Please note: In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, CMTS has taken precautionary measures to move all lectures from the Barn at Quarry Farm to online at MarkTwainStudies.org. Presenters have agreed to record their lectures and make their talks available at the “Trouble Begins Archive.” Stay safe, everyone.
Wednesday, July 15
Max Cavitch, University of Pennsylvania
What kinds of self-encounter get memorialized in Mark Twain’s vast and long-secreted Autobiography? Mark Twain has a lot of fun with the play of self-representation, while also wrestling seriously with the challenges of writing both from and against the point of view of his mediatized images. This lecture explores how Twain made and re-made himself into an object of regard—both in living his life and in writing about it—against the backdrop of a nascent culture of mass publicity increasingly defined by photography. Even as a youngster, Samuel Clemens seems to have understood that, against widely shared confidence in photography’s indexical relation to the “real,” it also had the potential to manipulate appearances in a culture that was increasingly riven by antithetical commitments to publicity (the transparency and knowability of the workings of an open society of equals) and to privacy (individual control over public access to one’s own identity and experience). As he grew to become one of the first modern celebrities, Twain continued to watch as America’s democratic culture became more and more dependent on the mechanical reproduction of photographic images, both to expand and to distort popular perception of things “as they really are.”
Max Cavitch is Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also an affiliated faculty member of the programs in Comparative Literature, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, and Psychoanalytic Studies. He is the author of American Elegy: The Poetry of Mourning from the Puritans to Whitman (2007) and of numerous essays on American and African American Literature, Animal Studies, Cinema Studies, Poetry and Poetics, and Psychoanalytic Studies. His new edition of Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days is forthcoming in the Oxford World’s Classics series. Presently, he is completing a comprehensive study of autobiographical writing, called Passing Resemblances.
Wednesday, July 22
““Why We Who Have Dedicated Our Lives to Mark Twain Studies Must Now Interleave His Life, His Works, and His Time with a 21st Century Lens for Teachers and Students”
Jocelyn A. Chadwick, Harvard University Graduate School of Education
As scholars we were and are still being trained and taught to focus our work and research inside of ourselves for dissemination among like-minded colleagues. Essentially, we are experts talking to experts, sharing ideas and discoveries. . . . We are also teachers. Why should we even consider rethinking “how we do business?” This lecture explores four key relevant areas that we who study Mark Twain Studies must rethink, reimagine, and, yes, learn anew how to teach and share the texts—primary/secondary and the personal narratives—if Mark Twain’s Studies are to survive within this century: Generation Z, DisruptTexts, Virtual Learning and Using Primary/Secondary Resources, and Relevance to Us. The very survival of Mark Twain Studies within the elementary-high school classrooms throughout this country—the United States of America—stands on a precarious and fracturing precipice. We no longer can afford to stand aloof, observing and commenting solely in articles. Our audience who must, must, read the articles are classrooms teachers. And we, too, must transitionally extend the conversation well-beyond the article-page to conversations where we listen to teachers and students, exploring, discovering, and learning with them.
Jocelyn A. Chadwick is a life-long English teacher and international scholar. Formerly, a full-time professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, she now lectures occasionally and conducts seminars there. She has published numerous articles and books with one in progress, Writing for Life: Using Literature to Teach Writing, She was invited to the White House as panel member for the series, Celebrating America’s Authors. Current projects include PBS American Masters, PBS The Great American Read, a new book series for the Folger Shakespeare Library, recurring blogs for Larry Ferlazzo in Education Week, consultant for Center for Mark Twain Studies, and Pearson/Savvas, Expert Advice Contributor for NBC TODAY Parenting Team.
