Through a Southern Woman Writer’s Eyes: Seeing the Man in “A New Orleans Author in Mark Twain’s Court: Letters from Grace King’s New England Sojourns”

Miki Pfeffer at Quarry Farm

Editor’s Note: Miki Pfeffer, recent Quarry Farm Fellow, gave a lecture for CMTS on Grace King and Mark Twain as part of the Fall 2018 “Trouble Begins” Lecture Series. Her talk, “Getting to Know Mark Twain through the Eyes of Grace King, a Southern Woman of Letters,” can be found HERE.

“Why should we be interested in Grace King and her letters?” Steve Courtney asked me at the 2019 Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge. “Because she was a respected fiction writer and historian in her time (the late nineteenth and early twentieth century). And because she was a friend of Mark Twain and his family, for goodness sake! Hers is a fresh southern voice too little known, even by Twain scholars. There are nuggets of the personal lives of each of the Clemenses here, and this collection has never been gathered in one place in this way. King’s letters are not digitized, and many have not been transcribed previously. What a keen observer and letter writer she was. As examples, a meticulous description of food served at a Clemens dinner and her declaration from the splendid guest suite that she felt ‘like Beauty when the Beast left her alone in the palace,’ a line that is quoted during tours of the house.”

Steve Courtney of the curatorial staff at Mark Twain House was helping me launch A New Orleans Author in Mark Twain’s Court: Letters from Grace King’s New England Sojourns. He had written a foreword on how I made contact with the house just as he was reading King’s biography and her published notebooks. My book covers essential years from 1885 to Twain’s death in 1910, the period of King’s development as a writer and over the course of Twain’s zenith and nadir. In the letters, she tells delicious tidbits about Twain’s quirks, jokes, and stories, his warm generosity to her, and his loving ways as husband and father. Grace King and Olivia Clemens reveal remarkable confidences in their exchanges, and the personalities of Susy, Clara, and Jean shine through in uninhibited letters to their special friend, “Teety.”

Grace King first met the Clemenses in 1887 when she was visiting their neighbor and her mentor, Charles Dudley Warner, with whom Twain had written The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873). The new acquaintances immediately began to spend much time together reading, talking, traveling, playing games, and sharing meals. The Clemenses invited Grace to spend a weekend with them that year and then a month with them in 1888, where the friends became more devoted to each other. The couple even brought Grace to New York so she could offer the dramatization of her first story, “Monsieur Motte,” to Augustin Daly, an impresario that Twain knew. Then in 1892, Grace King and her sister Nan visited the Clemenses for another several weeks at the Villa Viviani outside Florence, Italy. In between these visits, Grace, Livy, and the girls, especially, kept track of each other’s lives, ailments, sorrows, and pleasures in unfiltered letters with sometimes quite startling revelations.

Grace King

I first encountered King’s letters at the Hill Library at Louisiana State University while researching my previous book, Southern Ladies and Suffragists. I knew then that I’d return to those fascinating morsels of life, literature, and family in New Orleans. The next round of transcribing brought me to her friendship with Twain, about which I then knew little, and to the discovery of a cache of her letters to the Clemenses at the Mark Twain Project at University of California, Berkeley. Bob Hirst became my partner in uncovering all those letters, some of which, he told me, had been sitting there since the late 1960s waiting for someone to be interested enough and able to decipher what was apparently considered a difficult handwriting. I was delighted to assume that role.  The rest was pleasure and discovery, with each new letter unfolding another scene in the drama.

I intended from the beginning to include all of the Clemens letters. To tell Grace King’s own story, I chose excerpts and near-complete letters from the hundreds of family letters and wove them into a contextualizing narrative that allows her own voice to sing through. She tells how when she meets Twain, the writer of her deceased father’s favorite Innocents Abroad, she is thrilled; when he parodies her literary nemesis George Washington Cable, with whom Twain had toured and performed in 1885, she becomes further devoted. The sections of complete letters of each of the Clemenses to and from Grace allow the saga of family and friendship to be central to the story. These are interspersed with only narrative enough to keep the reader grounded.

Grace cultivated Livy’s friendship as well as Twain’s; she was no threat to wives of famous men. Instead, they seemed to have welcomed her as a smart, amusing, informed, and charming southerner who was good company, a reasonable card player, and an appreciative guest. Grace and Livy shared intense interest in food, fashion, manners, religion, business, literature, and more. Grace attended the regular “Brownings” at the house, when Twain read and performed Robert Browning’s poems. They played his favorite Hearts into the wee hours.

