Magic, Memory and Huckleberry Finn

June 19 2017
Category: Twain

Park Church Lecture Series from the Center of Mark Twain Studies

The 2017 Park Church Summer Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, continues Wednesday, June 21 at 7:00 p.m., with the lecture, “Conjuring the Superstitions of a Nation: Magic, Memory, and Huckleberry Finn,” presented by Sarah Ingle, English lecturer at the University of Virginia. 

In Following the Equator (1897), Mark Twain wrote, “Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.” Yet, despite this indication that Twain viewed superstition as a supremely powerful social force, scholars have had surprisingly little to say about the role of superstition in Twain’s most famous novel. From Jim’s fortune-telling hairball to Tom Sawyer’s “witch pie,” magic and folklore are much more than mere manifestations of “local color” and minstrel show humor in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Conjuring is Twain’s metaphor for the twin powers of memory and prediction that are at the heart of the novel’s critique of post-Reconstruction America. In Huckleberry Finn, conjure becomes a metaphor for two competing ways of reading: Jim’s fortune-telling and Huck’s transformative retrospection. 

Sarah Ingle received her Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Virginia in 2014, specializing in 19th-century American literature and African American literature. She has visited Elmira several times as a Quarry Farm Research Fellow and as a presenter at several conferences. She has also taught a class on “Huck Finn and Cultural Conflict” and has delivered conference papers and published articles about the works of Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Pauline Hopkins, and others. This talk is adapted from a chapter of her book manuscript, Conjured Memories: Race, Place, and Cultural Memory in the American Conjure Tale, which she hopes to publish.

The Park Church Lecture Series is free and open to the public.  Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for guided tours of The Park Church, with lectures beginning at 7:00 p.m.  The Church is located at 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira.