CMTS Announces the Spring 2019 Trouble Begins Lecture Series

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is proud to announce the Spring 2019 Trouble Begins Lecture Series. This diverse, accomplished line-up is a testament to the rich potential of Mark Twain Studies. CMTS is honored to present and support these scholars. All lectures are free and open to the public.

Visit the “Trouble Begins Archives” for a downloadable recording of all these talks and other past lectures. You can also see past “Trouble Begins” programs and CMTS quadrennial conference and symposia programs.

In 1985, the 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 “Trouble Begins” Lecture Series is sponsored by the Michael J. Kiskis Memorial Fund. The “Trouble Begins” and the “Summer at The Park Church” Lecture Series are also made possible by the support of the Mark Twain Foundation and the Friends of the Center.

Wednesday, May 8 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Writing About Sexuality: Mark Twain’s Private Work Made Public”

Linda Morris, 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 women 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. Nevertheless, when speaking before all-male groups, or writing privately, he addressed sexual topics with frankness suffused with humor. 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.

Linda A. Morris is Professor Emeritus, University of California, Davis. She has writ- ten extensively about women’s humor in 19th and 20th century America, including a book-length study on the writer Miriam Whitcher (“The Widow Bedott”), and essays on Mary Lasswell and Roz Chast. Her work on Mark Twain includes her book Gender Play in Mark Twain: Cross-Dressing and Transgression, and essays on Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, “Gender Bending as Child’s Play,” Aunt Sally Phelps in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and “Hellfire Hotchkiss.” She was the 2017 recipient of “The Olivia Langdon Clemens Award” by the Mark Twain Circle of America, and the 2018 recipient of “The Charlie Award” by the American Humor Studies Association.

Wednesday, May 15 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus

“‘Infinitely-Divided Stardust’: Mark Twain and Lawyer Talk”

J. Mark Baggett, Samford University
From the 1899 Harper & Brothers
 Edition of Puddn’Head Wilson

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. From the early days of his career, covering the Nevada Territorial legislature and reporting on the police and court beat in the Territorial Enterprise, he plied what he called the “trade language” of the law. His legal burlesques of that formative period, including the first use of the pseudonym “Mark Twain” in “Ye Sentimental Law Student,” show the emerging burlesque patterns that appear in his novels. These burlesques also parallel important 19th century movements in American law that democratized and simplified legalese. This lecture will explore these 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. Twain himself once pronounced that a great writer must have an “infinitely divided stardust,” a genius who understood humanity from the two essential disciplines: literature and the law.

Mark Baggett is Associate Professor of English and Law at Samford University and Cumberland School of Law. His recent research on Twain’s use of legal rhetoric is an outgrowth of his teaching law at Cumberland since 1987. He contributed articles on legal issues in the Mark Twain Encyclopedia and is working on a book-length project on Mark Twain and the law, building on interdisciplinary research on Twain’s broad appropriation of legal rhetoric.

Wednesday, May 22 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus

“Quarry Farm: Family Retreat with 1,631 Lightning Rods”

Elise Johnson-Schmidt, AIA, Preservation Architect
Quarry Farm in the 1880’s

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. Sadly, Langdon dies shortly after its completion, but his oldest daughter, Susan Crane, inherits the house. She generously and joyously shares Quarry Farm with her sister, Olivia Clemens, Livy’s new husband, Samuel Clemens, and the Clemens children for the next twenty years. Sam and Livy embark on their “long European sojourn” in 1890 and do not return until 1895, which turns out to be Livy’s last stay. During a time of transition, before Susan and Theodore Crane begin their chapter of life at Quarry Farm, Sam Clemens is “running two house- holds – one up here on the farm & one in Buffalo…and Mr. and Mrs. Crane stay here with us, & we do have perfectly royal good times.” 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.

