Over 75 Past Lectures Added to the “Trouble Begins Archive”

Over 75 downloadable lectures have been added to the “Trouble BeginsArchives. Most of these lectures come from the years 1986 to 1999.

Louis. J. Budd at Quarry Farm

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 Spring, Summer, and Fall of each year, in the barn at Quarry Farm, Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus, or the Historic Park Church in downtown Elmira.  All lectures are free and open to the public. We will continue to work our way back and make these lectures to everyone.  Please stay tuned for more.  All the downloadable lectures and copies of “The Trouble Begins Programs” can be found in The Trouble Begins Archives.

Some highlights include:

  • Victor Doyno, “Mark Twain’s Family Life at Quarry Farm” (July 27, 1988 – Hamilton Hall – Elmira College Campus)
  • Hamlin Hill, “Late Mark Twain: Fro Bad Philosophy to Worse Literature” (July 24, 1989 – Quarry Farm Barn)
  • Alan Gribben, “Huckleberry Finn’s Missing Twin” (April 11, 1990 – Quarry Farm)
  • Howard Baetzhold, “The ‘Autobiography of Eve’: Mark Twain’s First Attempt to Tell Eve’s Story” (October 2, 1991 – Quarry Farm)
  • Michael Kiskis, “‘A Complete and Purposed Jumble: The Problem with Mark Twain’s Autobiography” (October 28, 1992 – Quarry Farm)
  • Lawrence I. Berkove, “The Ethical Records of Twain and his Circle of Old West Journalists” (March 24, 1993 – Quarry Farm)
  • Laura E. Skandera-Trombley, “Mark Twain’s Elmira Revisited: Through a Woman’s Eye”
  • Shelley Fisher Fishkin, “Mark Twain and African-American Voices” (September 12, 1995 – Quarry Farm)
  • Louis J. Budd, “Mark Twain’s Visual Humor” (June 5, 1995 – Quarry Farm)
  • Susan K. Harris, “Love Texts: The Role of Books in the Courtship of Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain” (November 13, 1996 – Quarry Farm)
  • Kerry Driscoll, “‘Eating Indians for Breakfast’: Racial Ambivalence and American Identity in The Innocents Abroad” (October 21, 1998 – Quarry Farm)
  • Chad Rohman, “‘Yours Truly, Mark Twain’: Reconsidering the Intellectual and Epistemological Dimensions of an Ironic and Elusive Mind” (May 6, 1998 – Quarry Farm)

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.


Elmira 2017, the Eighth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies, will convene at Elmira College this August 3rd through 5th, 2017. The Conference will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Sam Clemens’ participation in the famous Quaker City Tour to Europe and the Middle East. In addition, the Conference acknowledges the sweeping and ongoing importance of Mark Twain’s satirical writings with its theme: The Assault of Laughter.


  • More than 50 scholarly papers will be presented over three days prepared by Mark Twain scholars from around the world.
  • Ben Tarnoff, author of The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature, will give the keynote address
  • Aaron and Adam Nee, co-authors, co-directors, and actors, within the movie “Band of Robbers” will give a screening of their film with a Q&A to follow. “Band of Robbers” re-imagines the characters Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in contemporary times.
  • Nathaniel Ball, with help from Kevin MacDonnell and the staff of the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, will showcase items related to the Quaker City Tour.
  • Mark Twain collectors will be available for special presentations
  • Finger Lakes Distillery will provide whiskey and spirit tastings
  • A Closing Picnic at Quarry Farm will round out the 2017 conference.












We invite papers on any aspect of Mark Twain’s work and legacy, but have a particular interest in the topics listed below:

MT and Satire

MT: Insult and Invective

MT and Politics—Then and Now

MT as Cultural Icon: Use and Abuse

MT and Home

MT and the Art of Irreverence

MT and Gender

MT: Friends and Enemies

MT and Talk

MT and Grief

MT, Correspondent: Public and Private

MT and Immigration

MT and Violence

MT and Vernacular

MT and Public Discourse

MT and The Seduction of Laughter

MT and Political (In) Correctness

MT Visions and Revisions

MT and His Demons

MT and the Quaker City Cruise

MT and Economics

“Twain’s End”: Reassessments

MT and Education

MT in Theory

The State of MT Biography

MT and Realism

The complete Autobiography

Developed abstracts (700 words) should be sent as an electronic attachment to [email protected] by Monday 6 February 2017. Include a cover letter containing your contact information (name, mailing address, etc.) in the body of the email.  Final papers must be suitable for 20-minute presentation.  Proposals will be reviewed anonymously by members of the conference planning committee.  Abstracts should be sent to [email protected]


Conference Fees: The registration fees for Elmira 2017 – including all breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, special receptions, and programs, is as follows:

  • Full Conference Registration – $375
  • Daily Rate – $140 per day

Housing Fees: Conference-goers will benefit by an option to stay in Elmira College’s residential halls. The residential halls are organized into singles and doubles. Selection of specific room types will be based on a “first come, first serve” basis.