Wednesday, July 29
“Between Spectacle and Structure: Mark Twain’s Anti-Imperialism”
Stephen Pasqualina, University of Nevada, Reno
In a moment when systemic racism has recently gained heightened visibility in the US, this talk explores how Mark Twain grappled with the difficulties of thinking systemically, of comprehending political structures that exceed individual experience. In his anti-imperialist writings, Twain registers that the difficulty of grasping structures lies in the limitations of sight, the sense most often associated with knowledge in modern Europe and the US. From around 1880 until his death in 1910, Twain explored various technological strategies for enfolding deep temporal and spatial structures into visual experience. These uses of “spectacle,” rooted in visual technologies that produce a false but powerful sense of immediacy, included a history board game, a history roadway game, and photography. Twain’s experiments with seemingly anti-historical visual technologies provide important parallels and lessons for our own uses of digital technologies in coming to terms with the relations between police brutality against Black Americans today and the long transnational history of anti-Blackness.
Stephen Pasqualina is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Nevada, Reno. His current book project, Mechanical Failure: Modernism, Technology, and the Mediation of History, examines the role of speed and visual media technologies in the US modernist historical imaginary. Work related to this project has recently appeared in Modernism/modernity, J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, Public Books, and MarkTwainStudies.org.
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by the Langdon family. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.
Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain. Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community. Currently, it is a United Church of Christ open and affirming congregation, welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.
At the heart of the Center for Mark Twain Studies mission is service to scholars. Nothing reflects this better than the Quarry Farm Fellowship program. When the Langdon family bequeathed Quarry Farm to Elmira College on December 31, 1982, the Langdons insisted that the main house be used exclusively as a cultural humanities site dedicated to Mark Twain Studies. As a result, the Center for Mark Twain Studies funds national and international scholars, allowing them to fully engage in scholarly pursuits at Quarry Farm. CMTS makes a concerted effort to include graduate students, independent scholars, and scholars with new doctoral degrees to ensure the robust future of Mark Twain Studies, ensuring the continuation and rejuvenation of Mark Twain as a central figure in American literature and the field of the Humanities.
The Center for Mark Twain Studies is honored to announce the 2020 Class of Quarry Farm Fellows
Sponsor: Christopher Looby, University of California, Los Angeles
Max Cavitch is Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also an affiliated faculty member of the programs in Comparative Literature, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, and Psychoanalytic Studies. He is the author of American Elegy: The Poetry of Mourning from the Puritans to Whitman (2007) and of numerous essays on topics in American and African American Literature, Cinema Studies, Poetry and Poetics, and Psychoanalytic Studies. He is the editor of the forthcoming Oxford World’s Classics edition of Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days and co-editor, with the historian Brian Connolly, of the forthcoming essay collection, Situation Critical! Critique, Theory, and Early American Studies. He also edits and regularly contributes to Psyche on Campus: A Blog on Teaching Psychoanalysis in the Undergraduate Classroom, which he launched in August 2019.
The book I’m presently writing, Passing Resemblances: A Critical Inventory of Autobiography, is meant to appeal to readers interested not only in autobiographical writing but also in genre studies, identity studies, narratology, history and historiography, psychoanalysis, and philosophy. Indeed, it is a book for anyone who takes more than a passing interest in the stories we tell about our lives and about the selves that live them. My basic argument is that autobiographical writing can best be studied as a long history of narrative efforts to reconcile the question of the self (autós) with the problem of living (bíos). Passing Resemblances is no simple descriptive survey but a comparative, interrogative, and propositional work of criticism and theory, focused on the relational foundations of human subjectivity and experience. Mark Twain’s Autobiography is one of the key works to be discussed in my book—not least because of Twain’s canny and often confounding play with the very notion of selfhood. My time at Quarry Farm will be spent researching and writing the chapter-section devoted to this monumental work, which is of great importance to any exploration of the roles played by fame, publicity, mass media, and duplicity in autobiographical writing.
Sponsor: Eileen Barrett, California State University, East Bay
Ryan Heryford is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Literature in the Department of English at California State University, East Bay, where he teaches courses in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, with a focus in ecocriticism and cultural narratives of environmental justice. He has published, or has forthcoming articles, on environmental thought in the works of William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Édouard Glissant, and M. NourbeSe Philip. His scholarship has been supported by the William Faulkner Society, the Emily Dickinson International Society, and the University of California Center for Global California Studies. His current book-length project, “The Snugness of Being:” Vitalism and Decay in Nineteenth Century American Literature, explores the influence of nineteenth-century environmental and biomedical philosophy on constructions of self and subjectivity within the works of Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, and Herman Melville.
