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This Season's Lectures

The Trouble Begins at Eight
Fall 2014 Lecture Series

Mark Twain and Money
Harry Wonham, University of Oregon

Wednesday, September 17th in the Barn at Quarry Farm 8 p.m.

It is no secret that Mark Twain was fascinated with money, and yet his relationship to wealth is marked by paradox. He began life in nearly abject poverty and often championed the poor and downtrodden in novels like Huckleberry Finn, but he married into vast wealth and publicly defended some of the richest and most powerful plutocrats of his era. He earned more money than any other nineteenth-century American writer, by far, and through bad investments and poor financial discipline he lost more money than any other writer, by far. He was America’s most hilarious critic of the high-rolliing culture he named the Gilded Age, and his extravagant tastes and lifestyle epitomized the era’s excessive materialism. So what did wealth mean to Mark Twain? Biographers have debated this question for over 100 years, some arguing that Twain’s brazen commercial inclinations fostered his artistic achievement, while others have contended that he squandered his talent in pursuit of material riches. This talk will consider what Mark Twain’s voluminous writings can tell us about his fascination with wealth.

Harry Wonham has recently completed a six-year ordeal as Head of the English Department at the University of Oregon and is nearing full recovery. He is the author of Mark Twain and the Art of the Tall Tale and Playing the Races: Ethnic Caricature in American Literary Realism, both published by Oxford University Press. He is also the author of The Short Fiction of Charles W. Chesnutt and has edited several volumes, including the Norton Critical Tales of Henry James and Criticism and the Color Line. He has taught as a Fulbright Scholar in Prague and in Mannheim, Germany. 

Enjoy refreshments preceding this Opening Lecture. Doors open at 7:15. The Trouble Begins at Eight.

John Woolman, Quaker Saint. Mark Twain, Quaker Son?
Chad Rohman, Dominican University

Wednesday, September 24th in the Barn at Quarry Farm 8 p.m.

Although they lived in different ages, had radically different backgrounds and upbringings, and their personal and professional lives took drastically different tracks, certain ideological affinities exist between Quaker John Woolman’s lifelong commitment to social justice and Twain’s. Woolman spent his adult life opposing war and zealously working for social justice, including the abolition of slavery and poverty reform. Just as passionately, Twain spent his adult life zealously writing satire that condemned intolerance and questioned the status quo in pre- and post-bellum American culture. Upon examination of their words and deeds, one might carefully conclude that Woolman and Twain were in some meaningful ways ideological ancestors and intellectual

Chad Rohman is Professor of English and Director of the Core Curriculum at Dominican University in River Forest, IL. He is the editor of the Mark Twain Annual and co-editor, with Joe Csicsila, of Centenary Reflections on Mark Twain’s No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger (University of Missouri Press, 2009). His primary research interests include nineteenth-century American literature, particularly Mark Twain and his cohort, American women regional writers, and American Gothic literature. He also publishes and presents papers on the life and works of Flannery O’Connor. His recent chapter, “Awful Mystery: Flannery O’Connor as Gothic Artist” appears in Wiley-Blackwell’s A Companion to the American Gothic (Ed. Charles L. Crow, 2014). He lives in Elmhurst, IL, with his wife, Marcy, and three daughters, Melissa, Natalie, and Emily, and their golden retriever, Rigly.

Doors open at 7:30. The Trouble Begins at Eight.

Oracular Jesters at Home and Abroad:
Comparative Aspects of Benjamin Franklin’s and Mark Twain’s Cosmopolitan Legacy
Daniel Royot, The Sorbonne

Wednesday, October 1st in the Barn at Quarry Farm 8 p.m.

A native Massachusetts Yankee at the Court of King Louis XVI, Franklin was the founding father of American humor, and Twain, the child prodigy. The leaping whale into Niagara Falls thus preceded the jumping frog from Calaveras County in the treasury of American hoaxes. Impersonating a libertine, Franklin enjoyed in Paris the ultimate years of the suicidal decadent Ancien Regime. In the following century, Twain posed as an innocent pilgrim roving among stratified Old World societies that he sometimes playfully likened to Sodom and Gomorrah. Both humorists also happened to wield scathing Swiftian satire when responding to smug European arrogance with a boomerang effect, and they used the ironic mask to draft caricatures of impostors or tyrants. Franklin and Twain advocated tolerance and common sense by supporting the underprivileged and the vox populi against the selfish opulence of the alleged elite in Europe and the New World. Each in his own style, Franklin and Twain never dissociated humor from humanism.

Daniel Royot, Emeritus Professor of American Literature and Civilization at the Sorbonne in Paris and past President of the American Humor Studies Association (1999), was awarded Fulbright and Canadian Research Council scholarships and two fellowships of the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. Aside from thirty-five books on various aspects of American society, culture and literature, some of them translated into six foreign languages, he has published extensively on American Humor as author, co-author and editor in Europe and the United States.

Enjoy light refreshments before this concluding lecture of the Fall Season. Doors open at 7:15 p.m. The Trouble Begins at Eight.

Mark Twain’s 179th Birthday Celebration
Mark Twain at Home: An Edition and its Challenges
Benjamin Griffin Editor, The Mark Twain Project

Sunday, November 30th in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7 p.m.

This 179th birthday lecture will feature insights from a new publication, A Family Sketch and Other Private Writings (November 2014). The volume includes, for the first time in full, two of the most revealing of Mark Twain’s private writings. Here he turns his mind to the daily life he shared with his wife, Livy; their three daughters; a great many servants; and an imposing array of pets. These first-hand accounts display this gifted and loving family in the period of its flourishing. Mark Twain began to write the first piece included in the volume, “A Family Sketch,” in response to the early death of his eldest daughter, Susy, but the manuscript grew under his hands to become an exuberant account of the entire household. His record of the childrens’ sayings—“Small Foolishnesses”—is next, followed by the related manuscript “At the Farm” (Quarry Farm in Elmira, NY). Also included are selections from Livy’s 1885 diary and an authoritative edition of Susy’s biography of her father, written when she was a teenager. Newly edited from the original manuscripts by Ben Griffin, this anthology is a unique record of a fascinating family.

Ben Griffin studied literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and received his doctorate at Cambridge University. Since 2005, he has been an editor at the Mark Twain Project where his editorial credits include the three volumes of Mark Twain’s Autobiography as well as A Family Sketch.

Enjoy birthday cake and punch following the lecture.

Directions to Quarry Farm for local attendees:
From Elmira College, head east on Washington Avenue across the Clemens Center Parkway to Sullivan Street. Turn right on Sullivan. Turn left on East Avenue. Turn left on Crane Road. Quarry Farm will be on your left. Please park on the grassy area behind the Barn. For GPS: 131 Crane Road Elmira, NY 14901

Parking for Cowles Hall is available in the parking lots east of Cowles Hall and along Washington Avenue.