ‘Girls,’ to be published by Syracuse University Press in November. Bianculli has a B. S. in Journalism and an M. A. in Journalism and Communications, both from the University of Florida.

 

Wednesday, October 24 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Writing from Roots in ‘America’s Hometown’: Flood, a Novel” Melissa Scholes Young, American University

Literature and life often claim you can’t go home again, but what happens if you have to? In this book talk and author reading, Melissa Scholes Young will chronicle how Mark Twain’s own exodus from Hannibal parallels Laura Brooks’, the protagonist of her debut novel, Flood, who like the Mississippi River, once ran in the wrong direction in order to recalibrate. She’ll share her historical research and creative writing process as well as explore whyTwain’s origin in rural America is more relevant than ever.

“Filled with pithy dialogue and cultural references, Scholes Young’s writing ties Laura’s journey of self-discovery squarely to Hannibal and its famous young troublemakers. As Laura reckons with her past, Scholes Young reckons with Twain’s influence on the region. This debut is a wonderful story of home, hope, and the ties that bind us to family.” – Publishers Weekly

Melissa Scholes Young is an associate professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. and a Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellow. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Washington Post, Narrative, Ploughshares, and Poets & Writers. She’s a Contributing Editor for Fiction Writers Review and Editor of the anthology Grace in Darkness. Her debut novel, Flood, set in Hannibal, Missouri, the hometown she shares with Mark Twain, was the winner in Literary Fiction for the 2017 Best Book Award.

 

Wednesday, November 7 in the Barn at Quarry Farm

“‘At the Farm’: Reliving Mark Twain’s 1884 Summer at Quarry Farm” John Bird, Winthrop University

Quarry Farm in the 1880s

As he did for many summers, Mark Twain packed up his family (including dogs and cats, and in this case, a bicycle) and left Hartford for an extended stay at Elmira’s Quarry Farm. Part of my current work-in-progress, a micro-biography of Twain in the year 1884, my presentation will let audiences relive his and his family’s experience that summer. Even though Twain wrote his friend Joe Twichell near the end of the stay that he had not accomplished anything of value during the summer, he actually had an interesting and productive summer: he read proof of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and made some important revisions; he began a sequel even before he published his novel, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn Among the Indians; he became fully engaged in national politics during the presidential campaign; and he sat for the bust Karl Gerhardt made (twice) at Quarry Farm for the frontispiece of Huck Finn. Just as importantly, he engaged with his family, writing a short but charming personal memoir, “At the Farm,” with humorous and heartwarming anecdotes about his daughters. Living with Mark Twain day-by-day for this summer brings him and his family back to life and gives us a window into life at Quarry Farm, a place central to his work and his life.

John Bird is Emeritus Professor of English at Winthrop University. He is the author of Mark Twain and Metaphor, as well as a number of articles on Mark Twain. He is a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America.

 

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.

CFP: Special Issue of Mark Twain Annual & 2019 Quarry Farm Symposium – “Mark Twain & the Natural World”

CALL FOR PAPERS SPECIAL ISSUE: MARK TWAIN AND THE NATURAL WORLD

 

The Mark Twain Annual is seeking article-length submissions that examine aspects of Twain’s work that comment on the relation between human beings and the natural world. This broad scope allows for critical examinations of Twain’s writing about the natural world in any number of ways: as nature writing; as a form of environmentalism; as commentary on animal welfare, technology and science, and travel; and as a forerunner to mid-20th to early 21st century writers (Krutch, Abbey, Kingsolver, Quammen, and Gessner) who offer comic responses to nature as well as recognize the comic in the natural world and in our relationship to that world. Anthologies of nature writing may feature short passages from Life on the Mississippi (and sometimes from Roughing It), but most of Twain’s writing about the natural world is left out. More importantly, it is left underexamined. This special issue seeks to explore that unexamined territory in Twain’s fictive and nonfictive writings.

