Fall ‘Trouble Begins’ Lecture Explores Huck Finn

The fall portion of the 2019-2020 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues on Wednesday, October 16 in Peterson Chapel, Cowles Hall at Elmira College.  The lecture, which begins at 7:00 p.m. lecture is free and open to the public.

The lecture, “‘He ain’t a-comin’ back no mo’: Huck Finn as an American Myth,” will be presented by Tim DeRoche, producer and author. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a rousing adventure, a realistic depiction of American boyhood, a satirical critique of American society, and a foundational text for all of modern American literature. But part of what makes the story so transcendent and enduring is that Huck Finn is also a myth. In this story of two fugitives fleeing down a river, Mark Twain taps into universal themes and tropes that recur in fairy tales, folklore, and religious narratives. That’s one reason that American writers and filmmakers have been retelling this story – both overtly and covertly – for the last 100 years. Seeing Huck Finn through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s universal “hero’s journey” helps reveal why the book has been so important in the formation of the American psyche but also why the ending can feel so unsatisfying. As the prototype for a particular American myth, Huck Finn will be retold over and over as long as our society persists – perhaps even longer.

DeRoche is the author of The Ballad of Huck & Miguel, a modern-day retelling of Huck Finn set on the Los Angeles River. Featured on CBS Sunday Morning in May of 2019, the book has been called “satirical, funny, thrilling, hopeful, and human” by the Mark Twain Forum. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Tim DeRoche emigrated to California to attend Pomona College, where he studied English literature. A graduate of the PBS Producers Academy at WGBH in Boston, he also holds a certificate in feature-film screenwriting from UCLA. He served as executive producer and writer of the children’s science series Grandpa’s Garage, produced by Turner Learning for Georgia Public Television. Tim has written for the Washington PostEducation WeekSchool Administrator, and the Los Angeles Business Journal. His new nonfiction book Separated By Law will be published in 2020 and takes a close look at the policies and laws that assign American children to schools based on where they live.

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. 

Lecture on Twain’s Experiences in Washington D.C. Starts the Fall 2019 Trouble Begins Lecture Series

The fall portion of the 2019-2020 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies features four lectures, with the first event set for 7:00 p.m., on Wednesday, October 9 in The Barn at Quarry Farm.  All four lectures are free and open to the public.

Illustration from American Examiner (1910)

The first lecture, “Mark Twain Invades Washington,” will be presented by Alan Pell Crawford, author and independent scholar. Before he was a famous novelist, Mark Twain lived and worked in the Nation’s Capital, first as an aide to Senator William Stewart of Nevada—he was quickly fired—then as a lobbyist and Washington correspondent. These early experiences gave Twain a unique perspective on American politics, and in later years he became a fierce critic of war and imperialism. Having had his profits as an author reduced by pirated editions of his works, he returned to Washington late in life to testify before Congress for copyright protection for authors. People still read his trenchant writings on politics, with good reason. They still speak to us. “Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can,” Twain wrote in  What is Man? and Other Essays. In Mark Twain, A Biography he is quoted as saying “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” What would he say today?

Pell Crawford is the author, most recently, of How Not to Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain, published in 2018. His previous books include Unwise Passions: The True Story of a Remarkable Woman and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America and Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson. A former Senate and House staffer, Pell Crawford has been a residential scholar at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. He has written for the Wall Street Journal for 25 years and been published in the New York Times, the Washington PostNational Review, the Weekly Standard and Vogue. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.

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 Announces the 2019 Fall Trouble Begins Lecture Series

1869, Mark Twain

In 1985, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies inaugurated The Trouble Begins Lecture Series. The title comes from a handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The lectures are now held in the Fall and Spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. In the of each year, the lectures are held at the Park Church. All lectures are free and open to the public.

The Trouble Begins Lecture Series is sponsored by the Michael J. Kiskis Memorial Fund. The sole purpose of this fund is to support scholars and scholarship at Quarry Farm. If you are interested in contributing to this fund, please contact Dr. Joseph Lemak at [email protected]. The Trouble Begins and the Park Church Summer Lecture Series are also made possible by the support of the Mark Twain Foundation and the Friends of the Center.

Wednesday, October 9 in the Barn at Quarry Farm (7 p.m.)

