The 2023 Park Church Summer Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies (CMTS) concluded the series with its third lecture on Wednesday, August 16 at The Park Church (208 W. Gray Street, Elmira). The lectures are free and open to the public and recordings of the lectures are posted to the CMTS website.
Stephen Rachman presented “The Monetary Imagination of Mark Twain: From the Nevada Mines to the £1,000,000 Bank-Note”
This lecture will discuss Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain’s preoccupations with money and the role this plays in his creative life, his inventive use of language, his critiques of culture and politics and race, and the deeper imaginative patterns that shaped his work. This talk will cover the arc of Twain’s writings, ranging from the early work like Roughing It where silver, gold, and greenbacks are front and center through the classic works Twain is most famous for, to the later works about million-pound bank-notes, $30,000 bequests, and the vanity of small towns like Hadleyburg corrupted by life-changing bags of gold. The main point will be to demonstrate Twain’s obsessions with money and speculation but also to show how he came to use his imaginative powers in monetary terms, the coinage of his brain, circulating like currency throughout his work.
Stephen Rachman, Associate Professor in the department of English at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. He is former Director of the American Studies Program and Co-Founder of the Digital Humanities Literary Cognition Laboratory at Michigan State University. He is the editor of The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz-Hugh Ludlow (Rutgers University Press). He is a co-author of the award-winning Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow (Oxford University Press) and the co-editor of The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe (Johns Hopkins University Press). He has written numerous articles on Nineteenth-Century American literature, and is the creator of an award-winning website on Sunday school books for the Library of Congress American Memory Project.
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 in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. In the Summer the lectures are held at the Park Church. All lectures are free and open to the public.
Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, including Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s father-in-law, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history. Some of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain, including Susan Crane, who donated flowers from Quarry Farm every Sunday. Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community. Thomas K. Beecher, brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe and friend of Mark Twain, was the first minister at the Park Church and presided over its construction. Before its demolition in 1939, the Langdon Mansion was located directly across from the Park Church.