My project considers some of the more neglected writings from two radically distinct periods of Mark Twain’s life, considering his earliest travel correspondence in Nicaragua and Hawai’i alongside his late, unpublished manuscript “3000 Years Among the Microbes.” Reading the young journalist’s narrative meditations on a diversity of flora and fauna as entangled within his commentaries on settler-occupation in the Pacific and Central America, I trace out Twain’s alignment toward and departure from a tradition of writing about non-European ecologies as bearers of disease and decomposition, dangers to the legibility and coherence of a traveler’s bodily integrity. I go on to consider one of Twain’s final manuscripts, “3000 Years Among the Microbes,” which tells the unusual story of a human-turned-germ named Huck who infects the body of a Hungarian immigrant named Blitzowski. This unfinished book, I argue, represents a return to Twain’s earliest writings and their ambivalent meditations on US imperialism, revisiting scenes of corporeal boundary-crossing as well as radical imaginings of entwined human and nonhuman communities. Engaging Twain’s interest in the ever-transforming discourse of nineteenth century science with his shifting relations to anti-imperial activism, I hope to both better unearth the author’s radical visions of the human body and its surrounding ecologies, as well as acknowledge these under-considered early travel writings and late-unpublished manuscripts as essential bookends in Twain scholarship.
Sponsor: Henry B. Wonham, University of Oregon
Hsuan L. Hsu is a Professor of English at Concordia University in Montreal and the author of Geography and the Production of Space in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (2010) and Sitting in Darkness: Mark Twain’s Asia and Comparative Racialization (2015). He is currently completing a book entitled The Smell of Risk: Olfactory Aesthetics and Atmospheric Disparities (forthcoming with NYU Press). His research interests include American literature, critical race studies, the environmental humanities, cultural geography, and the sense of smell. He serves on the executive committee of the MLA’s 19th-century American forum and the editorial boards of American Literature, the Journal of Transnational American Studies, Literary Geographies, American Literary Realism, and The Broadview Anthology of American Literature.
I propose to spend my time in residency conducting research for an essay entitled “Twain’s Olfactory Gags: Realism, Atmospherics, and Human Fermentation.” The project aims to better understand not only Twain’s olfactory humor throughout his career, but the ways in which olfaction stages a little-explored aspect of Twain’s realism: the materiality of socially and geographically stratified atmospheres. The essay will begin by surveying Twain’s scattered comments on the smells of rotting fish (Huck Finn), the stench of Chinatowns (Roughing It), the ethical significance of working-class odors in a church congregation (“About Smells”), the smell of plague-ridden bodies (Connecticut Yankee) and the detective’s sensitive nose as a racially loaded “gift of the bloodhound” (“A Double-Barreled Detective Story”). In examples such as these, olfactory disjunctions establish a realist sense of atmosphere as a medium that intangibly structures social and economic life. The second half of the essay will offer an extensive reading of “The Invalid’s Story,” a humorous story in which Twain offers an extended gag associating the smell of Limburger cheese with a rotting corpse. The story complicates Twain’s realist treatments of smell by emphasizing its psychological determinants: Twain’s “invalid” narrator is sickened not by the miasmatic stench of a rotting corpse, but by his culturally constructed tendency to gag in horror at this putative smell. “The Invalid’s Story” demonstrates Twain’s attention to both the materiality of air and its inflection by culturally variable meanings. If the specter of “human fermentation”—in which the materiality of the human body becomes a site of bacterial “culture”—debilitates the narrator, this may be because human fermentation undercuts the central fiction of ableist embodiment, in which the individual is a self-reliant body sealed off from material exchanges with their environment. The essay concludes with a brief discussion of the contemporary Sissel Tolaas’s Human Cheese projects, in which she produces cheese using bacteria sourced from humans. A bit more explicitly than Twain, Tolaas resists the Enlightenment drive towards deodorization by reminding us that humans—and human “culture”—are constitutively entangled with microbes.