Many of the letters come from and tell little details about life at Quarry Farm, where the girls enjoy baseball games and moonlight rides, and in Hartford, about their lessons and performances and autographs of favorite stars of the theater, which Twain himself helped Clara gather. Livy writes about his intense writing at the farm and invites Grace to spend a month with the family in Hartford in October, 1888. She assures Grace that Mr. Clemens asserted that she would cause no disruption in the writing he planned, although he discouraged visits from male friends during that period of work. Grace became enfolded in the family during that month, when Twain voted Democratic in the presidential election, when Livy comforted Grace in her mourning for her maternal uncle, and when friendships deepened. These details might enhance some entries in the Twain Day by Day, which fascinated me when I spent time at Quarry Farm last year to speak in the Center for Mark Twain Studies’ Trouble Begins lecture series.

The letters take readers through joys and sorrows, especially during loss of both families’ members. Brief notes are as poignant as are formal announcements of deaths. Even when Clara alone is left of the Clemens family, she and Grace King exchange a few letters of affection. They see each other once more, in New Orleans in 1915, when Clara’s husband Ossip Gabrilowitsch performs with the city’s symphony.

The two-plus decades of letters are treasures from a unique friendship in a notable literary and cultural age. I have been gratified by the response of attendees at the Louisiana Book Festival and elsewhere to A New Orleans Author in Mark Twain’s Court: Letters from Grace King’s New England Sojourns. My hope is that this collection will fill tiny interstices in the study of Twain the man as friend and en famille.

Miki Pfeffer is a Visiting Scholar in History at Nichols State University, as well as author of Southern Ladies & Suffragettes, which won the Eudora Welty Prize in 2015.

The Shocking Truth About Mark Twain’s Fascination With Electricity

Editor’s Note: Earlier this month, Jennifer L. Lieberman, Assistant Professor of English at University of North Florida, was part of the “Twain, Technology, & Industry” panel at the 8th International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies. Her first book, Power Lines, was published by MIT Press in July. A cultural history of electricity in the U.S. from 1882 to 1952, Power Lines provides an important prologue to 21st-century debates about the social, ethical, and conceptual consequences of technological innovation and scientific progress. Currently available in hardcover ($30) and ebook ($21). Check it out! 

Samuel Clemens was fascinated with electricity for much of his professional life. Shortly after he adopted the moniker “Mark Twain,” he described one of his influences, the Reverend Edwin Hubble Chapin, as a human powerhouse: “There is an invisible wire leading from every auditor’s soul straight to a battery hidden away somewhere in that preacher’s head, and down those wires travels in ceaseless flow the living spirit of words that might fall cold and empty and meaningless from other lips.” For the rest of his career, Twain aspired to a similarly electrifying form of showmanship.

If the above passage from the San Francisco Alta California demonstrates one of the ways that Twain used electricity as a metaphor, his notebooks and journals reveal his more utilitarian understanding of this energy. He demanded that the city of Hartford provide electrical lights in his Nook Farm neighborhood for safety reasons; he hoped that electrical medicine might heal his wife, Olivia; he asked his acquaintance Thomas A. Edison to make an electrical device for a stage production of Colonel Sellers as a Scientist—a play Twain co-authored with William Dean Howells, but which was never staged during his lifetime; he swooned after visiting the laboratory of Edison’s competitor, Nikola Tesla, where he saw plans for the alternating current distribution system and correctly anticipated that the invention “will revolutionize the whole electric business of the world.” The picture Tesla took of Twain during that visit became famous in 1895, when Tesla included it in an article for The Century magazine.

Throughout his body of work, Twain consistently represented electrical power in both ways: as a supple symbol and as a useful energy that men could control. This was especially true in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), a novel in which he discusses lightning, batteries, electric buttons, electric lights, blackouts, electro-medical treatments, electric death, and a host of metaphors that were associated with each of these inventions. Electricity was so central to Twain’s vision for the novel that its illustrator, Dan Beard, depicted the erection of power lines as an integral part of the “Beginnings of Civilization” chapter.