 

In addition to being published in the Annual, authors will have the opportunity to be part of the Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium program sponsored by the Center for Mark Twain Studies in Elmira, New York. The symposium will be held sometime in the beginning of October 2019, one month prior to the publication of the Annual. The gathering will begin with a dinner on the Elmira College campus, followed by a keynote address. The symposium will continue throughout the next day with presentations and discussions in the tranquil atmosphere of Quarry Farm, a writing retreat reserved for scholars and writers working in the field of Mark Twain Studies, where breakfast, lunch, and dinner will also be served. Registrants will be invited back to Quarry Farm on Sunday morning to enjoy an autumnal breakfast and casual discussions. For more information about how the Quarry Farm Weekend Symposium operates, you can view the 2018 Symposium by clicking here.

 

Those interested should submit a 150-word proposal to Ben Click at [email protected] by August 31, 2018. Final manuscripts must be submitted by December 15, 2018. Selected essays should be 4,000-8,000 words in length, but longer essays of more than 8,000 words will also be considered.

Quarry Farm Carpet Leaves For Thirty Years, Goes To Turkey, and Comes Back Home

Here is the story of a 15′ x 11’6” Mahal Carpet once belonging to the Langdon family, how it came to me, and how it was restored through the generosity of Charlotte and Leo Landhuis.

In 1988, I was cleaning and restoring carpets for Elmira College. A former employee of the College was volunteering at Quarry Farm and asked if I would offer any advice on the rugs and carpets in the main house.  Among the rugs that I reviewed was a 15′ x 11’6” Mahal. A Mahal rug is often defined as an incredibly decorative and ornate carpet, something that is almost an object of art unto itself.  Unfortunately, this rug was in dire condition – large areas were glued and taped together, large tears were everywhere – but the worst was damage caused by water. The wet threads were so rotted that the rug was coming apart in my hands. The folks at Quarry Farm wondered if the carpet could be saved.

The master restorers in Turkey repaired sections of the carpet by hand

During my tour of the farm, I saw a number of impressive carpets that came from the nineteenth century. While I gave an appraisal for all the carpets at Quarry Farm, I knew that the damaged Mahal was rare and probably made before the 1850s. I suggested that because of the connection to the Langdons, Mark Twain, and Quarry Farm, the carpet was worth saving.

Gretchen Sharlow, director of CMTS at that time, asked if I would put the carpet into storage with the hope that some interest could be generated to fund the repair. The carpet came to my studio where it was labeled and placed in a closet. It remained there for 29 years.

Last fall I planned to retire and send the carpet back to Quarry Farm. At that time, my husband and I took a trip to Niagara on the Lake with Charlotte and Leo Landhuis. In conversation, the Quarry Farm Mahal carpet was mentioned and Charlotte expressed an interest in funding the restoration. Charlotte is from Elmira and her aunt used to sit on the porch of Quarry Farm. Charlotte, herself, used to play on the grounds when she was a little girl.

Master weaver at work on the carpet

I have been sending rugs to Turkey for repair and restoration through Gady Yesilcay of Orientalist Home, an organization specializing in antique and vintage carpets, and their repairs. On a visit in early December 2017, Gady inspected the carpet, offered a price for restoration and Charlotte Landuis covered the restoration costs. The carpet was then shipped off to Turkey.

When the work was completed, Gady delivered it to my study in May 2018. Gady believes that the carpet was made before 1850. A knowledgable collector in Rochester, New York looked at the carpet and confirmed Gady’s opinion. He pointed out that the design is archaic and belongs to an early period of carpet weaving. The irregularity of the size (it’s not completely rectangular) indicates that it was not made by a large establishment, but most likely in a village setting.

It is a beautiful, rare carpet and the association with Quarry Farm makes it even more unique!

Frances Millard and Steve Webb lay down the carpet pad. The Mahal carpet now resides in the Quarry Farm dining room

I am thankful for the generosity of Charlotte and Leo Landhuis and to the weavers of Orientalist Home for the skill of their restoration.

 

Frances Millard is an independent art historian, textile arts expert, and carpet & rug appraiser.

