Searching for Eve in Twain’s Garden of Eden (A Quarry Farm Testimonial)

Ariel Silver is the author of The Book of Esther and the Typology of Female Transfiguration in American Literature (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018) and a contributor to Esther in America (Maggid, 2020). Her work on Margaret Fuller and May Alcott has just been published in The Forgotten Alcott (Routledge, 2021). She has written on Joan of Arc in the work of Hawthorne, Adams, and Twain for a RFEA special issue on Joan of Arc in America (2019) Her article on Twain’s Roughing It, “From Liverpool to the Lion House,” is forthcoming in the Mark Twain Journal. She currently serves as President-elect of the Hawthorne Society.

The purpose of her Quarry Farm Fellowship is to complete a chapter on Twain for a larger proposed monograph, The Literary Eve. The chapter on Twain – “There was Eden” – serves as a crucial point of transition in the project, moving from male to female authorial consideration of this iconic scriptural figure whose story has come to represent so fundamentally a conception of the female and her place across the monotheistic world. By placing Adam and Eve in the context of one another in The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Twain suggests that their fortunes and their fates, their tribulations, and their joys, are inextricable. Written near the end of his life, in a period when he also produced Recollections of Joan of Arc, this work of religious commentary by Twain deftly combines the serious and the satirical to produce a wholly new view of Eve. Even as the historical-critical method begins to be applied to the Bible, Twain comically attempts his own textual deconstruction and reconsideration of the Genesis text in a manner that gives space for a female voice and perspective, however funny, however ironic. This chapter then sets the stage for the American female writers who take up their own critique of how Eve has been cast and how she can and should be deeply reconsidered.

Professor Silver gave a talk for CMTS as part of the 2022 Park Church Summer Lecture Series. You can view it HERE.

When the Langdon Family made the decision to bequeath Quarry Farm to the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College some forty years ago, I wonder if they could have seen what a remarkable effect that choice would make on generations of scholars, artists, and teachers who have gravitated to his literary oeuvre.

I had been to Quarry Farm just once before I arrived as a Quarry Farm Fellow, in October 2021, for a weekend symposium celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Roughing It. My dear friend and colleague, Jeanne Reesman, had raved about the Farm, and I decided this would be a chance to see the place where Twain created so many of his compelling characters. There I discovered that it was possible to simultaneously engage in serious literary scholarship and laugh until one is blue in the face. Twain scholars are smart, curious, engaging, probing, welcoming, and a great deal of fun! I fell in love immediately with the property where Twain created so much of his work and with the people who care about its enduring cultural value.

Illustration from Eve’s Diary (1906)

When I learned that it was possible to come and spend time not just in the beautiful red barn on the property but in the home itself, I determined to apply for the opportunity. I had been contemplating for some time a larger project on the literary treatment of Eve. I had already written about the figure of Eve in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The New Adam and Eve” (1843) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible (1895, 1898) and knew I wanted to spend some time unpacking Twain’s conception of Eve in Extracts from Adam’s Diary (1904) and Eve’s Dairy (1906). Such a fellowship would allow me to write that chapter and move the larger book project along.

To spend time thinking about Twain and his treatment of Eve involves a contemplation of religion, love, women, and death. The first of these two works – the one from Adam’s perspective – was published the year Twain’s wife, Olivia Langdon, died in Florence, Italy. The second – the one from Eve’s perspective – was written just four years before the end of Twain’s life.

As the fellowship approached, Joe Lemak asked if I would also give a lecture for the Park Church Summer Lecture Series on Twain and Eve. This was an irresistible invitation. My interest in the Beecher family is long-standing and speaking on this topic in that venue would connect Twain to at least two Beechers: Thomas Beecher, who preached at Park Church, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, an influential woman’s rights advocate and close friend of Olivia Langdon who often used Elmira as a base of operations. I pitched the lecture on these two late works by Twain as a triptych of ideas: A loving homage to his beloved spouse, a reflection on religious debates about evolution relative to ecclesiastical and social order, and an expression of the political concerns of women, called “suffragettes” for the first time that year to mark their direct engagement in their quest for the vote. Even as the historical-critical method is applied to the Bible in the late nineteenth-century, Twain comically attempts his own textual deconstruction and reconsideration of the Genesis text, giving space for a female voice and perspective even as he reflects cleverly on own his multi-faceted engagement with the woman question.

