“The Viral Twain” at Virtual C19: Dissent

The biannual conference of C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists was originally scheduled to take place in Miami last Spring. It was rescheduled for October and then transitioned into a virtual conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Mark Twain Studies is a proud contributor to C19 and this year our resident scholar, Matt Seybold, has organized a panel on “The Viral Twain.”

Papers for this panel have been made available for circulation in advance and the panelists will meet to converse with C19 members and auditors at 1:30 PM on Saturday, October 17th. You don’t have to be a member of C19 to participate in this conversation. You can register to attend all the virtual events taking place between the 16th and 25th of October for a small fee ($10-20). For more information and registration, please visit the C19 Society website.

Each paper on “The Viral Twain” panel deals with Mark Twain and his emerging literary celebrity during the decade immediately following the Civil War. This celebrity, arguably unprecedented for an American author, was made possible by the rapid growth of the periodical press and by Twain’s peculiar personal and professional preparations for promoting his work within this changing media environment. In keeping with the 2019 C19 Conference theme of “Dissent,” the panel also addresses how Twain and his collaborators engaged with political controversies of the era.

Avery Blankenship, a graduate student at Northeastern University, begins appropriately, by using the digital archives and detection methods of Northeastern’s Viral Texts project to trace Twain’s emerging popularity and compare it with contemporaneous authors of newspaper fiction. Blankenship shows, specifically, how some of Twain’s most reprinted writings from this period were part of a broader and ongoing attack on the U.S. judicial system by popular satirists.

Matt Seybold

Matt Seybold, Assistant Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, focuses on a single collaborator, James Redpath, one of the most incendiary abolitionist journalists of the 1850s who became Twain’s literary agent in 1868. Redpath’s expertise as a publicist and professional rabble-rouser are evident in Twain’s “American Vandal” persona.

Todd Nathan Thompson, Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, concludes the panel by discussing how Twain became a preferred pundit on annexation agitation and other political crises related to the Sandwich Islands (a.k.a. Hawai’i) during the early 1870s based upon the memorable humorous dispatches he had written as a traveller to the islands during the preceding decade.

Ryan Cordell, Associate Professor of English at Northeastern and founder of the Lab for Texts, Maps, & Networks, acts as respondent and mediator for the conversation on October 17.

Again, anybody can register at C19 to participate in the discussion. Once you have registered, you will be able to download the papers to read at your leisure.