This pattern of electrical allurement can raise a number of questions for Twain scholars: why was Twain so attracted to electricity as a symbol and a tool? Were Twain’s descriptions of electricity exceptional, or was he expressing widely agreed upon beliefs? What does this preoccupation mean for our understanding of Twain and his legacy? These are a few of the questions that I address in my book, Power Lines: Electricity in American Life and Letters, 1882-1952, which was published by MIT Press in July 2017.

My book begins by exploring why authors, like Twain, who were primarily concerned with humanistic questions, would discuss electrification so intently. I propose, in part, that they were drawn to electricity because they understood it to be fundamentally plural: it was naturally occurring, but it also was a symbol of scientific prowess and industry; it could kill, but it also was associated with vitality and life itself. That fact made electricity exceptional.

I suggest that this multifariousness allured Twain to electrical power. As a writer who wanted to express the capacious and sometimes contradictory experiences of human life, Twain believed that metaphors drawn from electricity would enable him to signify multiple ideas simultaneously. In my first book chapter, I trace his depictions of electrical energy from his earliest germane journal entries through the published version of the novel. In every case, he depicts electricity as uniquely enthralling for its polysemy. I argue that we can best understand Twain’s distinctive depictions of electricity if we disentangle them from his representations of other inventions—including the electrically powered telephone and telegraph. Crucially, I suggest that this focus on electricity can help us to explain why Twain’s contemporaries saw A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) as an affirmative depiction of democracy and war, although critics came to read this novel more cynically after 1960.

My book does not focus on a single author. In addition to my chapter on Mark Twain and my discussion of him in my Introduction, Power Lines includes a chapter on the electric chair, which compares novels by Theodore Dreiser and Gertrude Atherton to periodical coverage of electric executions; a chapter on Charlotte Perkins Gilman and electric medicine; a chapter on Jack London and long-distance electrical power transmission; a chapter on Ralph Ellison, Lewis Mumford, and changing ideas about humanism; and, finally, a conclusion that discusses how this archive comprises a usable past that we can learn from today. Still, as the focus of my first chapter, Twain is a touchstone I return to throughout the book. I carefully trace how the rhetorical strategies he uses to describe electricity—or to describe other aspects of human life by drawing analogies to electricity—inspire the techniques of the writers who succeed him. In addition to analyzing Twain and chronicling his role in the history of technology, my chapter also includes a literary historiography that traces how criticism of A Connecticut Yankee evolved over the years. While I focus on electricity in this novel, in particular, I hope that my framework will also be useful for understanding other elements of his fun and fascinating body of work.

Mark Twain Forum Reviews: Mark Twain & Europe by Takeshi Omiya

Editor’s Note: CMTS is proud to partner with the Mark Twain Forum, which has long been a leading venue for reviews of new publications in Mark Twain Studies. Visit their extensive archive. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete review. A portion of Amazon purchases made via links from Mark Twain Forum Book Reviews is donated to the Mark Twain Project. 

Mark Twain and Europe. By Takeshi Omiya. Osaka Kyoiku Tosho, 2015. Pp. 417. Hardcover. $58.00. ISBN 978-4-271-21040-5.

For Mark Twain scholars, the subject and title, Mark Twain and Europe, will not conjure any reaction resembling surprise. After all, Twain spent a significant portion of his adult life visiting and living in Europe. From the beginning of his rise to celebrity status, European countries would be the inspiration for travelogues and fiction, including The Innocents Abroad (1869), A Tramp Abroad (1880), The Prince and The Pauper (1882), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896). Several studies have been published with a focus on particular venues in Twain’s European sojourns including Howard Baetzhold’s Mark Twain & John Bull: The British Connection (1970); Carl Dolmetsch’s Our Famous Guest: Mark Twain in Vienna (1992); Andreas Austilat’s Mark Twain in Berlin: Newly Discovered Stories (2013); and the most recent addition to this genre, Mark Twain and France: The Making of a New American Identity, by Paula Harrington and Ronald Jenn (2017). Twain’s travels in other more-or-less circumscribed regions of the globe have also attracted focused energies like Miriam Jones Shillingsburg’s At Home Abroad: Mark Twain in Australasia (1988).

