CMTS Announces the 2023 Fall Trouble Begins Lineup

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is proud to announce the Fall 2023 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.

In 1985, the 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 “Trouble Begins” and the Park Church Summer Lecture Series are made possible by the generous support of the Mark Twain Foundation and Katherine Roehlke. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 4 at The Quarry Farm Barn (7:00pm)

Nathaniel Williams

University of California, Davis

“Mark Twain and Kenneth Robeson: Missouri Writers of Two Generations”

Image of Lester Dent (left) and Samuel Clemens (right). Courtesy of Nathaniel Williams.

In many ways, Mark Twain embodies the public’s perception of a successful writer. Beloved by many in his time, still read and discussed today, Twain had a lucrative and influential writing career, at least partially facilitated by the enviable support given to him by his wife and his sister-in-law’s family at Quarry Farm. Even under these ideal circumstances, he often struggled to finish stories and sketches.

Like Samuel Clemens, Lester Dent was a Missouri-born writer who spent his career working under a better known pseudonym. As “Kenneth Robeson,” he produced over 150 novels—about 10 books a year—in the Doc Savage series for Street and Smith publishing until 1949.  If Clemens represents the 19th-century ideal of the popular author, Dent represents the subsequent generation’s mass-production standard of authorship: formulaic fiction written by multiple authors under the same pseudonym featuring a character owned by the conglomerate rather than an individual creator. This presentation will cover Dent’s strategic composition methods and  Street and Smith’s publishing method. The Doc Savage stories were enormously influential on superhero comic books and adventure series—both in terms of content and in terms of their business model. Today’s age of franchise fictions, multimedia storytelling, and conglomerate-owned “properties” (particularly superhero narratives) resembles Twain’s world less and less and Dent’s world more and more.

Nathaniel Williams is the author of Gears and God: Technocratic Fiction, Faith, and Empire in Mark Twain’s America (University of Alabama Press, 2018) and Associate Editor for The Mark Twain Annual. His articles have appeared in American LiteratureUtopian StudiesThe Cambridge History of Science Fiction and elsewhere. He is a continuing lecturer for the University Writing Program at the University of California, Davis. He is currently writing a book on The Shadow and Doc Savage series’ role in defining franchise fiction in the twentieth century.

Wednesday, October 18 at The Quarry Farm Barn (7:00pm)

Robert E. Cray

Montclair State University

“John Allen, ‘the wickedest man’ and his son Chester” Harper’s Weekly (August 8, 1868)

“‘The Wickedest Man in New York?:’ Mark Twain and the 1868 Water Street Sham Revival”

1868 Water Street in lower Manhattan featured raucous dance halls and sailors seeking entertainment, alcohol, and sex. John Allen’s No. 304 Water Street establishment ranked among the most notorious.  In fact, journalist Oliver Dyer, an ally of the nearby Howard Mission, described Allen as the “Wickedest Man in New York,” launching a stellar instance of journalistic and religious sensationalism. Prayer meetings commenced in Allen’s closed establishment by August and September. The curious, the cynical, and the faithful converged; roughs, prostitutes, and sailors mingled with or stared at uptown Christians. Howard Mission evangelicals displayed John Allen as a religious trophy, his upcoming redemption seemingly at hand.  But was this a real work of faith? Mark Twain had something to say about this.  So, too, did many other journalists.  But what Twain said illuminates both his brand of humor and insights regarding religion and sensationalism, underscoring his ability to burlesque (and parody) sensationalized events.  He would not disappoint.

Robert E. Cray is a Professor of History at Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ.  His published works include A Notable Bully: Colonel Billy Wilson, Masculinity, and the Pursuit of Violence in the Civil War Era, (Kent State University Press, 2021); Lovewell’s Fight: War, Death, and Memory in Borderland New England (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014) and Paupers and Poor Relief: New York City and its Rural Environs, 1700-1830 (Temple University Press, 1988). Cray’s article “Major John Andre and the Three Captors: Class Dynamics and Revolutionary Memory Wars in the Early Republic, 1780-1831,” which appeared in the Journal of the Early Republic, 1997, won the journal’s best article award. He is currently working on religious sensationalism in early Gilded Age New York City.

Wednesday, October 25 at The Quarry Farm Barn (7:00pm)

Stephen Cushman

University of Viriginia

“Mark Twain and the Civil War Memoir Boom”

Photo of Gen. U.S. Grant writing his memoirs, Saratoga Springs, NY (June 27, 1885)

In December 1885, Mark Twain’s firm published the first volume of Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.  After Grant’s memoirs became a popular sensation, Twain published memoirs by George B. McClellan and Philip H. Sheridan, as he sought to capitalize on the success of Grant’s memoirs and on public interest in earlier reminiscences by Joseph E. Johnston, William T. Sherman, and Richard Taylor, among many others.  Mark Twain’s deep admiration of Grant’s book invites us to consider Civil War generals’ memoirs as both historical and literary works, revealing how they remain vital to understanding the interaction of memory, imagination, and the writing of American history. Twain’s example also shows how market forces of the late nineteenth century anticipated the memoir boom of our own day.

Stephen Cushman is Robert C. Taylor Professor of English at the University of Virginia. He is the author of The Generals’ Civil War: What Their Memoirs Can Teach Us Today (University of North Carolina Press, 2021), Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2014), and Bloody Promenade: Reflections on a Civil War Battle (University Press of Virginia, 1999). Cushman has been a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies and a Fulbright Teaching Fellow in Greece. He has been honored as UVA Cavalier Distinguished Professor and recipient of a State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award.

Thursday, November 30 at Cowles Hall, Elmira College Campus (7:00pm)

Celebrating Mark Twain’s Birthday

Barbara Snedecor in conversation with Matt Seybold

Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies

“Gravity — A Conversation”

In this new volume of letters, readers are invited to meet Olivia Louise Langdon Clemens on her own terms, in her own voice—as complementary partner to her world-famous spouse, Mark Twain, and as an enduring friend, mother to four children, world traveler, and much more. The frail woman often portrayed by scholars, biographers, and Twain himself is largely absent in these letters. Instead, Olivia (who Twain affectionately referred to as “Gravity” in their early correspondence) emerges as a resilient and energetic nineteenth-century woman, her family’s source and center of stability, and a well of private and public grace in an ever-changing landscape. Mark Twain’s biography recounted in Olivia’s letters offers new insights, and her captivating voice is certain to engage and enlighten readers.

Barbara E. Snedecor served for many years as Director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College. In addition to editing the second edition of Mark Twain in Elmira, she has contributed pieces to the Mark Twain Annual and American Literary Realism.