Quarry Farm Today

Elise Johnson-Schmidt is a preservation architect with 35 years of experience, whose firm specializes in historic preservation. Her firm has undertaken over 200 revitalization and restoration projects. She was also formerly the Director of Market Street Restoration Agency. She previously worked on the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in NYC & Boston’s Trinity Church. She is a frequent lecturer across NYS on revitalizing historic buildings, and a (former) longtime member of NYS’s Board for Historic Preservation. Her firm is currently writing the Historic Structure Report for Quarry Farm.

Wednesday, May 29 in the Barn at Quarry Farm ***Two Events***

5:30 p.m. Theatrical Reading of Waiting For Susy

A one-act play by Bruce Michelson, University of Illinois

Waiting for Susy is a one-act comedy about a famous, momentous, historic encounter that never took place. The setting is the great square in front of Rouen Cathedral in France; the time is October of 1894. Sam Clemens and his daughter Susy, living with the rest of the family in nearby Étretat, have come to town shopping for night-gowns and cigars. With brushes and an easel, and parked comfortably on a stool in this plaza, a strange, round, bearded French gentleman is dabbing at a couple of his paintings. What happens next is entirely made up, and you can safely believe every word of it. (“Susy Clemens” photo courtesy of the Mark Twain House and Museum)

7:00 p.m. “Mark Twain’s Homes and the Public Private Life”

Bruce Michelson, University of Illinois

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. Where they were born and where they resided; the byways they wandered for epiphanies or Deep Thoughts; where their spouses or their Lost Loves grew up or passed away – all of this and more became fair game for mass-market words and pictures. Over the course of Mark Twain’s life we can trace this cultural transformation, and see how Quarry Farm, the Hartford mansion, and other residences here and abroad figured in a long campaign by Sam and his family to live in this new limelight, and also to evade it. 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.

The Clemens Family and Flash in Hartford
Photo courtesy of the Mark Twain House and Museum

Bruce Michelson is the author of Mark Twain on the Loose and Printer’s Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution, as well as many articles and book chapters about Mark Twain and other writers. He is Professor Emeritus of American Literature at the University of Illinois, and a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America and The American Humor Studies Association. A Contributing Editor at Studies in American Humor, he is also a Fulbright Ambassador, having received two fellowships from the Fulbright Program. His most recent work includes a translation of George Clemenceau’s writings on Claude Monet and the fine arts, and a one-act comedy about Sam Clemens, his daughter Susy, and a Mysterious Stranger in France

World Premiere of One-Act Play About Mark Twain & Claude Monet

The 2018 Humor in America Conference at Roosevelt University in Chicago included the world premiere of “Waiting For Susy,” a one-act play by Bruce Michelson.

Jim Caron as Claude Monet. Picture compliments of Larry Howe.

“Waiting for Susy” is set in Rouen in September of 1894, at a moment when Twain and his family were living in France, trying to save money and preparing for the global lecture tour which would begin the next summer. During the same year, Monet finished his famous Rouen Cathedral series and was, similarly, preparing to relocate to Norway where he would paint a new series of studies in white. The play is set on the boardwalk across from the cathedral’s front, Monet is working at his easel while Twain, who is waiting for his wife and daughter to finish shopping, paces and talks to himself. Some of the play’s humor arises from Twain remaining willfully ignorant of the identity of the man with whom he shares the stage, an inequitable anonymity which Monet chooses to enjoy to the end.

Michelson, an Emeritus Professor of English at University of Illinois who was also presented with the Charlie Award for lifetime achievement in Humor Studies during the conference, emphasized in his post-performance remarks that there is no evidence that Twain and Monet ever actually met, but his speculative premise was inspired by the realization that they were in roughly the same place at roughly the same time. In 1894 each was in his late fifties. At analogous points in their careers they found themselves simultaneously looking back upon their unlikely successes and wondering whether those successes could be sustained. Much of the dialogue flows from their often diverging outlooks on aging, work, fame, and the artistic temperament. Some of this is based upon the men’s actual writings, some on Michelson’s creative interpretation of their lives and works.