It is almost impossible to describe the beauty, serenity, and richness of the setting at Quarry Farm, and it does take a few days for its wonder to really sink into one’s soul. The beautifully preserved homestead functions mostly as a museum on the first floor and as an active residence for scholars on the second floor. There one finds an almost ideal arrangement for productive intellectual work: a richly curated collection of texts by and about Mark Twain and many other significant nineteenth-century authors, comfortable chairs in which to read and drink in the stunning views of the landscape from every direction, and well-placed tables on which to spread out one’s papers and write for hours on end. It is truly a place for the quiet holiness of work. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to conduct research at the American Antiquarian Society, which is a researcher’s heaven. Quarry Farm is an important corollary: a writer’s heaven, a place where one is granted the time and space to think and to create.

The expanse of texts on site had another important effect on my thinking: almost all of Twain’s other works were created before he wrote about Adam and Eve, including The Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), his seminal work on another significant female religious figure. Twain wrote about Eve after leaving Quarry Farm, to which he did not return after the death of his wife, Livy. But his relationship with Livy deeply impacted his conception of Eve. Indeed, that relationship deeply impacted all his major work. In 1905, Twain wrote in a letter to Elizabeth Jordan that Olivia “edited all my manuscripts, beginning this labor of love a year before we were married, continuing it 36 years” (March 10, 1905). And Quarry Farm is a testament to that influence, a home owned by Livy’s sister, Susan Crane, to which Samuel and Livy repaired almost every summer for more than twenty years and where Twain, in the milieu of natural beauty, culture, education, and intellectual and practical support from his wife’s family, was granted the reflective space to translate the vitality of his imagination to the page. I quickly realized that Eve was a cumulative portrait, not only a final testament to his wife – “Wheresoever she was, there was Eden” (Eve’s Diary, 109) – but also a final testament to Quarry Farm, the Garden of Eden that had given rise to the remarkable collection of work that now fills the handsome built-in shelves in the scholarly quarters. Samuel the writer and Olivia the editor are both present in those books.

Early evening on the Porch
(photo courtesy of Ariel Silver)

It is hard to be in such a space and not fall in love with it implicitly. Fellows who have spent time there have threatened to bolt themselves to the beautiful porch rather than be removed at the end of their stay. Almost all speak of its indelible impact on their life and career. I was especially moved by what I read in Susan K. Harris’s introduction to her work on the courtship of Olivia Langdon and Samuel Clemens. She spoke of the magical opportunity to work where Twain had worked, a rare privilege in the field. I would go even farther: it is a singular experience, and it extends not just to the magnificent setting at Quarry Farm, but to the environment of Elmira, the college and the town, its importance as a progressive center for education, abolition, and suffrage, and the stunning landscape of the Southern Tier of New York. I was fortunate to spend time at both the Chemung County Historical Society Archives and the Center of Mark Twain Studies Archives at Elmira College. Excellent archivists led me to so many helpful primary and secondary source documents and conversations about Twain and Eve spilled into important conversations about women’s rights in upstate New York and invitations to connect with other scholars and return to the college to share my ongoing work.

The most serendipitous encounter of my stay may have been with Barb Snedecor, the past Director of the Center, who joined me on the porch one afternoon and regaled me with stories of the Center’s history and her own work on the letters of Olivia Langdon. Her enthusiasm for the Farm and her encouragement of my scholarship were palpable. That endorsement underscored what Quarry Farm has come to represent for me: the space that transformed my career, much as it did for Twain and for many others who have been in residence here.

My time at Quarry Farm was bookended by two experiences: a job interview and a trip to Paris to present work on Melville and Hagar and tour sites related to Joan of Arc, about whom I have also written. I arrived in Elmira after teaching a class on Milton’s Paradise Lost for an academic position (a text which I will also treat in The Literary Eve) and left with not only a draft chapter on Twain and Eve in hand (which will be complete after I wrestle with the “Autobiography of Eve” in Letters from the Earth, a posthumous publication of written fragments left by Twain) but outlines for two other chapters, one on Hawthorne and one on Milton.

Steps leading up to the original site of The Study
(photo courtesy of Ariel Silver)

Shortly after I arrived in Paris, I had received some heartening responses to my work on Melville and a job offer! The following week, as I retraced the path of France’s mystical and military heroine, who also captivated Twain, I marveled at the impact that my time with Samuel and Olivia had one me: not only had I been a fellow at Quarry Farm, but I had been admitted to a fellowship of generous scholars, directors, researchers, archivists, and librarians who cared deeply about the work of Mark Twain, and consequently about my work. No wonder Mark Twain wanted to be buried in Elmira, the place where he had found love, discovered the rich intellectual capacity of women, developed his creative voice and career, and found a more profound faith in the beauty of life. Twain’s gravesite at Woodlawn Cemetery, near Quarry Farm, is his benediction to the importance of his own Eve; my work on Twain and Eve is my invocation to the importance of Quarry Farm in the flowering of my own creative, intellectual, and scholarly trajectory.