Documentary About Mark Twain & Joan of Arc Wins Top Prize at Paris Film Festival

Mark Twain et Jeanne d’Arc: L’hisoire d’une passion, a French-language short documentary about Twain’s lifelong interest in the iconic heroine, Joan of Arc, was recently awarded the top prize in the documentary category at the Anstia Film Festival in Paris.

The film, written by recent Quarry Farm Fellow, Ronald Jenn, and directed by Patrice Thery, uses pictures and documents from French and American archives, including our own, to familiarize its audience with the author, the subject of his passionate interest, and, finally, the novel, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, which he published in 1896.

The film made its US debut in August of 2017 here in Elmira, as part of our 8th Quadrennial Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies. It prominently features Elmira College alumna, Olivia Clemens, and discusses the importance of Elmira and Quarry Farm in Twain’s life.

Jenn, who is also a professor at Universite Lille, reports,

“The jury, comprised of an iconic anchorwoman from France 3, a state-owned TV channel, a journalist from the same channel and two photographers/film-makers said that the movie stood out as exceptionally well-written, especially intriguing as to its topics and very well-made thanks to the wealth of quality images provided by the Mark Twain Project. They underlined the way research was made accessible to a large audience and the obvious international scholarly collaboration the film was the fruit of.”

We are so proud to have played our small part in that collaboration and offer a hearty congratulations to Professor Jenn and the other filmmakers. We thank them for promoting this under-appreciated piece of Twain’s legacy. We hope you will take a few moments to watch the film (with English subtitles) embedded below.

Twain and Chaucer Are Featured in Next “Trouble Begins” Lecture

The fall portion of the 2017-2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues Wednesday, October 18 at 7:00 p.m. in the Barn at Quarry Farm.

The lecture, “Mark Twain and the Narrative Magic of Medieval Literacy Spunk-Water Stumps” will be presented by Liam Purdon from Doane University. While much instructive scholarship has been published treating Mark Twain’s interest in and use of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur as predecessor text for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, his interest in and use of works from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as potential predecessor texts for The Prince and the Pauper and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc constitute a dimension of his medievalism that invites further inquiry.

We know Twain read Chaucer carefully since one of his Christmas presents to Livy in 1874, Thomas Tyrwhitt’s most recent edition of Chaucer’s poetical works, bears the impress of his imagination in thoughtful as well as humorous penciled marginalia in the Squire’s Tale, the Wife of Bath’s Prologue, and the Friar’s Tale. We also know the narrative structuring device of the Canterbury Tales’s pilgrimage itself caught his attention given its incorporation in A Connecticut Yankee in chapter 21 when Hank Morgan and Sandy join a “company of pilgrims” who tell tales “that would have embarrassed ‘the best English society twelve centuries later.’” However, understanding how the Squire’s Tale’s emphasis upon the relationship between effective translation and character may offer a narrative structuring device for the Prince and the Pauper, as well as understanding how the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale’s emphasis upon manipulation of differing world-conceptions may offer a narrative structuring device for Joan of Arc, provides an instructive perspective on narrative construction worthy of consideration since it sheds light on the imaginatively effective ways in which Chaucerian predecessor texts appear to help Twain align his later literary works and vision with great works identified as foundational to the establishment of English literary and cultural tradition.

Purdon, professor of English at Doane University, specializes in medieval British literature, which has enabled him over the years to publish and make presentations on a number of well-known works by Chaucer, the Pearl-Poet, and other medieval authors. Interest in the Wakefield Master’s “play doctoring,” a course of study encouraged by late-twentieth-century examinations of material culture in plays of the York and Chester Cycles, led in 2003 to publication of new “readings” of the Master’s play revisions in light of the late-medieval emphasis upon the morality of technology. Continuing interest in 19th and 20th century American authors in general and Mark Twain in particular has led to interest in examining Twain’s creative medievalism, as well as the relationship between contemporary American author Tom Robbins and Twain.

All lectures in “The Trouble Begins” Lecture Series are free and open to the public.

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 Peterson Chapel, Cowles the Barn at Quarry Farm in Elmira, NY.

The lectures, now titled The Trouble Begins, are 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.

Elmira Joins Forces with Berkeley and Normandy for “Twain & Joan of Arc” Project

The Center for Mark Twain Studies is a pivotal partner in an ongoing research project that will culminate at the 8th International State of Mark Twain Studies Conference in August, following a lecture and exhibit in Rouen, France, in June.

Did you know that at different times, Clemens acquired, read, and heavily annotated a number of authorities that he later acknowledged in a list at the beginning of his historical novel Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc? And that a majority of these books were in French? Some of those references now reside in the Mark Twain Papers at the UC-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. While scholars have commented upon Clemens’s debt to these sources, the annotated materials remain largely untapped. Co-sponsored by the CMTS, Linda Morris (UC-Davis) and myself (U. de Lille, France) received a France Berkeley Fund Grant for a project to study just that. It is entitled: “‘The French Marginalia’ of Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1895-96) at Berkeley: Patriotism without Borders.”

The France-Berkeley Fund supported an exhaustive study of these marginalia, the result of which is to be published in the Spring 2017 issue of Mark Twain Journal. The article highlights the role played by those historical sources in the making of the most Franco-American of Clemens’s works, sheds new light on the legendary “flying leaf” incident, disentangles the complex origins of Twain’s narrator, de Contes, and reveals the author had far better command of French than he ever publicly acknowledged.

Still unfolding, the project’s next stage is a lecture, to be given by Linda Morris at Historial Jeanne d’Arc in Rouen, Normandy, a museum dedicated to the French heroine. The lecture will take place June 8, 2017, the same week as the D-Day celebrations. If you happen to be in Normandy, please join us!

There will also be the showing in Rouen of a short film illustrating Mark Twain’s lifelong fascination with Joan of Arc made, in part, of rarely seen pictures from the Berkeley archives, as well Elmira and Quarry Farm, thanks to the assistance of Vic Fischer. The film will then run for a few weeks inside the museum. It will also be aired at the Quadrennial Conference in August.

The whole project reinforces the cosmopolitan dimension the American icon is increasingly assuming. It also helps reframe Joan of Arc as the climax of Twain’s longtime and paradoxical relationship with France and the French, a crucial aspect of his biography analyzed in Mark Twain and France: The Making of a New American Identity, forthcoming in June 2017 (University of Missouri Press). This book was co-written by myself and Paula Harrington (Colby College), who is also a partner of this project.

Ronald Jenn is Professor of Translation Studies at Université de Lille, France and a former Quarry Farm Fellow.