Quarry Farm Fireplace Writing Contest Gives Local Students A Chance To Visit Mark Twain’s Living Room

Tessa Baker, from Finn Academy in Elmira, reads her contest winning story.

During the 2017-2018 academic year, The Center for Mark Twain Studies sponsored a creative writing contest for area students in grades 2-6, encouraging students to explore Mark Twain’s legacy and the importance of the Langdon family in Elmira and the Twin Tiers.

While staying at Quarry Farm, Mark Twain 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.

Students from schools within a 25-mile radius of Quarry Farm were encouraged to access the fireplace tiles on the CMTS website, MarkTwainStudies.org, and create their own stories based on the tile images.

Four area students were selected for their creative writings: Tessa Baker, Finn Academy; Alexa Fairbanks, Fassett Elementary; Mayla Falank, Cohen Elementary; and Alana Heath, Hendy Elementary.

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

Mayla Falank, from Cohen Elementary in Elmira Heights, points to the tile that inspired her story.

While Quarry Farm will never be a roadside museum,  we very much want it to be part of the Elmira legacy. We are quite aware that Mark Twain is a cornerstone of the historical and cultural narrative of Elmira and the Southern Tier.

The staff of CMTS facilitates dozens of school field trips every year, taking students to visit the Mark Twain Study on the Elmira College campus, the grounds and barn at Quarry Farm, and the family gravesite at Woodlawn National Cemetery. However, access to the main house is a rare treat.

We want these students to be proud that they grow up in Elmira, to learn how important the Langdon family was to Mark Twain, and how important Twain is to U.S. history and culture. We hope that this contest helps them see that Twain’s history and the Langdon’s history is their history as well.

For teachers interested in bringing the life of Mark Twain and his literature into their classrooms, CMTS strongly encourages you to explore our internet resources dedicated to teachers.

For coverage about this story from the Elmira Star Gazette, click here.

Finn Academy, Elmira, New York

Cohen Elementary, Elmira Heights, New York

Fassett Elementary, Elmira, New York

Hendy Avenue Elementary, Elmira, New York

Winners Selected for the Quarry Farm Fireplace Creative Writing Contest

Winners have been selected for the Quarry Farm tile fireplace creative writing contest sponsored by the Center for Mark Twain Studies (CMTS). Four area students in grades 2-6, were selected for their creative writings exploring Mark Twain’s legacy in Elmira and the Southern Tier: Tessa Baker, Finn Academy; Alexa Fairbanks, Fassett Elementary; Mayla Falank, Cohen Elementary; and Alana Heath, Hendy Elementary.

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]

CMTS Is Proud To Announce the 2018 Quarry Farm Fellows

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is pleased to present the 2018 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows! 

The application for the 2019 Quarry Farm Fellowships can be found by clicking here.

 

Courtney Bates, University of Findlay

Sponsor: Tracy Wuster, University of Texas Austin

Courtney Bates is an Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center at The University of Findlay.  She is currently working on a book project on Twain’s correspondence with his readers, which expands her doctoral dissertation, completed at Washington University in St. Louis. Having presented at the Eighth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies, she knows first-hand the view from the porch at Quarry Farm and looks forward to reading drafts aloud to the hillside after a long day of work.

“I argue that fan letters, including those in the archive of American author Willa Cather, are best considered a genre of writing used for many purposes by many people, rather than a simple illustration of common readers set apart from professional readers. Fan letters allow readers to directly articulate and test their assumptions about Mark Twain – whether, for example, they imagine themselves as conspiratorial hacks or supplicants to his literary greatness – and for Twain to document his won reactions.”

