Writing and Discovery at Quarry Farm

EDITOR’S NOTE: We occasionally feature testimonials from recent Quarry Farm Fellows and Residents, which combine conversational illustrations of their research and writing process with personal reflections on their experiences as Twain scholars, teachers, and fellows. Applications for Quarry Farm Fellowships are due each Winter. Find more information HERE.

Barbara Ladd is Professor of English at Emory University, where she teaches courses in American literature, with an emphasis on the work of southern writers. Her publications include Nationalism and the Color Line in George W. Cable, Mark Twain, and William FaulknerResisting History: Gender, Modernity, and Authorship in William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, and Eudora Welty; and The Oxford Handbook to the Literature of the U.S. South (co-editor) as well as numerous essays. “‘Night After Night and Day After Day’: Mark Twain and the Natural World” appeared in the Mark Twain Annual in 2019.

Professor Ladd gave a paper at the 2019 Quarry Farm Symposium “Mark Twain and Nature.” Here talk can be accessed HERE:

  • Barbara Ladd, “‘Night after Night, Day after Day’: Mark Twain and the Natural World” (October 5, 2019 – Quarry Farm Barn)

The real value of two weeks more or less free to work on one project, to focus, can be something rather vague when applying for a residency or fellowship. It wasn’t until I actually arrived, greeted Steve Webb, unpacked, and had the chance to look around in the solitude that I fully realized what it would mean.

It is an understatement to say that my two weeks at Quarry Farm were productive. That much is true: I made progress on my project (Mark Twain in the 1920s, especially in connection with Edna Ferber, whose work is, in significant ways, in conversation with Twain’s). I read deeply and without interruption for the first week.

The second week I ventured into the Mark Twain Archive at the Gannett-Tripp Library with the intention of deepening my knowledge of Mark Twain in the 1920s. There I found a few reminiscences and tributes in the 1920s by people who had known him well and people who hadn’t in publications like The Friend, Hawaii Quill Magazine, and Mentor Magazine. Most of these are of minor interest, but taken in the context of the publication of Van Wyck Brooks’s The Ordeal of Mark Twain and all of the conversation of that decade about modernity and its relationship to the American past, to the frontier, and to changes in American humor (i.e. that it had become more sophisticated and impatient with earlier forms of humor practiced by Twain) and looking ahead to Bernard DeVoto’s Mark Twain’s America, these tributes and reminiscences took on a deeper significance. It was interesting to see that Louis Budd’s papers contained so few caricatures of Twain from the 1920s and that there were more of them in the 1930s. What that means, if anything, I can’t say, and whether DeVoto’s book had anything to do with it I can’t say for sure—although I expect it did.

In addition to my interest in Mark Twain and the 1920s, I am also interested in his response to the natural world; and I discovered, in some of his correspondence with Livy, a few descriptions of the natural world that he sent to Livy while he was travelling, descriptions that do not make it into Dixon Wecter’s The Love Letters of Mark Twain. (And there is at least one problem with a date Wecter assigned to a letter.)

I often teach “A True Story,” so the local newspaper clippings about Mary Ann Cord, as well as a typescript by Sherwood Cummings, dealing with her personal life and her reputation in and around Elmira will be useful in the classroom, as will the material on John T. Lewis from local sources. I cannot help but wonder whether Twain’s “Sold to Satan” (in manuscript in the Gannett-Tripp Library) will be of interest the next time I teach “The Dynamo and the Virgin.”

So my time there was useful both for helping with what I planned to do and for providing me with some serendipitous surprises.

Barbara Ladd (Emory University) talks about progress on her project at Quarry Farm