“Mark Twain Invades Washington”

Alan Pell Crawford, Independent Scholar

“I believe the Prince of Darkness could start a branch of hell in the District of Columbia (if he has not already done it)” Mark Twain, Letter to Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, March 7, 1868

Illustration from American Examiner, 1910

Before he was a famous novelist, Mark Twain lived and worked in the Nation’s Capital, first as an aide to Senator William Stewart of Nevada—he was quickly fired—then as a lobbyist and Washington correspondent. These early experiences gave Twain a unique perspective on American politics, and in later years he became a fierce critic of war and imperialism. Having had his profits as an author reduced by pirated editions of his works, he returned to Washington late in life to testify before Congress for copyright protection for authors. People still read his trenchant writings on politics, with good reason. They still speak to us. “Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can,” Twain wrote in  What is Man? and Other Essays. In Mark Twain, A Biography he is quoted as saying “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” What would he say today?

Alan Pell Crawford is the author, most recently, of How Not to Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain, published in 2018. His previous books include Unwise Passions: The True Story of a Remarkable Woman and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America and Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson. A former Senate and House staffer, Alan has been a residential scholar at the international Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. He has written for the Wall Street Journal for 25 years and been published in the New York Times, the Washington PostNational Review, the Weekly Standard and Vogue. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.


Wednesday, October 16 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus (7:00 p.m.)

“‘He ain’t a-comin’ back no mo’: Huck Finn as an American Myth”

Tim DeRoche, Redtail Press

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a rousing adventure, a realistic depiction of American boyhood, a satirical critique of American society, and a foundational text for all of modern American literature. But part of what makes the story so transcendent and enduring is that Huck Finn is also a myth. In this story of two fugitives fleeing down a river, Mark Twain taps into universal themes and tropes that recur in fairy tales, folklore, and religious narratives. That’s one reason that American writers and filmmakers have been retelling this story – both overtly and covertly – for the last 100 years. Seeing Huck Finn through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s universal “hero’s journey” helps reveal why the book has been so important in the formation of the American psyche but also why the ending can feel so unsatisfying. As the prototype for a particular American myth, Huck Finn will be retold over and over as long as our society persists – perhaps even longer.

Tim DeRoche is the author of The Ballad of Huck & Miguel, a modern-day retelling of Huck Finn set on the Los Angeles River. Featured on CBS Sunday Morning in May of 2019, the book has been called “satirical, funny, thrilling, hopeful, and human” by the Mark Twain Forum. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Tim DeRoche emigrated to California to attend Pomona College, where he studied English literature. A graduate of the PBS Producers Academy at WGBH in Boston, he also holds a certificate in feature-film screenwriting from UCLA. He served as executive producer and writer of the children’s science series Grandpa’s Garage, produced by Turner Learning for Georgia Public Television. Tim has written for the Washington PostEducation WeekSchool Administrator, and the Los Angeles Business Journal. His new nonfiction book Separated By Law will be published in 2020 and takes a close look at the policies and laws that assign American children to schools based on where they live.


Wednesday, October 23 in the Barn at Quarry Farm (7:00 p.m.)

“‘We found we had a little cash left over..’: Sam and Livy’s Hartford Dream House and Its Architectural Roots”

Pieter Roos, Mark Twain House and Museum, Hartford, CT.

The Hartford House and Museum

Just as would be the case today, Sam and Livy Clemens embarked on an adventure in building a new house. Like any young couple, having the dream, selecting an architect, and seeing a project through to the finish is always a challenge. Sam and Livy spent a substantial portion of her inheritance on the house, and their love for it was life-long, even after they left it. At the time of its completion, the Hartford Courantremarked that the house was the newest marvel of Hartford, a city replete with large and expensive works of domestic architecture. Their architect, Edward Tuckerman Potter, designed a house that was undoubtedly stylish and thoroughly contemporary, but while it fell within the general early precepts of the Stick Style, it was not in the mainstream, and still stands out today in its individuality. A few year’s after the initial completion, the Clemens’ engaged Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated artists to take the interior up to a whole new level. We will look both at the Clemens’ personal journey in construction and the architectural roots of a remarkable and iconic building and what made it the singular example of the Stick Style that it became and remains today.

Pieter Nicholson Roos has served in the museum field since 1984, working all over the Northeast. In 1999 he became the Founding Executive Director of the Newport Restoration Foundation, a preservation and museum organization that administers some 82 historic properties. In 2016 he created the groundbreaking “Keeping History Above Water” conference, the first national discussion of the impact of climate change on historic preservation. Since 2017, Pieter has served as the Executive Director of the Mark Twain House and Museum. During the last two years, programming has doubled, and $2.8 million has been raised to enhance programming and operations and to preserve the campus and the house. Pieter has written and lectured extensively, teaching at both Harvard University and Brown University. In 2017 he was the recipient of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission’s Fred Williamson Award for Professional Excellence and the Doris Duke Preservation Award.