John Bird tackles the part of Sam Clemens. Picture compliments of Larry Howe.

Michelson’s script features three parts. In Chicago, Clemens/Twain was played by the appropriately grey and grizzled scholar, John Bird, Emeritus Professor of English at Winthrop University. Monet was played by Jim Caron, Professor of English at University of Hawaii at Manoa. And Susy Clemens, for whom the play is named, was played by M. M. Dawley, a recently-minted Ph.D. from Boston University. Considering all three actors performed without rehearsal, their delivery of the play’s many jokes and tricky phrases was impressive.

The greatest challenge of Michelson’s script, for both actors and audience, is its bilingualism. Monet’s character speaks primarily in French, but breaks into passable English once he and Twain warm to each other. Twain speaks almost exclusively English, though occasionally ventures to butcher a few French phrases. And Susy speaks fluently in both languages and thus acts as their translator or, in several humorous instances, elects not to.

As Michelson noted in his remarks, the events take place during the final prolonged period Twain would spend with his favorite daughter, who died tragically of meningitis less than two years later, while Twain was still wrapping up his world tour. In Michelson’s play, Susy is a vivacious, self-possessed young woman, who more than holds her own while matching wits with her cantankerous father and also wins over the Frenchman, who, at first, seems wholly content to keep to himself. Susy thus brings energy and optimism to the production, which might otherwise be nothing but the grousing of grumpy old men (not that that isn’t itself entertaining), but her part also acts as a melancholy reminder of the great tragedy on the horizon. Michelson breaths fresh life into that constant question in Twain Studies: What would Twain’s late phase have been like had he not lost one of his best and most trusted interlocutors? And also, what might Susy’s own legacy have been as she grew more independent of her famous father?

The dialogue of the play is rich, funny, and full of insight, pleasurable for an audience filled predominantly with professional Twain scholars, as was the case in Chicago, but totally approachable for anybody. One need not catch every allusion to be entertained. (I’m sure I didn’t.) And, aside from the considerable challenge of finding two actors who can speak fluent French, the production is ingeniously simple, making the play easily adaptable for many venues and theater companies.

In other words, it may be coming to a stage near you in the not too distant future.

Rouen Cathedral, West Facade, Sunlight, 1894

Twain Scholars Honored at Humor In America Conference

The quadrennial Humor in America conference, co-sponsored by the American Humor Studies Association and the Mark Twain Circle of America, took place earlier this month on the campus of Roosevelt University in Chicago. The Center for Mark Twain Studies was also pleased to offer an award to supplement travel costs to the conference for five graduate students and emerging scholars.

Among the three days of panels and plenaries, many of which touched on the work of Twain and his contemporaries, was the presentation of the Charlie Award (named for Charlie Chaplin) from the AHSA in recognition of lifetime achievement in scholarship and service related to American Humor Studies. Over the thirty years that AHSA has been giving the award, there have been only twelve recipients, including, notably, Elmira College professor Michael Kiskis.

This year, the AHSA recognized the careers to two new Charlie Award recipients, Bruce Michelson and Linda Morris, both of whom, in addition to there considerable work on a wide variety of Humor Studies topics, have published noteworthy books on Mark Twain.

Bruce Michelson and AHSA President, Jim Caron. Pictures Thanks to Jeffrey Melton.

Dr. Michelson is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Illinois. His first book on Twain, Mark Twain on the Loose: A Comic Writer & the American Self (University of Massachusetts Press), published in 1995, examined Twain’s urge to liberation, a quest for freedom from the inhibitions of Victorian America and the conventions of literary genre which drove Twain’s extraordinary celebrity and literary legacy, but also makes close examination of his life and work threatening and disconcerting to many readers, past and present.