  • Lodging at EC Meier Hall (with A/C) – $70 per night
  • Other EC Dormitories (without A/C) – $50 per night

Call CMTS at (607)735-1941 or e-mail [email protected] to make your room selection.

Checks can be mailed to:

Center for Mark Twain Studies
Elmira College, 1 Park Place, Elmira, New York 14901.

Please make checks out to “Center for Mark Twain Studies.”
Visa and Mastercard accepted

Monies are available from the Renée B. Fisher Foundation Fund to help international scholars present their work at the the Conference. This grant may be used to support travel and defray conference expenses (registration fees, lodging, etc.). Contact Dr. Joseph Lemak if you are interested in this opportunity ([email protected]).

Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, & The Nadirs of U.S. Electoral History

“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

                                                              – The Apocryphal Twain

In November 1973, Gore Vidal’s Burr debuted at #4 on the NYT Best Seller List. The novel spent the next 39 weeks in the top ten, including 21 at #1. The topic Vidal chose for his much-anticipated sequel, which also spent 25 weeks on the NYT list (nine at #1), was the year he infamously called “the low point in our republic’s history.”

The backdrop to Vidal’s 1876 is one of the most hotly contested elections in U.S. history.

An early favorite to succeed Ulysses S. Grant as the fourth consecutive Republican president was Senator James G. Blaine, but his candidacy was derailed by the unexpected circulation of several reams of private correspondence which seemed to reveal a propensity to sell political influence to private moguls. For reform Republicans, led by Secretary of Treasury Benjamin Bristow, Blaine epitomized the Washington insider serving special interests. But Blaine argued that press characterizations of his “Mulligan letters” were inaccurate and incomplete, and that any further publication was an insidious and perhaps illegal invasion of his privacy designed to benefit other candidates, particularly Bristow and Senator Roscoe Conkling.

Vidal describes Blaine’s congressional testimony a week before the Republican Convention in Cincinnati as follows, “Blaine spoke warmly of the sacred and inviolable nature of private communication between gentlemen. What was meant for one man’s eyes was no business of any other man on this earth. He made this somewhat dubious assertion sound as if it were the very foundation of the American Constitution and of all civilized law.” When the Convention opened, a crowded field of nine Republicans were nominated, with a bruised but unbroken Blaine receiving the most initial support. Seven ballots followed, interceded by increasingly incendiary debates between supporters of Blaine, Bristow, and Conkling, whose scandalous affair with a famous socialite was increasingly common knowledge.

The muckraking managed to discredit them all. The GOP finally settled on Rutherford B. Hayes, whose inclusion on the ballot was likely intended as little more than flattery for a former Ohio governor who had recently retired to manage his embattled real estate holdings. Hayes placed no higher than sixth on any of the first four ballots. He was, as Vidal describes him, “a man entirely unknown to most of the convention that had just nominated him.”

“We like men who talk straight out in plain unmistakable language—like Hayes. We not only know that such a man means something, but we know what he does mean. We have natural & justifiable distrust of talky men who make a sounding & ostentatious pretense of saying a thing & yet don’t say it after all—men who hide a mustard-seed of an idea in a kaleidoscope of words, so that the more you turn the thing the more you can’t quite capture that elusive little idea, because it always takes refuge, just in time, behind a new & bewitching rainbow-explosion of fine language—men like Mr. Tilden, for instance.”

                                                                                                                                 – Mark Twain (September, 1876)

The Democratic nominee was never in doubt. Samuel J. Tilden was a lawyer who had recently risen to Governor of New York thanks to his instrumental role prosecuting corruption within his own party, particularly that of the infamous Boss Tweed. Tilden had a reputation as a brilliant, studious policymaker who was unapologetically opposed to “the modern dynasty of associated wealth” which exerted undue influence over U.S. politics.