In Mark Twain and Europe Takeshi Omiya, an independent Mark Twain scholar from Fukuoka City, Japan, with M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Hiroshima University “aims to examine the influence that Europe, at that time, had on Mark Twain and his works, that is, the significance of Europe to Twain” (p. 2). The book is divided into two major sections with the first devoted to Darwin’s influence on Twain. The second section discusses the interactions and influences of Robert Louis Stevenson, Matthew Arnold and Shakespeare on Twain and his writings, particularly A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The Innocents Abroad. This selection of topics and subjects hardly justifies the book’s wide-ranging title, a misnomer that could have been rectified by the more apt or more accurate, Mark Twain and the Four Englishmen. Further compounding this misnomer are discussions, well-researched and interesting, but tangential, such as the exposition of imperialism, China, and Twain’s “The Fable of the Yellow Terror” (1904-05) and Ah Sin (1876). Such digressions are not without merit, of course, but serve to underscore the conclusion that this book would have benefited from a more appropriate title to underscore its actual focus. Another criticism is the pronounced didactic approach taken by Omiya, with the phrase “First, I will show . . .” cropping up with a regularity that begs a rejoinder of the writer’s creed, “Show, don’t tell.”

The discussion of Twain’s developing determinism and its Darwinian roots has been the subject of numerous studies such as Tom Quirk’s classic Mark Twain and Human Nature(2007). Omiya’s expressed intention is “to provide a thorough examination of this subject,” asserting that prior attempts have not been “comprehensive” (p. 2). His book does include a more than adequate introduction to Darwinism and social Darwinism as a predicate to analyzing the impact of their ideas and conclusions on many of Twain’s writings, especially during the latter years of his career. Omiya traces Twain’s determinism through his notebook entries and many of his published writings, including The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, “The Turning Point of My Life,” What Is Man?, “Corn-Pone Opinions,” “The Victims,” and “Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes.” Omiya asserts that “Twain maintains a duality inconsistent with determinism” (p. 79) because Twain considers “each human being to have an important, unchangeable, stable part within himself or herself that is never influenced by heredity and circumstances . . .” (p. 79). He seems to suggest that Twain’s concept of determinism, sufficiently broad to include the Lamarckian idea of inherited characteristics, such as morals, allows Twain to maintain a belief in God and Darwinism simultaneously. However, Omiya’s arguments in service of this thesis are not entirely convincing. Nonetheless, this discussion is undoubtedly one of the most extensive tracings of Darwin’s influences in Twain’s thought and writings and well worth the consideration of scholars who have long ago jettisoned the idea of Twain as a “mere humorist.”

Omiya’s chapter on Robert Louis Stevenson focuses on ideas relevant to psychology in the latter half of the nineteenth century which he traces to the duality theme of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Omiya attempts to make the case that Twain, who read and enjoyed Stevenson’s book, shared Stevenson’s fascination with the notion of “double personality” (p. 173) and the influence of dreams on writing. Omiya discusses a short piece by Twain titled “The Art of Authorship” (1890) as an example of Twain’s thinking with respect to the role of the unconscious in his writing (p. 175) and cites examples in works such as A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur. He also notes the limitations of the idea that Stevenson influenced Twain, particularly with respect to the role of the conscience, which, according to Omiya’s analysis did not constitute “another distinct self” (p. 178). This chapter includes subsections devoted to the work of Jean Martin Charcot, Pierre Janet, Sigmund Freud, and Mark Twain’s friend, William James. According to Omiya, Twain “obtained the idea of unconsciousness” from Charcot and Janet (p. 179). Twain’s friendship with William James and their mutual interests in psychical research and, later, in the anti-imperialist movement in the United States, is cited by Omiya for James’s influence on Twain’s writing on dreams, including “No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger.” Twain, according to Omiya’s argument, “owes much of his notion of ‘the Dream Self’ to James’s notion of the subliminal self” (p. 184). Citing Kent Rasmussen’s Mark Twain A to Z (1995), Omiya repeats the unproven, and likely fake news, that Twain met Sigmund Freud in 1898, when no documentation exists from either party to support the claim, but correctly notes evidence of the one-way influence based on the later references to Twain in the writings of Freud.

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The Mark Twain Forum Review Editor is Barbara Schmidt.

A Connecticut Yankee in the New Gilded Age

In a recent New York Times column heralding “The Collapse of American Identity,” Robert Jones  notes that British writer G.K. Chesterton once observed that the United States was “a nation with the soul of a church.” According to Jones, Chesterton “wasn’t referring to the nation’s religiosity but to its formation around a set of core political beliefs enshrined in founding ‘sacred texts,’ like the Declaration of Independence.”