 

M.M. Dawley, Boston University

Sponsor: Gene Jarrett, New York University

Sponsor: Ann Ryan, Le Moyne College

M.M. Dawley is a dissertation fellow in the American & New England Studies program at Boston University. Her work focuses on the literary history of satire in the Gilded Age. Her dissertation is entitled “Innocents and Gilt: American Satire in the Confident Years.” Steady interest in her research has recently culminated in interested expressed by Penn State University Press for the series Humor in America. An article excerpted from that manuscript, “‘Is That Story True? Charles Chesnutt’s Satire of American Innocence,” is currently under review with Callaloo. Her article, “‘You’d Oughter Start a Scrap-Book: Gossip and Aspirational Culture in The House of Mirth and The Custom of the Country,” appears in the Fall 2017 issue of the Edith Wharton Review, and was presented at the Edith Wharton Society’s quadrennial conference in 2016. Her paper “An Innocent Abroad: Mr. Homos, the Altrurian Traveler” is forthcoming in The Howellsian and under consideration for an award with the William Dean Howells Society. M.M. Dawley also collaborated with Gene Andrew Jarrett on contributing to the African American Studies module of Oxford Bibliographies Online, published by Oxford University Press. She coordinated a panel, “It Is Difficult Not to Write: Satire and Dissent,” for this year’s annual conference of the American Studies Association. M.M. Dawley has presented on chapters from her project at conferences hosted by the American Literature Association and the American Humor Studies Association. She also won a BU Women’s Guild award for her research.

From the earliest days of the republic to contemporary American society, satire functions as a weapon of outrage in climates of political discontent—a means for artists across formats to share their dissent with the broadest possible audience. I focus on the socially and politically motivated satire of the era between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the First World War—specifically, literary satire in the Gilded Age—exploring the connections between skepticism, idealism and democracy. In a period marked by vast economic disparity, widespread political corruption, and severe civic inequity based on race and gender, many authors expressed their indignation through fiction that mingled optimism with cynicism. Entering into the conversation regarding the value of satire, ‘Innocents and Gilt: American Satire in the Confident Years, 1873-1915’ argues that by drawing their audiences in with humor, satirists from Marietta Holley to Charles Chesnutt tried to call upon their readers to take action and recognize their own complicity in present-day issues.

Despite numerous studies of the period, there has not yet been a systematic analysis of American literary satire in the Confident Years. Notwithstanding the failures of the Gilded Age, I frame this era in terms of the Confident Years to highlight the period’s obsession with progress. Most of the scholarship on satire in fiction focuses on European Restoration satire by such writers as Swift and Voltaire. The work that has been devoted to American satire highlights the early republic, the antebellum South, or post-World-War society, but it consistently overlooks the turn of the twentieth century. Nearly all of the literary scholarship on this particular time period focuses on realism or naturalism. There is, to date, only one anthology-style collection on American satire. My research presents a rare investigation into the American satire of the Gilded Age, and a singular contribution to the scholarship on innocence. The four chapters of my manuscript are each based on various typologies of the innocent that were popular during the Confident Years. While at Quarry Farm, I will conduct research for the final chapter of my project, focused on Mark Twain. ‘The Country Bumpkin’ offers a discussion of the stereotype personified by Huckleberry Finn, but also how the author re-engages with the persona through Satan, Adam and Eve in his later work.

 

Kerry Driscoll, University of St. Joseph

Kerry Driscoll is a Professor of English at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, CT and the current president of the Mark Twain Circle of America. She is the recipient of a 2007 faculty research fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities for for her book Mark Twain among the Indians and other Indigenous Peoples, an examination of the writer’s attitudes toward, and representations of, Native Americans throughout his career, which will be published in June 2018 by the University of California Press. In the summer of 2011, she directed a three week-long NEH Institute for secondary teachers on “Mark Twain and the Culture of Progress,” under the aegis of Hartford’s Mark Twain House and Museum.

“My project is called Iconic Objects, a book examining key furnishings—large and small—in the Clemenses’s Hartford home.  Each chapter will ‘read’ the cultural significance of a particular object, such as the ornate Venetian angel bed and carved oak mantel purchased from a Scottish castle, and explore the ways in which this exotic home décor reflected aspects of the writer’s identity.  Since my research is deeply archival, I plan to bring my primary source material to the Farm and use my time there to analyze, synthesize, and write.”