Sponsor: Matthew A. Taylor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Benjamin J. Murphy is a teacher and Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he specializes in American literature of the long nineteenth century (approximately 1830-1914) and the history of science. At UNC, he is also Maynard Adams Fellow for the Public Humanities and an editorial assistant for the journal American Literature. Ben’s dissertation focuses on crowd psychology, discourses of race and racism, and mob violence in the period between the end of Reconstruction and the turn of the century. Research on related topics has been published in Mississippi Quarterly and Configurations, and you can find other examples of Ben’s writing—including reviews, essays, and interviews—through outlets such as ASAP/J, boundary2, The Carolina Quarterly, The Chicago Review of Books, Full Stop, The Millions, Pedagogy and American Literary Studies, PopMatters, and symploke. For links to this work, visit benjamin-murphy.com.
My fellowship project contributes to an in-progress dissertation chapter. Provisionally titled “Lynching by the Numbers,” the chapter in question analyzes the role of quantitative representation and rhetoric in the transhistorical archive of anti-lynching discourse. Beginning with present-day lynching scholarship before turning back to assess Mark Twain alongside Ida B. Wells and W. E. B. Du Bois, I argue that numbers (and social scientific protocols of knowledge more broadly) have long played a vexed role in efforts to decry racial violence. My time at Quarry Farm will be dedicated to the Twain sections of this argument, which consider “The United States of Lyncherdom,” a complex essay drafted in 1901 but only published posthumously. Drawing from existing criticism and a restored version of the essay that corrects changes imposed by Twain’s editor, I argue that “Lyncherdom” is obsessed with linking the problem of lynching to numbers—to counts, rates, statistical laws, and even to meticulously calculated dimensions of planetary geometry. But even as lynching is yoked to numbers, Twain’s quantitative treatment has the adverse effect of making the mas violence seem insurmountable and overwhelming. I aim to show how Twain’s apparently doomed gravitation to scientific numeracy complements his elsewhere-expressed views on mob behavior and human cowardice. This broader understanding of Twain’s sense for the transits between numbers and lynching violence provides something of a foil to the other writers and discourses I plan to address in my chapter, many of whom articulate a more positive understanding of the activist potential of numbers.
Sponsor: Brian Kim Stefans, University of California, Los Angeles
Sarah Nance is an Assistant Professor of English at the United States Air Force Academy. Her work examines late 19th, 20th, and 21st-century literature and art through the lens of the medical humanities, and her current scholarly book project explores the intersections of illness, violence, and scale in contemporary literature. She is also at work on a collection of poems about the strange temporality of grief and the physical locations associated with loss. Her critical and creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in venues such as Literature and Medicine, Arizona Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review of Books, ASAP/J, Belletrist, Parentheses, Muse/A, and elsewhere.
During my fellowship at Quarry Farm, I will be finishing the manuscript for my first collection of poetry, Ghost Traveler, which explores the physical locations and situational manifestations of grief, particularly through the lens of late 19th and early 20th century traditions, customs, and writings on grief and loss. Ghost Traveler is orientated around the changing geographical spaces and altered temporalities of grief. Although much of my original framing of my manuscript included figures central to my current location in Colorado Springs—such as the “unsinkable” Margaret “Molly” Brown, infamous survivor of the Titanic’s sinking and major Denver philanthropist, and Nikola Tesla, called the “Wizard of Electricity” by the Colorado Springs Evening Telegraph when he arrived in town to set up a laboratory—I was surprised by the ways that the national renown of these figures meant that they had also crossed paths with Twain.