Jones uses Chesterton’s comment as a counterpoint to the “two mutually exclusive narratives emerging along party lines” he claims are currently pulling the country apart. While this contrast between Chesterton’s impression of America in the 1920s and today’s situation underscores the column’s overall point, I believe a literary work that speaks more directly to the zeitgeist of our times is Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

Contrary to breezy movie adaptations of this familiar story (Bing Crosby’s musical romp comes to mind), Justin Kaplan describes Twain’s story as “one of the queerer and more disturbing exercises of the American literary imagination, a brilliant comic fantasy that turns savage and shakes itself to pieces.” More precisely relevant to Jones’s column is Henry Nash Smith’s view, which Kaplan quotes, that the original text’s disjointed narrative reveals “a loss of faith in the doctrine of progress that was central to the American sense of identity.” Hank Morgan, Connecticut Yankee’s narrator, is afflicted with a malady that poet C.K. Williams called “narrative dysfunction, or what happens when we lose track of the story of ourselves, the story that tells us who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act.”

As a late 19th-century American stranded in Arthurian England, Hank is the epitome of someone who has lost the story of himself. Not surprisingly, Twain worked on Hank’s story in the mid-1880s, a time when the American narrative was unraveling at the peak of a tumultuous era Twain had dubbed the Gilded Age. The country was wracked by rapid and disorienting industrialization, a widening chasm between wealth and poverty, intensifying class conflict, new waves of immigration, and ceaseless political scandals. (For a thorough, and unsettlingly familiar, analysis of this period, see Sean D. Cashman’s America in the Gilded Age.)

Hank embodies the conflicted narratives emerging from these fault lines fracturing the country’s story of itself. He espouses the virtues of republican democracy while supplanting Arthurian monarchy with an autocratic form of capitalism that transforms the Knights of the Round Table’s spiritual quest for the Grail into an elitist “stock board…that used the Round Table for business purposes.” Despite embracing rational Enlightenment principles, Hank’s supreme political status as “The Boss” rests on his cynical exploitation of science to manipulate the ignorance and superstition of the medieval populace to his advantage.

These irreconcilable contradictions culminate in a cataclysmic civil war that makes Hank’s “dream of a republic” a nightmarish graveyard, leaving him “muttering incoherently” and “sinking away toward death.” Twain’s America may have avoided such a catastrophic fate, but he tapped into the growing anxiety of an “Age of Nervousness” characterized by what Jackson Lears calls “hazy moral distinctions and vague spiritual commitments.” Under such conditions, Lears writes, “personal identity itself came to seem problematic.”

As we make our way through the fractious New Gilded Age with hints of another “Age of Nervousness,” perhaps Connecticut Yankee can serve as a cautionary tale provoking us to heed Robert Jones’s call to “take up the more arduous task of weaving a new national narrative in which all Americans can see themselves.” At the very least, Twain’s disturbing tale might help us avoid Hank’s tragic fate of falling into what his assistant Clarence mused was “a trap, you see—a trap of our own making.”

CMTS ANNOUNCES SPRING 2017 “TROUBLE BEGINS” LECTURE SERIES LINE-UP

In 1985, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies inaugurated The Trouble Begins at Eight 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 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. 

The Spring series is, as follows:

Wednesday, April 26 in Cowles Hall at Elmira College 7 p.m.
“These Hideous Times:” Mark Twain’s Bankruptcy and the Panic of 1893”
Joseph Csicsila,  Eastern Michigan University


An old standby of Twain biography is that Mark Twain was a bad businessman, plain and simple. Critics routinely cast him as a reckless speculator, a foolish investor, a failed entrepreneur as they advance the notion that Twain was hopelessly irresponsible with his wealth, making poor financial decisions one after another throughout much of his adult life, and that this led inevitably to his well-publicized and personally humiliating bankruptcy in April 1894. Twain studies, however, has yet to consider in any detailed fashion the context of the Panic of 1893 and the considerable role that it played in Twain’s financial ruin. The country’s first major industrial collapse, what many historians regard as America’s first full-scale economic depression, the Panic of 1893 took down thousands of businesses and ruined millions of Americans in truly historic fashion. As it turns out, Mark Twain’s bankruptcy may have had less to do with his financial decision-making than the times in which those decisions were made.
Joseph Csicsila is Professor of English Language and Literature at Eastern Michigan University. His writings include Canons by Consensus: Critical Trends and American Literature Anthologies (2004); Centenary Reflections on Mark Twain’s No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger (2009), co-edited with Chad Rohman; and Heretical Fictions: Religion in the Literature of Mark Twain (2010), co-authored with Lawrence Berkove. Csicsila is also editor of the Modern Library edition of Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age (2005) and the Broadview Press teaching volume of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (Forthcoming 2017). He is currently at work on a full-scale study of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which will appear in 2018.

