CMTS Announces the 2024 Spring Trouble Begins Lineup

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 Summer of each year, the lectures are held at the Park Church. All lectures are free and open to the public.

The 2024 Trouble Begins Lecture Series and Park Church Summer Lecture Series are made possible by the generous support of The Mark Twain Foundation.

Wednesday, May 1 at The Quarry Farm Barn (7:00pm)

“Mark Twain: Social Satirist”

Gary Scharnhorst, University of New Mexico

“The Brave Sir Mark, A Yankee Writer at King Arthur’s Court ” in Life
(v.42, 1903)

Though often described as a humorist, Mark Twain was much more than a jokesmith, especially late in his career. He may more accurately be described as a social satirist, particularly on issues such as race, religion, free speech and censorship, aristocracy, imperialism, colonial oppression, and political corruption. During his career he was both celebrated and denounced for his activism and his public comments on controversial topics, as illustrated in caricatures and editorial cartoons published at the time, though at his death he was mostly remembered for his patriotism and progressivism.

Gary Scharnhorst is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico and editor of the journal American Literary Realism. He is the former president of the Western Literature Association and former chair of the American Literature Section of the Modern Language Association. He is also the author of over a hundred scholarly articles and author or editor of over sixty books, including Mark Twain: The Complete Interviews (University of Alabama Press) and the three-volume Life of Mark Twain (University of Missouri Press).


Wednesday, May 8 at The Quarry Farm Barn (7:00pm)

Genealogies of Mothering and Mammying in Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson

Brigitte Fielder, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Cover of 1964 Bantam Classic Edition of Pudd’nhead Wilson

Roxy, the mixed-race Black mother of Pudd’nhead Wilson, changes her child’s place with the child of her enslaver. She achieves this swap by performing the roles of mother and mammy, respectively, projecting race onto each child by virtue of their racialized relationships to her. Representations of the mother (overwhelmingly imagined as white in white-authored literature) and the racist minstrel trope of the mammy (overwhelmingly overshadowing Black motherhood in white-authored literature) converge in Twain’s novel. This reveals their co-construction: the mammy’s surrogacy is dependent upon her own mother-relation, even as this relation is impeded by the legal mechanisms of slavery. Twain’s novel hereby illustrates how race is not simply constructed within individual bodies or identities but via racialized relationships.

Brigitte Fielder is an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of Relative Races: Genealogies of Interracial Kinship in Nineteenth-Century America (2020) and co-author (with Jonathan Senchyne) of Against a Sharp White Background: Infrastructures of African American Print (2019) Her essays have appeared in journals including African American ReviewAmerican Literary History, American QuarterlyCivil War HistoryJ19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century AmericanistsJournal of the History of Childhood and Youth, Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, The Lion and Unicorn, Research on Diversity in Youth Literature, TSWL: Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, and various edited collections.


Wednesday, May 15 at The Quarry Farm Barn (7:00pm)

The Mixed-Race Fiction of Charles Chesnutt and Mark Twain”

Rafael Walker, Baruch College, City University of New York

In the 1890s—the decade that yielded the Plessy decision allowing segregation in the U.S.—Charles Waddell Chesnutt and Mark Twain wrote fiction demonstrating the arbitrariness of race, at a time when many of their compatriots were insisting on its primacy. Interestingly, both sought to subvert racial and racist thinking through writing stories about mixed-race people, a demographic straddling the deepening color line that W.E.B. Du Bois would designate a decade later as the “problem of the twentieth century.” Obviously, for these two writers, the stakes were different: Mark Twain was trying to be a good citizen while Chesnutt (a man fair enough to pass for white but who let himself be identified as black) was fighting for his life and the lives of others like him. Despite these differences, however, Mark Twain, along with Chesnutt, is now counted among the first to have moved beyond propaganda in portraying mixed-race characters. And yet his most-sustained attempt at rendering such lives, his 1894 novel Puddn’head Wilson, has remained among his least-liked works. In this lecture, I bring this novel into conversation with Chesnutt’s own oft-maligned novel about mixed-race siblings, The House behind the Cedars (1900), to suggest that the disorderliness of both their works is less the result of carelessness than the product of the disorderliness of their subject matter—race in an era convinced that the concept mattered yet couldn’t even consistently define it.

