Next Park Church Lecture Examines Utopias in Connecticut Yankee

The 2022 Park Church Summer Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies (CMTS) kicks off its first lecture at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday, July 6 at The Park Church (208 W. Gray Street, Elmira). The lectures are free and open to the public and recordings of the lectures will be posted to the CMTS website. 

The second lecture, “Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in Pseudo-Scientific Socialist Utopias” will be presented by Max Chapnick.

Illustration from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (chpt.28)

Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), appeared between two politically-minded time travel utopias, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888) and H.G. Wells’s Time Machine (1895). Most criticism reads each of these novels as using science to reimagine the economy: the novels are optimistic about science but pessimistic about capitalism. But while the three authors emerge from a broad field of “scientific socialists,” in each narrative an anti-scientific element remains. In the context of Twain’s later interest and disdain for pseudo-science as in Christian Science (1907) and his critique of imperial projects as in King Leopold’s Soliloquy (1905), I will investigate to what extent that engagement with science and empire, and the relationship between those two, began in earlier decades during the writing of Connecticut Yankee. These three technology-minded writer’s dys/utopic time travel narratives, and in particular Connecticut Yankee, ask: what if the increasing consolidation of science into disciplinary and elitist projects, and its uptake as an engine of state, empire, and war, undermined science’s more populist promise? 

Max Chapnick is a PhD candidate in English and American literature at Boston University, where he is writing a dissertation called “Wild Science: Radical Politics and Rejected Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Literature.” A chapter from his dissertation on Pauline Hopkins appears in latest issue of New England Quarterly, and shorter essays appear in PMLA, Configurations, and Current Affairs. At Boston University, he teaches English and first-year writing courses on the nineteenth-century, modernism, science fiction, and environmental literature. 

The 2022 Park Church Summer Lecture Schedule:

  • Wed., July 6: “Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in Pseudo-Scientific Socialist Utopias” by Max Chapnick, Boston University
  • Wed., July 20: “Mutiny on the Ballot: Conversion Narrative in Mark Twain’s ‘The Great Revolution in Pictairn” Bill Hunt, Barton College

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 community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain. 

Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church maintains its strong social justice presence in Elmira. Founding congregants, including the Langdons, were close friends and family members to Mark Twain. It is known for its striking architectural features and fervent pastor, Rev. Thomas K. Beecher, who opened his study as Elmira’s first public library in 1876. Today it is a vibrant, progressive United Church of Christ congregation – open and affirming, welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.