 

Dwayne Eutsey, Independent Scholar

Sponsor: Alan Gribben, Auburn University at Montgomery

Since completing his master’s thesis on Mark Twain’s religious views at Georgetown University in 1997, Dwayne Eutsey has established himself as an independent scholar on the topic, writing numerous articles, lecturing in various venues, and researching a book on the topic.  Married with three children, Dwayne works as a full-time writer/editor with a non-profit on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. With a degree in English from the University of Maryland, College Park, he also writes on religion, entertainment, politics, and pop culture, and has co-authored The Abide Guide: Living Like Lebowski (2011), a popular fan-book among Big Lebowski enthusiasts worldwide.

Dwayne is writing a book that examines the significant influence of religious liberalism he sees on Mark Twain’s life and writing. Entitled “There is No Humor in Heaven”: Mark Twain and the Religious Liberalism that Shaped His Life), the book will contribute to the ongoing discussion among scholars and the public regarding Twain’s complicated views on religion. Was Twain antagonistic toward religion, as many scholars and the general public appear to believe? Or, as some scholars posit, was he actually a Christian at heart who never truly strayed far from the orthodox path? Dwayne’s thesis challenges both positions by making the case that the complex liberal religious ferment of Twain’s times profoundly informed his views on religion—as well as his own personal faith journey.

 

Sarah Fredericks, University of Arizona

Sponsor: Alan Gribben, Auburn University at Montgomery

Sarah Fredericks is a doctoral candidate in Nineteenth-Century American Literature and a Graduate Associate in Teaching at the University of Arizona. Her dissertation, “Mad Mark Twain: Rage and Profanity in the Life and Works of Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain,” analyzes various versions of Twain’s vitriol. She edited Critical Insights: Lord of the Flies (2017) and recently published “‘Make Savings, Not Children’: Malthus and Population Control in Emma and Mansfield Park” in Critical Approaches to Literature: Feminist (2017). Her work on Twain includes “‘Pow-wows of Cussing’: Profanity and Euphemistic Variants in Huckleberry Finn” in Critical Insights: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (2017) and “The Profane Twain: His Personal and Literary Cursing,” the cover article for issue 50.1-2 of Mark Twain Journal (2013). She has also published articles on Herman Melville, Kate Chopin, Zora Neale Hurston, and Maya Angelou and has contributed to books on the American novel and LGBTQ literature. Originally from Houston, Texas, she currently lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her whippet, “Hello Central” (aka “Koi”).

“My project, ‘Man in White-Hot Righteous Rage,’ analyzes how Mark Twain’s constructivist approach to anger—where anger functions as a social construct in response to a violation of expected social norms and values—directly influenced the causes which he championed (and sometimes subsequently abandoned) in the last two decades of his life. It comes as no surprise that Twain penned numerous social justice texts: many of his novellas, essays, speeches, editorials, and letters vehemently denounce numerous oppressive and immoral practices. Despite being recognized as some of Twain’s most impassioned and virulent writings, however, several of these texts, such as King Leopold’s Soliloquy, have been summarily dismissed by scholars as artless ‘propaganda,’ lacking wit and style. Countering this supposition, my project asserts that Twain’s anger served as more than just an impetus for his furious denouncement of imperialism and other injustices. In several social justice texts, anger functions as an effective rhetorical technique deftly wielded according to classical theories of rhetoric as outlined in treatises such as Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Nicomachean Ethics.”

 

Susan K. Harris, University of Kansas

Sponsor: Linda Morris, University of California, Davis

Susan K. Harris has served on the faculties of the University of Kansas, Penn State, and Queens College, CUNY.  Her specialties are Mark Twain Studies and Studies of American Women Writers. Among her five monographs are Mark Twain’s Escape from Time: A Study of Patterns and Images (U Missouri P, 1982); The Courtship of Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain (Cambridge, 1996); and God’s Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902 (Oxford, 2011). She has edited three American women’s novels for Penguin/Putnam Press, the Library of America’s volume of Twain’s historical romances, and a Houghton Mifflin pedagogical edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