Perhaps more importantly, however, I am interested in Twain’s own relationship to grief and loss. As a writer known colloquially for his sense of humor, I have been struck by Twain’s own intimate kinship with pain and sorrow, a contrast that he acknowledges in a conversation with a friend who was examining an early draft of Roughing It: “I knew it! … I am writing nothing but rot. … I have been trying to write a funny book, with dead people and sickness everywhere. Mr. Langdon died first, then a young lady in our house [in Buffalo], and now Mrs. Clemens and the baby have been at the point of death all winter!” That ill child was Twain’s son Langdon, who later died at 19 months of age. As Twain scholarship has already suggested, Twain’s later life was also rife with tragedy, including the death of his daughter Susy, his wife Olivia, and various close friends. In examining Twain’s marginalia in his daughter Jean’s edition of The Poetical Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson, I found that Twain’s only textual marks in the entire book appear on Tennyson’s long poem of grief and loss, “In Memoriam A.H.H.,” including marking one passage that reads, “That loss is common would not make / My own less bitter, rather more.” Twain’s own biography suggests that this shared commonality of loss has an intensifying—rather than ameliorating—effect.
Sponsor: John Carlos Rowe, University of Southern California, Dornsife
Stephen Pasqualina is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Core Humanities program at the University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses primarily on American modernism and critical theory. His current book project, Mechanical Failure: Modernism, Technology, and the Mediation of History, examines the role of speed and visual media technologies in the US modernist historical imaginary. Work related to this project has recently appeared in Modernism/modernity, J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, Public Books, and MarkTwainStudies.org.
My current book project examines how US modernist writers re-imagined historical consciousness through four anti-historicist modes of visual experience: spectacle, speed, space, and fetishism. At Quarry Farm, I will complete revisions on this project’s first chapter, which focuses on Twain’s use of spectacle as a means of negating and then mediating the long history of industrial capitalism, particularly in terms of automation and European and US imperialism. Beginning with Twain’s investment in the Paige Compositor, I trace the turns in Twain’s historical imaginary alongside parallel shifts in his relationship to modern technology and in his political and economic identities, from a manual typesetter to a venture capitalist to a bankrupted anti-imperialist. The chapter focuses especially on Twain’s efforts to mediate between the apparently incommensurate durations of mechanistic historiography and the instantaneity of technological spectacle, a mediation that produces what I call Twain’s “spectacular history.” I locate examples in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, “Mark Twain’s Memory Builder” board game, a roadway game Twain invented at Quarry Farm for his daughters (documented in “How to Make History Dates Stick”), and his late critiques of imperialism. The chapter argues that Twain’s recovery of spectacle as a medium for historical consciousness registers the necessity—and the difficulties—of using the tools of industrial capitalism to visualize the postbellum US within its disavowed networks of historical time and global space.
Sponsor: John Bird, Winthrop University
Alan Rankin is a writer and independent researcher with an abiding interest in the unexplored corners of history. Since 1992, he has been studying the life of Nina Gabrilowitsch, Mark Twain’s granddaughter. His presentation “Nina: The Lost Diary of Nina Gabrilowitsch” was received with acclaim at the 2019 Clemens Conference in Hannibal, Missouri. The companion piece, “Finding the Lost Diary of Mark Twain’s Granddaughter,” appears on the website for the Center for Mark Twain Studies. His work-in-progress chronicles the lives of Nina and her parents, Ossip Gabrilowitsch and Clara Clemens, in Europe and America during the Roaring ’20s. He also writes a biographical column for Renaissance Magazine.
While Nina never met her grandfather Samuel Clemens, her life was profoundly affected by her connection to him all the same. Nina’s later life has been well documented, but there is little material available about her early life, particularly the 1920s. My book focuses on this overlooked and generally happy period in the lives of the surviving Clemens family. It also presents Nina Gabrilowitsch as a figure worthy of study in her own right. Her charming, literate teen diaries reveal the lasting impact of Samuel Clemens on the daily lives of those who survived him. In addition to my book, I am developing presentations and articles to share other aspects of my research with the Twain scholarship community. I look forward to further interacting with the members of that community during my time at Quarry Farm.
