Trouble Begins Lecture on “Viral Twain” Now Available

The fall portion of the 2020-2021 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies continues with “Viral Twain: The Reprinting of Mark Twain in Nineteenth-Century Newspapers.” presented by Avery Blankenship of Northeastern University.

Through the use of the Wright American Fiction archive of nearly 3,000 American novels and story collections published 1851-1875 and existing reprint detection methods developed by the Viral Texts project, identifying the trajectory of novels published within this time frame has become possible. Often, the circulation and spread of fiction through the newspaper occurred in the form of brief excerpts – sometimes without authorial attributions or titles. Twain also made use of the ambiguous nature of newspaper circulation. For example, in A Book for an Hour (1873), Twain borrows the popular sketch “Persuading a Hen” from “The Danbury News,” but this same text also appears in James Bailey’s Life in Danbury as “Driving a Hen,” and was published in at least one other book in 1873. Broadly considering examples such as this, this lecture will wrestle with the pieces in particular of Twain’s that were circulated in the newspaper and, how their uptake in the newspaper might recontextualize Twain’s popularity in relationship to other successful newspaper fiction writers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the texts discussed in this lecture, A Book For An Hour (1873), though it was published under Twain’s name, was actually compiled by Benjamin Such. Twain had approved the use of one of his sketches for Such’s anthology, but Such took far greater liberty than the ascendent celebrity author had actually granted. Sam Clemens won a case against Such in the New York Supreme Court and thereafter denied authorship of several pieces published in the associated collection and elsewhere. As Blankenship points out in her talk, attribution for these reprinted works is complicated. The Such case is a relatively obscure piece of Twain trivia, discussed most extensively by editors from the Mark Twain Project in their notes on Twain’s letters from the period.

Blankenship is a PhD student in the English Department at Northeastern University. Her research interests include nineteenth-century print culture, digital humanities, and nineteenth-century cookbooks and domestic manuals. She is a current research assistant for the Viral Texts project and more of her work, as well as the work of the larger project, can be read about at either or at where some chapters of the team’s forthcoming book-project, Going the Rounds, are available for review.

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 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.