 

Wednesday, May 3 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Roughing It: Twain’s Take on Brigham Young, Polygamy, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre”
Barbara Jones Brown,  Independent Scholar

In 1861, young Samuel Clemens gave up his job as a Mississippi riverboat pilot and departed St. Louis to venture west. He traveled with his older brother, Orion, the new secretary of the recently created Nevada Territory. Samuel sought his fortune in the West through mining, but discovered his future instead through his writing, under the pen name Mark Twain. In his 1871, travel narrative Roughing It, Twain famously wrote of his passing through Utah, including his observations of Brigham Young, Mormon polygamy, and the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre in southern Utah. This presentation looks at the circumstances that led to Twain’s writing Roughing It at Quarry Farm and compares his humorous reminiscences with what actually happened on his 1861 journey, based on historical sources.

Barbara Jones Brown is an independent historian of the American West. She is currently at work on a volume about the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which Mormon militiamen slaughtered a California-bound wagon train of Arkansas emigrants in southern Utah. This forthcoming volume, published by Oxford University Press, will include research Brown conducted, as a Quarry Farm Fellow, on Twain’s 1861 visit to Utah and his observations on the massacre. Brown holds an M.A. in American History from the University of Utah. She lives in Park City, Utah.

Wednesday, May 17 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Mark Twain, Unchaining the American Eagle”
David E.E. Sloane, New Haven University

Twain’s predecessor Artemus Ward claimed he could live in Canada in the capacity of a Duke, if a vacancy occurred, but Mark Twain unchained Ward’s eagle in the four main components of his humor which fulfilled Ward’s comic promise. Relying on entrepreneurialism, egalitarianism, egregiousness, and empathy, Twain stated the American vision through humor as no other American has before or since. Jokes from the humor of the Old Northeast and Twain’s own writings demonstrate his vision and how he presented it to the world.

David E.E. Sloane is Professor of English at the University of New Haven. He earned his Ph.D. degree from Duke University in 1970 and has been incorrigible ever since. His books include Mark Twain As A Literary Comedian; The Literary Humor of The Urban Northeast, 1830-1890; American Humor Magazines and Comic Periodicals; Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: American Comic Vision; and Mark Twain’s Humor: Critical Essays, among other works. He was the first Henry Nash Smith Fellow named by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College in 1987 or thereabouts.

Wednesday, May 24 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“The Mechanical Woman in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”
Hoi Na Kung, Indiana University

Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court abounds with comical descriptions that liken its central female character, Sandy, to an industrial machine with infinite labor power. This lecture will suggest that this novel’s peculiar automatization of Sandy gestures towards a 19th century cultural ambivalence about technology. On one hand, technology promised a “rational” order of life with an emphasis on the maximization of productivity and profit. On the other hand, technology threatened a disturbance of social order: mechanization of the workplace allowed women to leave the household for the workplace en masse, generating anxiety about women exchanging biological reproduction for industrial reproduction of commodities. Departing from much of the literary criticism that interprets Twain’s technologized modernity as a tragedy, this lecture will argue that Twain’s novel employs the figure of the mechanical woman in order to foreground both the sense of increased freedom and unfreedom for both men and women opened up by a technologized modernity.

Hoi Na Kung is currently a third-year doctorate student in the English department at Indiana University, where she specializes in 19th and 20th century American literature with an emphasis on critical race studies and gender studies. She is currently working on a project exploring representations of sensory experiences in African American and Asian American literature written in the age of globalization.

The Spring 2017 “Trouble Begins” Lecture Series is sponsored by the Michael J. Kiskis Memorial Fund. The sole purpose of this fund is to support scholars and scholarship at Quarry Farm. If you are interested in contributing to this fund, please contact Dr. Joseph Lemak at [email protected]

The “Trouble Begins” Lecture Series is also made possible by the support of the Mark Twain Foundation and the Friends of the Center.

CLICK HERE FOR A PDF COPY OF THE LECTURE SERIES LINE UP