Spring “Trouble Begins” Lecture Series Set

The spring portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies features four lectures, with the first event set for Wednesday, May 8 at 7:00 p.m. in The Barn at Quarry Farm.  All four lectures are free and open to the public.

The Barn at Quarry Farm

The first lecture, “Writing About Sexuality: Mark Twain’s Private Work Made Public,” will be presented by Linda Morris from the University of California, Davis. After a relatively free-wheeling period in his life in the American West, Mark Twain courted and married a genteel young woman from a prominent Elmira family, and he became the paterfamilias of a thoroughly Victorian family of his own. His major published works were deemed suitable reading for young men and women alike, and he raised his three daughters in a strictly Victorian, protected, and proper mode. Later in his life, in work not intended for publication, he let loose with explicit sexual references and frank talk about both male and female sexuality. This talk will examine a range of the works in which sexuality plays a major role, the language and metaphors he used to express sexual topics, and the sometimes surprising attitudes the work reveals.

On Wednesday, May 15 at 7:00 p.m., the Series continues in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College campus with “‘Infinitely-Divided Stardust’: Mark Twain and Lawyer Talk,” presented by J. Mark Baggett of Samford University. Told by the New Orleans fortune teller Madame Caprell that he should have been a lawyer, Samuel Clemens dismissed the law as “too prosy and tiresome.” But his immersion in legal language and legal fictions betrayed him. This lecture will explore Twain’s burlesques from a legal perspective and trace their influence, particularly in the dramatic stagings of court trials that appear so often in his longer works. 

Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus

The Series continues in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College campus on Wednesday, May 22 at 7:00 p.m. with “Quarry Farm: Family Retreat with 1,631 Lightning Rods,” presented by Elise Johnson-Schmidt, AIA, preservation architect. In May 1869, Jervis Langdon purchases the land on Elmira’s east hill. It is there that he establishes the Langdon’s summer home, Quarry Farm – a place of respite which the family enjoys for 100 years. This lecture will focus on how Quarry Farm was used by the family and changes made to the house by Langdon family members. It will also discuss the lecturer’s interpretation of a story written during Clemens’ management of the farm – “The Lightning Rod Story” – a satire about dealing with contractors – which could be as true today as it was then.

The spring portion of the Series wraps up on Wednesday, May 29, in The Barn at Quarry Farm at 5:30 p.m. with a theatrical reading of “Waiting for Susy,” a one-act play by Bruce Michelson from the University of Illinois, followed by Michelson’s lecture at 7:00 p.m., “Mark Twain’s Homes and the Public Private Life.” When Sam Clemens was still young, a technological revolution in publishing — including breakthroughs in printing of pictures — provided new ways to fuel and gratify an unprecedented curiosity about the private lives of famous writers, and doing so became a lucrative sport. The Clemenses performed a “private” family life in some places, and tried to sustain the real thing in others — in an era before television, social media, paparazzi, data mining, and all the rest of it brought American personal privacy to an end.

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series – In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures 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. All lectures are free and open to the public.