 Mark Twain, the World, and Me focuses on the lecture tour Twain took through the British Empire in 1895/6.  Following the Equator, the travelogue he published about the journey, takes up multiple questions that resonate into our time, such as the legacies of empire, racism, religious difference, and species annihilation.  In 2013-2014 Harris made multiple journeys in Twain’s wake–to Australasia, India, and South Africa–following up on the themes Twain starts in Following.  Since then she has been developing essays tracing those themes into their ramifications today–essays whose topics range from animal conservation through Twain’s responses to Hindu rituals to the complexities of gender and race in South Africa.  Throughout, Harris intertwines her deep knowledge of Twain and his writings, her experiences chasing Twain around the world, and research into the current state of the issues that drew Twain’s attention as he moved through the major holdings of the British Empire.  Harris will use her time at Quarry Farm to make final revisions to the manuscript before submitting it for publication. 

 

James W. Leonard, The Citadel

Sponsor: Lisa Lowe, Tufts University

James W. Leonard is currently an adjunct professor of English at The Citadel in Charleston, SC.  James recently received my PhD from Tufts University with a specialization in 19th-/20th-C American Literature.  My current project (stemming from my dissertation) examines the role of enumerative impulses in the colonization of thought, focusing primarily on the works of Mark Twain, Djuna Barnes, Cormac McCarthy, and Leslie Marmon Silko.  He has also published and/or presented on politics and philosophy in Mark Twain, anthropology and myth in transatlantic Modernism, and movement and resistance in postcolonial literature.

“My current book project on enumeration and taxonomy focuses on Twain’s capacity for transmuting dominant forms of science (or pseudo-science) into sites of social and cultural resistance.  The clearest example of this is Pudd’nhead Wilson’s fingerprint catalog.  There, the very scientific apparatus that Francis Galton hoped would reify racial hierarchies becomes a tool for disrupting the racial divisions which justified slavery.  But faith in such hierarchies (and the taxonomies that codified them) did not appear spontaneously, and was intrinsically linked to social appropriations of Enlightenment philosophy and its empirical bent.  Using the resources of the Center for Mark Twain Studies, I plan to explore Mark Twain’s relationship to and contact with Enlightenment philosophy.  In doing so, I want to think through the interaction of Enlightenment culture’s ideologically weighted empiricisms and Twain’s subversive taxonomies.”

 

Terry Oggel, Virginia Commonwealth University

Sponsor: Alan Gribben, Auburn University at Montgomery

Sponsor: Robert H. Hirst, University of California, Berkeley

Terry Oggel teaches courses in American literature at Virginia Commonwealth University where he is a professor of English. He specializes in bibliography and textual studies as applied to late nineteenth-century figures Mark Twain and Edwin Booth. He has published articles on the child figure in American literature and on such writers as Thoreau, Lowell, Hawthorne, Mark Twain and John Barth. He has published four books in bibliography in addition to The Letters and Notebooks of Mary Devlin Booth and Edwin Booth: A Bio-bibliography. He has contributed entries for The Mark Twain Encyclopedia. His critical edition of Twain’s polemical essay “The United States of Lyncherdom,” published in Europe and Elsewhere (1923) by Albert Bigelow Paine, Twain’s official biographer and literary executor, led to his current project—a biography of Paine based on archival research that focuses on Twain from Paine’s unique perspective.

“My project concerns Albert Bigelow Paine (1861-1937), Mark Twain’s choice to be his official biographer (in 1906) and later to be his literary co-executor (1909). Though Paine has suffered from scholarly neglect—only a PhD dissertation and two articles devoted to him—I have discovered Paine archival materials at 60 repositories nationwide. These are the documents I will study at Quarry Farm as I write a biography of Paine that explores Twain’s relationship with him. Besides his Twain work, publishing or republishing nearly 50 volumes of Twain writings, Paine was an author in his own right. He published six other biographies and some 200 novels, travelogues, short stories, essays, and poems for adults and children. The depth and diversity of Paine’s career—the Twain part and the non-Twain part, the whole career and person—invites study for a nuanced view of Twain’s mind in his final years as seen from the unique perspective of Paine, whom Twain respected and trusted, and who was, Twain said, ‘my particular friend.'”