Wednesday, October 30 in the Barn at Quarry Farm (7:00 p.m.)

“Sociable Sam: Mark Twain Among Friends”

Judith Yaross Lee, Ohio University

“Mark Twain’s 70th Birthday: Souvenir of Its Celebration,”
Supplement to Harper’s Weekly, September 25, 1905

Samuel Clemens joked in one of his lectures that he had met “uncommonplace characters . . . Bunyan, Martin Luther, Milton, and . . . others,” but it’s not stretching much to say that he knew just about everyone famous between the Civil War and World War I.  By 1892, his social network had grown so large that eleven-year-old Jean Clemens, impressed that her parents had received a dinner invitation from Germany’s Emperor Wilhelm II, remarked, “Why papa, if it keeps going on like this, pretty soon there won’t be anybody left for you to get acquainted with but God.” Yet sociable Sam Clemens was more than a famous guy who knew other famous folks: from the start of his career as Mark Twain, his writings grew from and through interactions with others. This illustrated lecture traces the impact of that sociability on some of his most important works. 

Judith Yaross Lee, Distinguished Professor Emerita at Ohio University (Athens, OH), studies American humor and other popular discourses in interdisciplinary historical contexts. Among the 5 books and 60 articles that she has published are Twain’s Brand: Humor in Contemporary American Culture (2012), showing how Mark Twain pioneered contemporary practices in stand-up comedy and comic brand management, and Garrison Keillor: A Voice of America (1991), the first analysis of this major comic performer and writer. Current projects include Seeing MAD: Essays on Mad Magazine’s History and Legacy from Cover to Fold-In (co-edited with John Bird) and a revised history of American comic rhetoric, American Humor and Matters of Empire, also the theme of a 2020 Quarry Farm Symposium.

A Lecture on Twain’s Early Views On Sino-American Relations Concludes the Park Church Summer Lecture Series

The 2019 Park Church Lecture Series, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, continues on Wednesday, August 21 in the historic and cultural landmark, The Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

Sunny Yang will give a lecture entitled “Where the ‘Wild West’ Ends and China Begins: Rethinking the Geography of Mark Twain and Bret Harte’s Ah Sin


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

Yang will discuss how, 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 multi-ethnic 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 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.

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.

“The Dread of Filth in Twain” is the Next Park Church Summer Lecture

The 2019 Park Church Lecture Series, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, continues on Wednesday, August 14 in the historic and cultural landmark, The Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

This lecture on August 14 at 7:00p.m. at the Park Church is free and open t the public
Manuscript page from 3,000 Years among the Microbes, 
Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut

The lecture, “The Dread of Filth in Twain: Cultures of Mysophobia in Post-Pasteurian Medicine and 3,000 Years among the Microbes,” will be presented by Don James McLaughlin, University of Tulsa.  This talk examines Mark Twain’s unfinished manuscript 3,000 Years among the Microbes, written in Dublin, New Hampshire in 1905. More precisely, McLaughlin will 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. McLaughlin uses 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.

McLaughlin is an 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

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.

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.

Over 75 Past Lectures Added to the “Trouble Begins Archive”

Over 75 downloadable lectures have been added to the “Trouble BeginsArchives. Most of these lectures come from the years 1986 to 1999.

Louis. J. Budd at Quarry Farm

In 1985, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies inaugurated The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series. The title comes from a handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco.  The lectures are now held in the Spring, Summer, and Fall of each year, in the barn at Quarry Farm, Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus, or the Historic Park Church in downtown Elmira.  All lectures are free and open to the public. We will continue to work our way back and make these lectures to everyone.  Please stay tuned for more.  All the downloadable lectures and copies of “The Trouble Begins Programs” can be found in The Trouble Begins Archives.