Ten years later, Dr. Michelson added Printer’s Devil: Mark Twain & The American Publishing Revolution (University of California Press, 2006), the first comprehensive analysis of how Twain’s career intersected with the explosion of print culture in the United States during his lifetime, thanks in large part to commercial and technological innovations which the author was highly attuned to because he had begun his career as a typesetter and newspaper reporter. Printer’s Devil remains the standard-bearer for considerations of Twain as an entrepreneur and professional publisher, arguably as important to his success in Gilded Age America as his considerable talents as a writer and humorist. During his promotion of Printer’s Devil, Michelson was part of the Spring 2006 Trouble Begins series. A recording of his lecture can be found in our digital archives.

Linda Morris and AHSA President, Jim Caron. Pictures thanks to Jeffrey Melton.

Dr. Morris is Professor Emerita at University of California, Davis. Last year she received the first ever Olivia Langdon Clemens Award from the Center for Mark Twain Studies, recognizing unique and groundbreaking contributions to Twain Studies. Her book, Gender Play in Mark Twain: Cross-Dressing & Transgression (University of Missouri Press, 2007), drew attention to Twain’s repeated return to tropes of gender non-conformity. Morris’s book is not only part of what was then an emerging and much-needed corpus of scholarship on Twain and gender, but also developed a lucid interpretive apparatus grounded in contemporary critical theory, demonstrating that Twain remained, as Larry Howe put it in his review, “relevant to new critical paradigms.”

Morris has also been instrumental in resuscitating the works of women writers and humorists of the 19th century, many of whom enjoyed considerable popularity and influence during their lives, but were not granted equivalent attention to their male counterparts by critics and scholars of the ensuing generations. Prominent among these is another Elmira resident, Frances Miriam Whitcher, who is the primary subject of Morris’s Women’s Humor in the Age of Gentility (Syracuse University Press, 1992).

Please join the Center for Mark Twain Studies in congratulating Dr. Michelson and Dr. Morris and thanking them for their ongoing contributions to Twain Studies scholarship.

A Mark Twain Studies Primer

My name is Mac Morrison, I am an undergraduate student at Tulane University. I’ve loved Mark Twain’s books since I was a very small child, and I’d like to gain a deeper understanding of the man and his work. In most academic fields there seem to be a short list of works by modern scholars that are considered canonical within the field,  and I was just wondering if you might be able to recommend some titles that fit that description that might be a good introduction to Mark Twain studies for someone who doesn’t have a clue where to start. If such titles exist. Honestly I was pleasantly surprised to find that a center for Mark Twain studies exists at all. In any case, I hope this email finds you well, whoever you are.
Best regards from a huge Mark Twain fan,
MacArthur Morrison

Mac asks an excellent question and is kind enough to let me respond to it in an open forum, where it may be read by others who share his curiosity.

The “primer” which follows focuses on secondary sources – works by biographers, historians, and other scholars – rather than primary sources – those written by Twain and his contemporaries. For the latter, I would recommend the Mark Twain Project – which has produced dozens of excellent editions of Twain’s published and private writings, many available online – as well as the Oxford Mark Twain, a 29-volume collection of Twain’s published works with excellent paratextual materials.

I am also excluding reference works and periodicals, notably Alan Gribben’s Mark Twain’s Library, Kent Rasmussen’s Mark Twain A to Z, David Fear’s Mark Twain Day By Day, the Mark Twain Journaland the Mark Twain Annualall of which are invaluable resources for Twain scholars and are likely available at your university library. You may also want to check our our digital resources and resources for teachers pages.

I would invite other Twain scholars to comment upon the following list, or even submit their own. Canons are sticky wickets. There are hundreds of volumes of Twain scholarship. It’s hard to know where to begin. Part of the CMTS mission is to provide support for young Twaniacs like Mac. But, of course, any attempt to organize that enormous body of critical works reflects the peculiar preferences of the author.