Rafael Walker is Assistant Professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York, where he is also affiliate faculty in both the Department of Black and Latino Studies and in the Program and Women and Gender Studies. He has published on many topics both in American literature and in higher education, his work appearing in varied venues, such as MELUSArizona Quarterly, J19, Twentieth-Century Literature, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, to name a few. He has put together a critical edition of Kate Chopin’s work, The Awakening and Other Stories (published with Warbler Press Classics) and a new edition of Nella Larsen’s Passing for Broadview Press. Walker is working on two book-length monographs—one on the American realist novel and the other on biraciality in American culture. He also has served on the editorial board for J19: The Journal for the Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists.


Wednesday, May 22 at The Quarry Farm Barn (7:00pm)

“Mark Twain’s 70th at Delmonico’s: The Dawn of a New Era in American Literature”

Tess Chakkalakal, Bowdoin College

Cover of the supplement to Harper’s Weekly 
(September 23, 1905)

On Tuesday December 5th, 1905, the nation’s most revered and well-known writers from across the United States gathered in New York City to honor Mark Twain’s seventieth birthday. While Twain was the gathering’s undisputed center, the occasion featured several other writers, old and young, whose presence marked a new turn in American literature. The party included several women writers and, for perhaps the first time in the nation’s history, a Black and Native American author sat alongside their white counterparts. A close look at this event, the toasts, the menus, the clothes, and gossip gives us a view of Twain’s lasting influence on American Literature.

Tess Chakkalakal is the author A Matter of Complexion: The Life and Fiction of Charles W. Chesnutt (forthcoming, St. Martin’s) and Novel Bondage: Slavery, Marriage, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America (U of Illinois Press, 2011). He is co-editor, with Kenneth W. Warren, of a new edition of Imperium in Imperio: A Critical Edition (West Virginia University Press, 2022) and Jim Crow, Literature, and the Legacy of Sutton E. Griggs (University of Georgia Press, 2013). She is creator and co-host of a new podcast called “Dead Writers: Great American Authors and Where They Lived.” She teaches African American and American Literature at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.


Wednesday, May 29 at The Quarry Farm Barn (7:00pm)

 “Mark Twain’s Caste Studies in Following the Equator

Susan Gillman, University of California, Santa Cruz

“The Passers By,” from Following The Equator 
(Chapter XLI, p.382)

Comparisons between the US and India have often fueled caste studies today, and Mark Twain’s quasi-satirical, orientalist travel narrative, Following the Equator (1897) offers an unexpected late-nineteenth-century US literary example of comparative caste thinking. Here, on the “hot belt of the equator,” Twain compares the injustices of the caste system in India, which he sees dramatized before him, especially vividly in a Bombay hotel, to his memories of his boyhood in the US south. India, “the mother and home of that wonder of wonders—caste,” thus becomes a conduit to the racial divisions of Mark Twain’s America—to resonate in the twenty-first century and beyond.

Susan Gillman is Distinguished Professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She teaches 19th-century US literature and World Literature and Cultural Studies, and works on national literatures and cultures from a hemispheric perspective. She is the author of Dark Twins: Imposture and Identity in Mark Twain’s America (1989) and Blood Talk: American Race Melodrama and the Culture of the Occult (2003), honored by the MLA. She has worked collaboratively on several essay collections, most recently with co-editor Christopher Castiglia on Neither the Time nor the Place: Today’s Nineteenth Century (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2022). Her new book, American Mediterraneans (U. of Chicago Press, 2022) traces the strange career of the “American Mediterranean,” a scholarly metaphor and folk geographical concept used from 1799 to the present in multiple disciplines, genres and languages, as a point of departure for a transnational and translational study of the Americas.