Some highlights include:

  • Victor Doyno, “Mark Twain’s Family Life at Quarry Farm” (July 27, 1988 – Hamilton Hall – Elmira College Campus)
  • Hamlin Hill, “Late Mark Twain: Fro Bad Philosophy to Worse Literature” (July 24, 1989 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Alan Gribben, “Huckleberry Finn’s Missing Twin” (April 11, 1990 – Quarry Farm)
  • Howard Baetzhold, “The ‘Autobiography of Eve’: Mark Twain’s First Attempt to Tell Eve’s Story” (October 2, 1991 – Quarry Farm)
  • Michael Kiskis, “‘A Complete and Purposed Jumble: The Problem with Mark Twain’s Autobiography” (October 28, 1992 – Quarry Farm)
  • Lawrence I. Berkove, “The Ethical Records of Twain and his Circle of Old West Journalists” (March 24, 1993 – Quarry Farm)
  • Laura E. Skandera-Trombley, “Mark Twain’s Elmira Revisited: Through a Woman’s Eye”
  • Shelley Fisher Fishkin, “Mark Twain and African-American Voices” (September 12, 1995 – Quarry Farm)
  • Louis J. Budd, “Mark Twain’s Visual Humor” (June 5, 1995 – Quarry Farm)
  • Susan K. Harris, “Love Texts: The Role of Books in the Courtship of Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain” (November 13, 1996 – Quarry Farm)
  • Kerry Driscoll, “‘Eating Indians for Breakfast’: Racial Ambivalence and American Identity in The Innocents Abroad” (October 21, 1998 – Quarry Farm)
  • Chad Rohman, “‘Yours Truly, Mark Twain’: Reconsidering the Intellectual and Epistemological Dimensions of an Ironic and Elusive Mind” (May 6, 1998 – Quarry Farm)

2019 Park Church Summer Lectures Start Wednesday

Elmira, New York – The 2019 Park Church Lecture Series, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, begins Wednesday, August 7 in the historic and cultural landmark, The Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

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

The first lecture, “’Views of Mark Twain’: Antics and Annexation in Twain’s New York Tribune Letters on Hawai’i,” will be presented by Todd Nathan Thompson, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  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.

A professor of English, Thompson is also treasurer-secretary of the American Humor Studies Association. Thompson 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 EditingEarly American LiteratureESQNineteenth-Century ProseJournal of American CultureTeaching 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.

Professor Thompson is a 2019 Quarry Farm Fellow. Professor Thompson gave a lecture for CMTS’ 2018 Spring “Trouble Begins” Lecture Series. His lecture can be accessed here:

  • Todd Nathan Thompson, “An American Cannibal at Home: Comic Diplomacy in Mark Twain’s Hawai’i” (May 23, 2018 – Cowles Hall – Elmira College Campus) Lecture Images

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.

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, Jr., 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.

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.

EC Actors Participate in Upcoming Theatrical Production at Quarry Farm

The spring portion of the 2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes on Wednesday, May 29 with two events, a theatrical reading of Waiting for Susy at 5:30 p.m, followed by a lecture by Professor Bruce Michelson of University of Illinois at 7:00p.m. Both events will take place at Quarry Farm. Both events are free and open to the public.

Last fall Professor Bruce Michelson of the University of Illinois asked if there would be students interested in performing a staged reading of his one act play Waiting for Susy, a comedy about a famous, momentous, historic encounter between Mark Twain and “a bearded man” that actually never took place. Luckily enough, theatre students Alex Garey ’19 and Matthieu Marchal ’20 were recruited, and alumna Sarah Kaschalk ’17 agreed to take over as director and perform as Susy, Mark Twain’s daughter. 

As an undergraduate Sarah was often seen on stage, both acting and singing. She was the stage manager and directed a one act play in her senior year. It had been several years since she was involved in theatre, and she said, “I didn’t realize how much I missed directing! Michelson’s play has reminded me of the joys of directing. It’s been fun to work with Alex and Matthieu who both have worked with the EC theatre department.” 

Alex, who was last seen in Professor John Kelly’s play “Gra” as the character Conor Fitzgerald, said he enjoys playing the part of Mark Twain, especially because of Twain’s ties to Elmira College and his prominence in the local Elmira area. “It took awhile to find the right accent after learning an Irish accent for ‘Gra.’ Finally, I just imagined an over-the-top Southern accent because this comedy highlights Twain’s eccentric character.” 

Matthieu’s experience came from taking Acting I as an elective last fall. As an art minor, he is quite comfortable in the role of painter, and his command of the French language and proper pronunciation has been indispensable in bringing this play to life. He plays the mysterious “Bearded Man,” with a wry sense of humor that comically provokes Twain to spar with him in his own less than perfect French.

Waiting for Susy will be performed in the Quarry Farm Barn on Wednesday, May 29 at 5:30p.m. Following the performance at 7:00p.m., Professor Michelson will deliver the final Trouble Begins lecture of the season titled  “Mark Twain’s Homes and the Public Private Life.” The Center for Mark Twain Studies welcomes everyone to attend both events.

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.