 

Ann M. Ryan, Le Moyne College

Ann M. Ryan is Professor of American Literature at Le Moyne College in Syracuse NY. She is the past president of The Mark Twain Circle, and former editor of The Mark Twain Annual. In addition to authoring numerous articles on Twain, she is the co-editor of and contributor to Cosmopolitan Twain, and A Due Voci: The Photography of Rita Hammond. She was named the O’Connell Professor of the Humanities by Le Moyne College and honored with the Henry Nash Smith Award by the Center for Mark Twain Studies.

“In Leslie Fiedler’s landmark study Love and Death in the American Novel, Fiedler claims that American culture is inherently adolescent, unwilling to negotiate the truths of its history or the realities or race, sex, and desire. He finds his evidence in the gothic themes, sentimental fictions, and finally in the “little-women” and “boy-men” that collectively dominate our national literature. Mark Twain’s fiction becomes for Fiedler a prime example of this grand cultural evasion.

While Twain would agree with Fiedler’s central cultural critique—and in many ways anticipates Fiedler’s thesis—Twain’s use of the gothic is less symptomatic than it is deliberate. As a keen reader of gothic texts, Twain takes up the genre first as an object of satire, later as a critique of American culture, and finally as a modernist reflection on the claims of the novel itself: the relevance of the individual, the truth of history, and the possibility of narrating the meaning of either one. In this book-length project, I will be exploring Twain’s evolving use of gothic tropes and narratives, and the extent to which they are informed by his life and the culture in which he lived. During my stay at Quarry Farm, I will work in particular on Twain’s earliest gothic performances and his deft conflation of horror and humor.”

 

Milette Shamir, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Sponsor: Hana Wirth-Nesher, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Milette Shamir teaches American Studies at Tel Aviv University, where she is currently also serving as Vice Dean of the Humanities.  Her research focuses on U.S. literatures and cultures of the long nineteenth century.  She is the author of Inexpressible Privacy: The Interior Life of Antebellum American Literature, published by Penn Press in 2005, and the co-editor of Boys Don’t Cry? Rethinking Narratives of Masculinity and Emotion in the U.S., published by Columbia UP in 2002.  Her most recent co-edited collection, Bigger than Ben-Hur: The Novel, Its Adaptations, and their Audiences (Syracuse UP, 2015) is an offshoot of her work-in-progress on American Holy-Land Narratives and the modernization of U.S. cultural forms in the 19th century.  Part of her interest in Mark Twain grows from this research project; a preliminary study of The Innocents Abroad in relation to the Holy-Land archive appeared as “Rethinking 19th-Century American Holy-Land Narratives” in a special issue of Quest devoted to Holy Land Travel (2013). 

“I intend to use my time at Quarry Farm to research part of my book project on American Holy-Land writing, a section devoted wholly to Twain’s visit to Ottoman Palestine exactly 150 years ago.  The book’s premise is that by asking how stories of the Holy Land were crafted and told by American authors, journalists, and travelers (several hundred such narratives were published in the nineteenth century in the United States), a fuller and more nuanced account of the part played by the Near East in U.S. culture emerges, an account that reveals, beyond the familiar Foucauldian and Saidian knowledge/power grid, a collective need to negotiate religious faith with modernization, consumer pleasures with traditional duties, and national identity with transnational affiliations. That Twain’s The Innocents Abroad offers the richest terrain for such an exploration is not only because it is this archive’s most complex (and delightful) exemplar; it is also because it offers a peep into the making of the Holy-Land narrative.  The beginning of Twain’s creative process can be traced to his travel notebooks, and then followed through the Alta letters he composed while travelling to the revisions he made while preparing The Innocents Abroad. By closely comparing these multiple sources, I intend to analyze the process by which a material experience of Ottoman Palestine gradually gained narrative shape.

