First ‘Trouble Begins’ Lecture is All About the Dogs

October 02 2017
Category: Twain

Mark Twain Dog's Tale

The fall portion of the 2017-2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, begins Wednesday, October 4 at 7:00 p.m. in Cowles Hall, with the lecture and pet-related exhibits and displays.

"CMTS is excited to collaborate with the Chemung County SPCA and Chemung County Historical Society.  Collaborating with other local organizations allows each of our organizations to offer more diverse programming to more people," said Dr. Joe Lemak, executive director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies.  "This Twain lecture is going to be a great talk for animal lovers.  It's a perfect lecture for them to attend. We hope to see new faces in the audience, especially those who may not know too much about Mark Twain’s legacy in Elmira."

In honor of Twain’s love for animals, the first lecture event includes a special “Famous Dogs of Elmira” exhibit provided by the Chemung County Historical Society, and a display and furry visitor from the Chemung County Humane Society and SPCA.  Donations of pet supplies will also be collected that evening.

"Mark Twain was one of the most important Americans of his time to give voice to the need for improved animal welfare, and his fondness of and advocacy for animals can be found in many of his works," said Tom Geroy, executive director of the Chemung County Humane Society and SPCA. "One could easily argue that Mark Twain was truly a founding father of the modern animal welfare movement, so this special lecture series event is a nice blending of Twain's passions.  We're excited to be a part of the evening and to partner with the Center for Mark Twain Studies."

The lecture, “‘That heart-breaking bitch’: Aileen Mavourneen & the Transatlantic Anti-Vivisection Movement,” will be presented by Emily E. VanDette, associate professor of English with the State University of New York at Fredonia. The title of this talk comes from a letter in which William Dean Howells congratulates Clemens on his 1903 anti-vivisection novella, A Dog’s Tale. Mother dog Aileen Mavourneen’s first-person account of a brutal experiment that killed her puppy is indeed heartbreaking, and it gave much-needed support to the movement against animal experimentation. In depicting animal subjectivity and challenging widely accepted social hierarchies, A Dog’s Tale, like so many of Twain’s literary interventions against the norms of his day, was ahead of its time. But also, Twain’s stance about vivisection and the status of animals in society was a part of a larger conversation that was taking place at the time on both sides of the Atlantic. This paper will situate Twain’s stance in the context of the vivisection controversy, including some leading voices who directly networked with the famous author to solicit his support for the cause, and it will connect Twain’s prescient portrayal of animal voice and identity to modern-day animal rights activism and post-humanist philosophy.

Emily E. VanDette, associate professor of English at the State University of New York at Fredonia, teaches courses in 19th-century American literature and women’s writing. As a Quarry Farm Fellow in July 2017, she conducted research for a scholarly monograph about the literature of the early animal welfare movement in the U.S., which includes a chapter devoted to Twain’s anti-vivisection writing and network. She is also currently working on a critical edition of the 1904 anti-vivisection novel Trixy by Twain’s contemporary and celebrated American author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.

All lectures in “The Trouble Begins” Lecture Series are free and open to the public. Click here to learn more.