Quarry Farm, A Thank You Note (A Quarry Farm Testimonial)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We occasionally feature testimonials from recent Quarry Farm Fellows and Residents, which combine conversational illustrations of their research and writing process with personal reflections on their experiences as Twain scholars, teachers, and fellows. Applications for Quarry Farm Fellowships are due each Winter. Find more information here.

Susan K. Harris has served on the faculties of the University of Kansas, Penn State, and Queens College, CUNY.  Her specialties are Mark Twain Studies and Studies of American Women Writers. Among her five monographs are Mark Twain’s Escape from Time: A Study of Patterns and Images (U Missouri P, 1982); The Courtship of Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain (Cambridge, 1996); and God’s Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902 (Oxford, 2011). She has edited three American women’s novels for Penguin/Putnam Press, the Library of America’s volume of Twain’s historical romances, and a Houghton Mifflin pedagogical edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Her most recent publication, Mark Twain, the World, and Me: “Following the Equator,” Then and Now (U Alabama P, 2020), 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 has given a number of lectures for CMTS. These lectures have been preserved in CMTS’ “Trouble Begins Archives,” including:

  • Susan K. Harris, “Interview about her book, Mark Twain, the World, and Me” (October 21, 2020 – Online)
  • Susan K. Harris, “Searching For The Ornithorhynchus: Mark Twain and Animal Conservation” (October 7, 2015 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Susan K. Harris, “Mark Twain and the Philippine-American War: “Hogwash” and “Pious Hypocrisy” (May 30, 2012 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Susan K. Harris, “Love Texts: The Role of Books in the Courtship of Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain” (November 13, 1996 – Quarry Farm)
  • Susan K. Harris, “Olivia Langdon Clemens’s Reading” (April 29, 1992 – Quarry Farm)
  • Susan K. Harris, “Overcoming Sin: The Audiences for Mark Twain’s ‘Hadleyburg’” (July 23, 1990 – Quarry Farm)
  • Susan K. Harris, “Four Ways to Kill a Mackerel: Mark Twain and Laura Hawkins” (November 3, 1988 – Quarry Farm)

I’ve dreamed of houses ever since I can remember.  For a long time the dream was a home-hunting scenario; I’d be looking at an empty apartment, a fairly ordinary one, when suddenly I’d realize there was another space, hidden behind the bland rooms; a space full of light and beauty—my room, the place I’d always wanted.  I was always happy in these dreams.  They were permeated with peace and capaciousness—a sense of coming home. 

I think that’s why I’ve always loved Quarry Farm.  It’s the capaciousness, the many rooms, the surprises that I find as I roam from space to space.  Even the kitchen area has three discrete spaces—four, if you count the mud room.  Upstairs, the two small bedrooms leading off the large western bedroom have always entranced me—I imagine them inhabited by little girls, probably Susy and Clara, taking possession, decorating them with their toys and drawings and wildflowers picked from the fields.  There’s a tiny bathroom near those two rooms, built into the eaves of the house; clearly it’s a children’s bathroom; adults can barely stand up in it.  The rooms leading off the western bedroom also please me; especially the little room at the very end of the short hallway.  There used to be an old Singer sewing machine there, and long ago, rummaging through the closet, I found a stack of Irene Langdon’s students’ papers, with her marginal comments. I imagine Susy Crane sitting there sewing in the winter sunlight, keeping track of wagons coming into the drive; later, Irene bending over her papers.  I love the bathroom in that section, too.  The fixtures and tiles take me back to my grandmother’s house, where she taught me to chant the times tables as I soaked in her big tub. 

The library, though, is the room that comes closest to my old dream.  I know it’s an addition, that it didn’t exist in Twain’s time, but for me the house extends beyond Twain’s sojourns there, through the Langdon family history and into its latter-day existence as a scholarly retreat.  I am delighted by the work the Center is doing on the library; for years I would wander in there, thrilled by its size and books, only to be driven away by the ugly, uncomfortable sofas and the dearth of decent lighting.  Now Joe Lemak has turned the room into a true library, with a long wooden table dotted with library lamps. The room as a whole is still woefully underlit—you can’t read the book spines at night–but a new electrical system is high on the Center’s list of fundraising priorities, and I trust it will come about eventually.  Quarry Farm is a historical house, but it’s also a living house, and if it is to be a scholars’ refuge, it needs the features that make today’s scholarship possible—effective lighting, strong internet, powerful cell phone reception.

I’ve been coming to Quarry Farm for thirty years.  My first extended stay was in the early nineties, when I taught a six-week Twain course on the front porch. My husband, Billy, and daughter, Kate,—plus Shauna-the-cat—came with me.  Rules for visitors were more lax in those days than they are now, and we invited friends up for a party the weekend Kate turned 7.  We all went to see the Mark Twain Musical (which became our family’s favorite car-tape), and we had a birthday party on the front lawn.  That night kids slept in every nook and cranny upstairs, while the adults laid the long dining room table and poured the wine. The weekend gave me a glimpse of what the house must have been like during the summers when the Clemenses were there. Crowded, and noisy, and fun. And not without its tragedies—Shauna-the-cat escaped from the kitchen and was killed on the road that night.  The then-caretaker helped me bury her behind the barn.  She told me that there were many cats buried back there, and I wondered if some of the cats that Twain immortalized were among them. 

I can’t remember how many of my publications are indebted to Quarry Farm.  From the beginning, Center directors have striven to lodge a set of primary and secondary Twain materials in the little study above the library, so that scholars would not have to travel to access what they needed. In the very early days, too, one could find books with Twain’s marginalia on the library shelves downstairs. Two years ago, when I was at the Farm doing final edits on the manuscript of Mark Twain, the World, and Me, that collection of primary and secondary works proved invaluable, as I checked and rechecked sources and quotations.  My productivity at the Farm is a combination of hard work and tranquility; at the end of the workday Billy and I sit on the porch and watch the sun set over the blue mountains of Pennsylvania across the valley.   Bats flit, and fox families cross the lower lawn.  We never want to go in, even when the mosquitoes start to bite!

Thank you, Center for Twain Studies, and all its directors.  Thank you, Langdon family, for your foresight in donating the house to be a scholars’ retreat.  Thank you, donors, for contributing to Quarry Farm’s upkeep and upgrading.  And thank you Mark Twain, for making this wonderful house famous enough to merit designation as a home worth keeping.