After decades of post-structuralist and post-colonial approaches to travel writing, students of the genre have grown perhaps too comfortable with dismissing a writer’s actual experience of a foreign place. Many also tend to downplay the difference between modes of mediation of that experience, and the varying temporal relation that each mode involves (e.g., private notebook written on site vs. bestselling book composed many months after the return back home). By paying close attention to the full palimpsest of Twain’s Palestine account, I hope to underscore these different kinds and degrees of mediation in order to explore the difficulties that were on Twain’s own mind as he prepared The Innocents Abroad for publication: the challenges posed by the gradual dissolving of material facticity–of the very reality he promises in the preface to the book to deliver to his readers–and the creeping of orientalist convention into narration. The problems that he first encountered in writing about the Holy Land, I believe, are the same ones that would continue to plague Twain throughout his writing career, most clearly in relation to the question of whether and how one could compose a truthful autobiography.”

 

Thomas Ruys Smith, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom

Sponsor: Lawrence Howe, Roosevelt University

Sponsor: Peter Messent, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom

Thomas Ruys Smith is Senior Lecturer in American Literature and Culture and Head of the Department of American Studies at the University of East Anglia in the UK. Though his research ranges widely across literature and culture, it is normally rooted in the nineteenth century, and is most often situated somewhere along the Mississippi River. He is the author of two books – River of Dreams: Imagining the Mississippi Before Mark Twain (Louisiana State University Press, 2007), and Southern Queen: New Orleans in the Nineteenth Century (Continuum, 2010) – and the editor of three more, most recently, Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music: America Changed Through Music (Routledge, 2017).

Tom will use his Quarry Farm Research Fellowship to work on his next book, provisionally titled Deep Water: The Mississippi River in the Age of Mark Twain. This project is an exploration of the river writings of Mark Twain within the broader context of the cultural, social and economic life of the Mississippi River in the late nineteenth century. Ranging widely across disciplines and sources, moving from travel accounts and popular literature to art and music, it will be the first study of its kind. Deep Water will focus both on Twain’s lifelong imaginative relationship with the river – the first single, sustained study to do so – whilst exploring the wider context of life on the Mississippi from the American Civil War to the early decades of the twentieth century.

 

Atsushi Sugimura, University of Tokyo; University of California, Berkeley

Sponsor: Robert H. Hirst, University of California, Berkeley

Atsushi Sugimura is a PhD Candidate in English at the University of Tokyo, a Visiting Scholar at University of California, Berkeley, and a recipient of the Ito Foundation U.S.A.-FUTI scholarship.

“The purpose of my project is to explore the way in which images of Native Americans play a significant role in the autobiographical construction of the works of Mark Twain. The unique perspective of my study is its focus on the parallel forms of impact of the Abolitionist movement and the Indian Problem on nineteenth-century America. Within this specific context, I will reevaluate the bifocal perspective of Twain’s text and its provocative appropriation of the marginalized history of Native Americans.”

 

 

 

 

Application for the 2019 Quarry Farm Fellowships can be found by clicking here.

Spring 2017 “Trouble Begins” Lecture Series Concludes With Lecture From Hoi Na Kung

The spring portion of the 2016-2017 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes Wednesday, May 24, at 7:00 p.m., in the Barn at Quarry Farm.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

The lecture, “The Mechanical Woman in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” presented by Hoi Na Kung, a doctorate student at Indiana University.  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.

 

Spring 2017 “Trouble Begins” Series Continues with Plaque Dedication and Twain Lecture

The 2016-2017 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series continues May 3 at Quarry Farm with the lecture and a special plaque dedication ceremony honoring the recent designation of Quarry Farm as a New York Literary Landmark.  The ceremony and lecture is free and open to the public.

The evening begins with tours of the grounds at 5:00 p.m., followed by the plaque dedication and light refreshments.  The Trouble Begins lecture begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Barn at Quarry Farm and features independent scholar Barbara Jones Brown and her presentation, “Roughing It: Twain’s Take on Brigham Young, Polygamy, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre.”

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.