Trouble Begins Lecture Series Begins April 26

April 13 2017
Category: Twain

Stained glass image of Mark Twain

The spring portion of the 2016-2017 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies features four lectures, with the first event set for Wednesday, April 26 in Cowles Hall at Elmira College.  All four lectures are free and open to the public.

The first lecture, “‘These Hideous Times:’ Mark Twain’s Bankruptcy and the Panic of 1893” will be presented by Joseph Csicsila, professor of English literature at Eastern Michigan University, beginning at 7:00 p.m., in Peterson Chapel, Cowles Hall. In his presentation, Csicsila takes a look at an old standby of Twain biography that Mark Twain was a bad businessman, plain and simple. Critics routinely cast him as a reckless speculator, a foolish investor, a failed entrepreneur as they advance the notion that Twain was hopelessly irresponsible with his wealth, making poor financial decisions one after another throughout much of his adult life, and that this led inevitably to his well-publicized and personally humiliating bankruptcy in April 1894.  As it turns out, Mark Twain’s bankruptcy may have had less to do with his financial decision-making than the times in which those decisions were made.

On Wednesday, May 3, the series continues at Quarry Farm with a special ceremony honoring the recent Quarry Farm designation of a New York Literary Landmark.  The evening begins with tours of the grounds at 5:00 p.m., followed by the plaque dedication and light refreshments.  The Trouble Begins lecture begins at 7:00 p.m.in the Barn at Quarry Farm and features independent scholar Barbara Jones Brown and her presentation, “Roughing It: Twain’s Take on Brigham Young, Polygamy, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre.” In his 1871 travel narrative, Roughing It, Twain famously wrote of his passing through Utah, including his observations of Brigham Young, Mormon polygamy, and the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre in southern Utah. This presentation looks at the circumstances that led to Twain’s writing Roughing It at Quarry Farm and compares his humorous reminiscences with what actually happened on his 1861 journey, based on historical sources.

The series continues at Quarry Farm at 7:00 p.m., on Wednesday, May 17, with “Mark Twain, Unchaining the American Eagle” by David E.E. Sloane, professor of English at the University of New Haven.  Twain’s predecessor Artemus Ward claimed he could live in Canada in the capacity of a Duke, if a vacancy occurred, but Mark Twain unchained Ward’s eagle in the four main components of his humor, which fulfilled Ward’s comic promise. 

The spring series wraps up on Wednesday, May 24 at 7:00 p.m., in the Barn at Quarry Farm with “The Mechanical Woman in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” presented by Hoi Na Kung, a third-year doctorate student in the English department at Indiana University. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court abounds with comical descriptions that liken its central female character, Sandy, to an industrial machine with infinite labor power. This lecture will suggest that this novel’s peculiar automatization of Sandy gestures towards a 19th century cultural ambivalence about technology. Departing from much of the literary criticism that interprets Twain’s technologized modernity as a tragedy, this lecture will argue that Twain’s novel employs the figure of the mechanical woman in order to foreground both the sense of increased freedom and unfreedom for both men and women opened up by a technologized modernity.