Check out the 2020 Fall Trouble Begins Lineup

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is proud to announce the Fall 2020 Trouble Begins Lecture Series. This diverse, accomplished line-up is a testament to the rich potential of Mark Twain Studies. CMTS is honored to present and support these scholars. All lectures are free and open to the public.

Visit the “Trouble Begins Archives” for a downloadable recording of all these talks and other past lectures. You can also see past “Trouble Begins” programs and CMTS quadrennial conference and symposia programs.

Please note: In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the CMTS has taken precautionary measures to move all lectures from the Barn at Quarry Farm to online at Presenters have agreed to record their lectures and make their talks available on this page and the “Trouble Begins Archive.” Stay safe, everyone.


Wednesday, October 7

“Mark Twain Meets Dracula”

Mark Dawidziak, Independent Scholar

Does Mark Twain make a cameo appearance in Dracula, Bram Stoker’s landmark horror novel published in May 1897? Is he lurking somewhere in the shadows of that incredible 161,000-word book? Is there a moment in this epic vampire tale when main-street Hannibal intersects with the Borgo Pass? Well, at the very least, best evidence suggests that the reports of Mark Twain being mentioned in the novel are not greatly exaggerated. Mark Dawidziak, whose many books include Mark My Words: Mark Twain on Writing and The Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Dracula, will examine this bloody intriguing literary mystery, as well as the long friendship shared by Twain and Stoker, in this expanded version of the paper he delivered at the Eighth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies in 2017. Five of Dawidziak’s books are about Mark Twain, but several of his books, non-fiction and fiction, fall on the spooky side of the street. The combination makes this an ideal talk for Quarry Farm and the Halloween season.

Mark Dawidziak is the author or editor of about 25 books, including five about Mark Twain. He has given papers at the last five International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College and has three times before given a “Trouble Begins” at lecture at Quarry Farm. He also has been portraying Mark Twain on stage for more than 40 years. The many books on the spooky side of his resume include The Night Stalker CompanionThe Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Dracula, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone, and the horror novel Grave Secrets.

Wednesday, October 14

“Viral Twain: The Reprinting of Mark Twain in Nineteenth-Century Newspapers”

Avery Blankenship, Northeastern University

Image from A Book for an Hour (1873)

Through the use of the Wright American Fiction archive of nearly 3,000 American novels and story collections published 1851-1875 and existing reprint detection methods developed by the Viral Texts project, identifying the trajectory of novels published within this time frame has become possible. Often, the circulation and spread of fiction through the newspaper occurred in the form of brief excerpts – sometimes without authorial attributions or titles. Twain also made use of the ambiguous nature of newspaper circulation. For example, in A Book for an Hour (1873), Twain borrows the popular sketch “Persuading a Hen” from “The Danbury News,” but this same text also appears in James Bailey’s Life in Danbury as “Driving a Hen,” and was published in at least one other book in 1873. Broadly considering examples such as this, this lecture will wrestle with the pieces in particular of Twain’s that were circulated in the newspaper and, how their uptake in the newspaper might recontextualize Twain’s popularity in relationship to other successful newspaper fiction writers.

Avery Blankenship is a PhD Student in the English Department at Northeastern University. Her research interests include nineteenth-century print culture, digital humanities, and nineteenth-century cookbooks and domestic manuals. She is a current research assistant for the Viral Texts project and more of her work, as well as the work of the larger project, can be read about at either or at where some chapters of the team’s forthcoming book-project, Going the Rounds, are available for review.

Wednesday, October 21

Interview with Susan K. Harris about her new book Mark Twain, The World, and Me

In Mark Twain, the World, and Me: “Following the Equator,” Then and Now, Susan K. Harris follows Twain’s last lecture tour as he wound his way through the British Empire in 1895–1896. Deftly blending history, biography, literary criticism, reportage, and travel memoir, Harris gives readers a unique take on one of America’s most widely studied writers. Structured as a series of interlocking essays written in the first person, this engaging volume draws on Twain’s insights into the histories and cultures of Australia, India, and South Africa and weaves them into timely reflections on the legacies of those countries today. Harris offers meditations on what Twain’s travels mean for her as a scholar, a white woman, a Jewish American, a wife, and a mother. By treating topics as varied as colonial rule, the clash between indigenous and settler communities, racial and sexual “inbetweenness,” and species decimation, Harris reveals how the world we know grew out of the colonial world Twain encountered. Her essays explore issues of identity that still trouble us today: respecting race and gender, preserving nature, honoring indigenous peoples, and respecting religious differences.

Harris will be interviewed by Dr. Matt Seybold, resident scholar of the Center for Mark Twain Studies and Assistant Professor of Ameican Literature and Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College.

Susan K. Harris is distinguished professor emerita at the University of Kansas. She is author of God’s Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898–1902The Cultural Work of the Late Nineteenth Century Hostess: Annie Adams Fields and Mary Gladstone DrewThe Courtship of Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain19th-Century American Women’s NovelsInterpretive Strategiesand Mark Twain’s Escape from Time: A Study of Patterns and Images.

Wednesday, October 28

“Mark Twain, James Redpath, & The Vigilante Origins of U.S. Police”

Matt Seybold, Elmira College

During the mid-1860s, Mark Twain waged a prolonged and inflammatory media war against the San Francisco Police. By some accounts his campaign led directly to the replacement of the SFPD’s longtime Commissioner, as well as broader reforms which were later adopted by departments across the nation. During the same years Twain was excoriating the SFPD, his future publicist, James Redpath, was participating in the occupation and reconstruction of Confederate Charleston. From Redpath’s perspective, the prosperity of Charleston after the Civil War depended upon annihilating the institutions of its past, including the police force which had been formed explicitly to patrol and punish the enslaved population. In his talk, Dr. Seybold uses Twain and Redpath as lenses for comparing the history of policing in these two U.S. cities, separated by nearly 3,000 miles, as well as by contrasting demographics, economies, and cultural institutions. What can their histories teach us about the often antagonistic relationship between the media and the police in our own time?

Matt Seybold is Assistant Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, as well as resident scholar at the Center for Mark Twain Studies and editor of He is co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018) and a 2019 special issue of American Literary History on “Economics & Literary Studies in the New Gilded Age.” Other recent publications can be found in AeonAmerican Studiesboundary 2, CriticismHenry James ReviewLeviathanLos Angeles Review of BooksMark Twain AnnualReception, and T.S. Eliot Studies Annual. He is current working on a book about the political economy of mass media in America’s Gilded Ages, tentatively titled “The Rhyme of Crisis: Mark Twain & the Networks of Disunion.”