So, with those caveats, I offer you my dozen “desert island” works of Twain scholarship:

Mark Twain: A Life (2005) by Ron Powers

There are many Twain biographies and as many controversies surrounding them, starting with the authorized Mark Twain: A Biography (1912) by Albert Bigelow Paine. Justin Kaplan’s Mr. Clemens & Mark Twain (1966) won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award. Next month the corpus will get even bigger, with the publication of the first volume of Gary Scharnhorst’s The Life of Mark Twain. All have their strengths and weaknesses. But, if I had to choose just one, I would opt for Powers’s, which offers a great combination of accuracy and approachability.


Mark Twain’s America (1932) by Bernard DeVoto

DeVoto offered one of the first academic assessments of Twain’s career and it is difficult to imagine what Twain Studies would look like without his work.


Mark Twain: Social Philosopher (1962) by Louis Budd

The Mark Twain Circle of America’s award for scholarship is named for Budd, with good reason. Budd captures the range of Twain’s political and social commentary, rescuing from it an intricacy and a coherence which few other scholars have managed to express.

The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Huckleberry Finn (1998) by Jocelyn Chadwick

Twain’s positions on race are too often reduced to one book and even one word in said book, but the relationship between Jim and Huck deserves its central place in Twain Studies, which also cannot elude the controversy produced by this novel in the intervening centuries. Many have written on this subject, and written well. Chadwick offers a undiluted survey, as well as her own fresh perspective.


Mark Twain in the Company of Women (1994) by Laura Skandera-Trombley

While critical debates about gender in Twain’s life and work haven’t the longevity or the publicity of those concerning race, they have become central to Twain Studies in recent decades, thanks in large part to Susan K. Harris’s The Courtship of Olivia Langdon & Mark Twain (1997), Linda Morris’s Gender Play in Mark Twain (2007), and this work by Trombley, who won the Louis J. Budd Award this past year.


Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (1997) by Shelley Fisher Fishkin

Fishkin has made several substantial contributions to Twain scholarship, including editing the Oxford edition mentioned above, but I would speculate that her unconventional mix of professional and personal narrative in Lighting Out provides as holistic a view of Twain Studies as can by found in a single work.


Mark Twain: God’s Fool (1973) by Hamlin Hill

Hill, along with John S. Tuckey, combatted the mythologizing of Mark Twain during the Cold War era by drawing attention to the author’s satiric, irreligious, and anti-imperialist late phase.


Printer’s Devil: Mark Twain & The American Publishing Revolution (2006) by Bruce Michelson

Twain’s capacity for reflecting and capitalizing on the peculiar circumstances of the Gilded Age is a theme in many of these works. Michelson captures Twain’s mastery of emerging mass media. Judith Y. Lee’s Twain’s Brand (2012) is also excellent in this respect.


Cosmopolitan Twain (2008) Edited by Ann Ryan & Joseph B. McCullough

Twain developed deep connections to numerous places in the U.S. and abroad. This collection explores the impact of many of those locales on Twain’s ethos. I am, naturally, partial to the essay on Elmira by my predecessor, Michael Kiskis.


Mark Twain and Metaphor (2011) by John Bird

This is a challenging book. Bird employs an unconventional blend of critical methodologies to make a nuanced and rigorous argument that engages many branches of Twain Studies scholarship.


Of Huck and Alice (1983) by Neil Schmitz

Remember what I said about personal preferences? There are definitely more popular studies of Twain’s humor – for instance James M. Cox’s Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor (1966) – but Schmitz’s interweaving of Twain’s Mississippi writings with Gertrude Stein, Herman Melville, and Krazy Kat left an indelible impression on me.

Mark Twain and Human Nature (2007) by Tom Quirk

Quirk traces the development of Twain’s attitude towards mankind over the course of his entire career. The linear narrative which interweaves biographical detail and private writings with insightful readings of all the major works, as well as Quirk’s humble and humorous narrative voice, makes this another strong candidate to start your journey in Twain Studies.