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

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.

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.