Sponsor: Tracy Daugherty, Oregon State University
Laura Rice is Professor Emerita in the School of Writing, Literature and Film at Oregon State University. Specializing in comparative literature, literary translation, and sustainable development, she has written widely on Colonial and Postcolonial literatures, Cultural Studies, and Gender in international context. Her books include Revolutions in Tunisian Poetry, co-edited and co-translated with Karim Hamdy, and Of Irony and Empire: Islam, the West, and the Transcultural Invention of Africa. As Principal Investigator, she designed and conducted federally-funded research and development and academic exchange projects on the MENA region, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright, US Department of Education, and the US Department of State. Her current book project, focusing on Elmira in the last two decades of Twain’s life, brings her research back to the U.S. and to archives concerning her own family.
Twain’s Elmira: the Next Generation traces the social and cultural changes Elmira experienced during the last two decades of Mark Twain’s life when sports pages rivaled politics in popularity, a new century focused on “manly behavior,” and Roosevelt progressives advocated anti- corruption policies and imperial expansion. In Elmira, sports became the touchstone of character. Twain dubbed baseball “the outward and visible expression of the drive, and push, and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century,” but football, he explained, was “the grandest game ever invented for boys,” building up “the mind as well as the body.” “This beats croquet,” Twain crowed, “There’s more go about it.”
This book project began with clippings in a family scrapbook about a nationally-reported 1905- 06 conflict between coach “Pop” Warner of Cornell and Elmira’s Lawrence “Cooney” Rice. “Cooney,” even Warner admitted, was “something of a hero in the minds of many.” This enmity over “fair play,” while deeply personal, dated back a decade to conflicts between Warner and older Elmirans at Cornell. The tutelary spirits of Twain, Beecher, the Langdons, and exiled Fenian T. McCarthy Fennell inspired the values of Elmira’s Cornell graduates of the 1890s: Railroad executive Jervis Langdon, Jr., Attorney Thomas Fennell, NY Senator John Murtaugh, and Businessman Clint Wyckoff. Through sports, they mentored the stars of the new century: “Cooney” Rice, Joe “Dode” Birmingham, Matty “Ironsides” Fennell and Harry “Deacon” Costello, Irish kids from Elmira’s “Frog Hollow.” Young sports reporters Frank Tripp, Frank Gannett, and Grantland Rice captured these events. Tripp would celebrate Elmira’s Father Mathew semi-pro team half a century later: “it was the greatest baseball I have ever seen.” For Cornell, Tripp wrote, “the triumvirate from Frog Hollow [Costello, “Cooney,” Birmingham] well nigh carried the [football] works on their shoulders for the red and white.” By 1910, Feeney’s Corner tobacco shop, the Mecca of Elmira sports and news for a decade, was gone, Elmira’s semi-pro baseball team had moved into legend, and Twain had been laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery. It was the end of an era. But, as Cornell’s Rym Berry reminisced in 1956: “Rejoice that we were present in the flesh.”
Sponsor: Susan K. Harris, University of Kansas
Shirley Samuels teaches at Cornell University in several departments and programs, including American Studies, English, History of Art and Visual Studies, and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Most of her books focus on the nineteenth century United States. These books are Reading the American Novel 1780-1865,Facing America: Iconography and the Civil War and Romances of the Republic: Women, the Family, and Violence in the Literature of the Early American Nation. Her edited works include the Cambridge Companion to Abraham Lincoln, Companion to American Fiction, 1780-1865, and The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender, and Sentimentality in 19th Century America. She has a new edited book on race and visuality in the nineteenth century United States, Race and Vision in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Lexington, 2019).
Her project for the residency at Quarry Farm includes work on a chapter on Twain in her monograph, currently titled “Democratic Witness,” on witnessing, testimony, and culture in the United States. In that chapter, the residue of the Civil War that shows up in Life on the Mississippi is placed in the context of Twain’s ambivalence about the war. A paragraph from that chapter follows:
“The confusion of references that Twain includes suggests the unreliable narrator aboard the Mississippi in Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man. Both works provide a way to think about the relation between a fantasy of poor boys emerging toward middle class life and this sequence of events of men on the unstable location of water as a foundational element of success as a founding father, however much the crossing of water involves deception. And that time of crossing water, a water crossing that changes affiliation and introduces violence, returns us to Black Hawk as it includes that troubling matter of bodies on the water being carried as property. The autobiography that has become known as the story of Black Hawk contains many crossings of the Mississippi for violent raids or in retreat from violence. To read the face of the river is to read the faces of men on the river, in his account as in others, to anticipate whether they bring violence. To note what effect travel on the river has on the observation of human nature is to note what the stories Herman Melville tells of life on the river might have in common with the nostalgia and the peril on the river visited by Mark Twain.”