But Tilden was also a notoriously cold and charmless workaholic. Besides having a personality unsuited to the campaign trail, the 62-year-old suffered from a series of unappealing health problems, perhaps including, as Vidal speculates, a secret stroke. And, as the ensuing campaign revealed, his tax returns may have suggested he was not as immune to the machine politics he purportedly dismantled as his supporters believed.

Equally important to Vidal’s account of the 1876 campaign are the newspapers, particularly the New York Herald, The New York Times, and the New York Evening Post. These national newspapers, as well as a host of mass market magazines and syndicated correspondents, had the capacity, as well as the ambition, to make and break candidates. There is no suggestion in 1876 of a journalistic ethos based on accuracy and objectivity. The Herald’s Charles Nordoff quips, “As for the truth always coming out, I think it never does. But even if it did, who would know?” Vidal’s narrator contends, “There is no history, only fictions of varying degrees of plausibility.”

“Mark Twain is our greatest…Mark Twain. He is not, properly speaking, a novelist nor ‘just’ a journalist nor polemicist. He is simply a voice like no other.”

                                                                        – Gore Vidal (1997)

Samuel Clemens does not appear until late in Vidal’s novel, but the ascendent reputation of Mark Twain is alluded to dozens of times throughout, so that his eventual entrance is heartily anticipated. He is, as one character puts it, “a sort of God in these parts.”

The Clemens who Vidal depicts, despite enjoying unprecedented celebrity and commercial success, is despondent and depressed. He rants about the stupidity of his countrymen and characterizes democracy as an outright failure. “I can’t satirize anything at the moment,” he tells Vidal’s narrator, “I want to take a stick, an axe, a club, and smash it all to bits.”

Vidal’s narrator, Charles Schuyler, is an aging, insolvent journalist clearly envious of Twain’s string of recent successes. After meeting the mythic Twain and observing his misanthropic condition, he writes,  “It does me a world of good to pity him.” Schuyler concludes, “Whatever he might have been, he is, for now at least, hurt Caliban, a monster who has had the ill luck to see his own face mirrored in the composite looking glass of a million adoring countrymen. By cunningly playing the fool, Twain has become rich and beloved; he has also come to hate himself, but lacks the courage either to crack the mirror or to change, if he could, that deliberately common face which it so faithfully reflects.”

Vidal provides ample evidence of his narrator’s unreliability, but perhaps nothing more explicit than his denunciation of Twain. Vidal is an avowed Twainiac. He knows intimately the burden of literary celebrity and the jealousy it inspires. For him, much rides on that interjected clause: “for now at least.” Vidal knows, of course, as do many of his readers, that even as he allegedly sits with Schuyler and Jamie Bennett (Editor of the Herald) in a window booth at Delmonico’s in August 1876, Clemens has already begun working on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, transitioning into a phase of his career marked by courageous change and more incisive reflections on Americana. Like Vidal after him, Twain would “give trouble to those guardians of the national mythology.”

1876 was published with the vitriolic 1968 election, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandal fresh in the minds of Vidal and his readers. 2016 may prove to be another nadir in our political history, as was 1968, 1876, 1824, etc. Vidal’s detailed demythologizing neutralizes the false impression, then and now, that we live in especially exceptional times. It does not, however, make healthy historical perspective an excuse for political apathy.

Though he did not dine at Delmonico’s during the last week of August 1876, but rather with his extended family in Elmira, Clemens was, as Vidal suggests, deeply disturbed by the 1876 election. He told William Dean Howells, “Get your book out quick, for this is a momentous time. If Tilden is elected I think the entire country will go pretty straight to Mrs. Howell’s bad place.” When the election was initially called for Tilden, he send the following telegram to Howells via Western Union:

“I love to steal awhile away

From every cumbering care,

And while returns come in today

Lift up my voice and swear.”

The disputed results led to months of judicial review and congressional negotiation, which Clemens followed dutifully. Thus, Vidal’s historical fiction raises a potent question for Twain studies. To what extent did the election of 1876 contribute to Twain’s evolving literary ethos?

Visit Our Expanded Virtual Tour of Quarry Farm and Mark Twain Study

The virtual tour has been expanded to include eleven new panoramas from the Quarry Farm property, including several vantage points highlighting the changing season.

Choose a location from the dropbox menu, right click to enter full screen, and scroll to zoom.

The tour, created by David Coleman of Small Town 360, will eventually cover the whole property, inside and out. David’s high-resolution panoramas allow for extensive interactions, including annotations and 3D objects, so look for the tour to grow in coming months.

To learn more about Quarry Farm’s history, click here.