Sponsor: John Gruesser, Sam Houston State University
Ed Shannon is Professor of Literature and former Literature Convener at Ramapo College of NJ; he teaches courses in Humanities, American Studies, and American literature, including Author Studies: Mark Twain. His “’Our clothes are a lie’: Disguise and Christian Typology in Pudd’nhead Wilson” appeared in the 2009 Mark Twain Annual. He also writes and teaches about comics and graphic novels. He’s written about cartoonists Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Charles Schulz, George Herriman, and Winsor McCay. He most frequently writes about Woody Guthrie. His most recent work on Guthrie includes “Illegal, Not Wanted, Unnamed: Woody Guthrie’s Exploration of Media, Immigration, and Identity in ‘Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportee)’” (forthcoming, Theory in Action) and “‘Good Grief, Comrade Brown! Woody Guthrie, Charles Schulz and the Little Cartoon Book that was a Big Lie’” (Studies in Comics, 2019). He was named a 2005 Woody Guthrie Fellow by the Woody Guthrie Foundation.
In simplest terms, his project asks, “Why does Tom Sawyer have a girlfriend while Huck does not?” Both boys are about fourteen, and Tom avidly pursues romance. In fact, Tom seems headed for one clear destination and, as Twain writes, “that is . . . marriage” (Twain, Sawyer 241). Huck has no such inclinations.
In the popular imagination, Tom, Huck, and Becky are all prominent and very much linked cultural figures. Becky, in particular, has captured the imagination not only of readers, but also creative writers and filmmakers. Bob Dylan, Vachel Lindsay, Will Vinton, Robert Coover, Lenore Hart, and Jessica Lawson all see in Becky an essential character for consideration of sex, gender, and power. Scholars seem less interested, as was Twain. Becky mostly vanishes from Twain’s fiction after Adventures of Tom Sawyer. She is mentioned briefly (albeit misnamed) in Huck Finn. Becky’s absence underscores a void in Huckleberry Finn: any indication that Huck has a burgeoning sexual consciousness of any kind.
Wherever Huck’s narrative brushes against an episode where a reader might expect a Realist writer to follow a young man’s interest in sexuality (gay, straight or otherwise), the text pulls back. For example, in the final draft of Huckleberry Finn, Huck praises Mary Jane Wilks, saying “there weren’t no back-down to her” (Twain, Huck 316). Originally, Twain had added, “if I know a girl by the rake of her stern; and I reckon I do” (Hearn 316 n 12). This, he cut. Ultimately, Mary Jane becomes another sexless mother figure, who “echo[es] the widow’s morality” (quoted in Fishkin 60). This instance is not unique.
Huck’s sex life has been a subject of interest since Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel, inspiring many responses, including rejections of Fiedler’s (and the critical world’s) homophobia. At the same time, many see Huck as so young, so innocent, that it seems misguided to look for any sexual signals from such a boy. For many, Huck’s lack of sexuality seems “natural.”
But why should Huck seem naturally sexless when Tom Sawyer is so thoroughly interested in sex and romance? Perhaps because Tom is a middle-class boy poised for greatness, and Huck is “poor white trash,” and depicted as such in Huckleberry Finn and its sequels. The thrust of my argument is that Twain’s novel reveals a potent and pervasive anxiety not so much about sexuality per se but about procreation among “the common sort” (Twain, Huck 378) Huck represents
Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. “Mark Twain and Women.” The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain. Ed. Forrest G. Robinson. Cambridge, 1995.
Hearn, Michael Patrick ed. The Annotated Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Edward Winsor Kemble, Illustrator. Norton. 2001.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Broadview Editions. 2006.