The session "Mark Twain in the 90s" was held Friday morning at the 20th
anniversary meeting of the Philological Association of the Carolinas on the
campus of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC. The session was organized on
the Mark Twain Forum, with all three participants being forum members.
Several people asked for a summary post, so here goes!
Terry Oggel of Virginia Commonwealth University was first with a paper
entitled "Twain, Zola, and the Writer in Public Discourse." Terry argued
quite convincingly that Mark Twain's five-year outburst of public discourse
from 1900 to 1905 was affected by Emile Zola's "J'Accuse" letter in the
Dreyfus affair. He set forth a full chain of events, including Twain's
knowledge of and interest in the famous letter. Rather than arguing that Zola
was a direct influence on Twain, Terry posited that Zola served Twain as a
model for a writer using his literary reputation for public comment. Terry
cited several Twain works, including _The Czar's Soliloquy and _The United
States of Lyncherdom._ His argument is more subtle than I can render in a
short digest, so I hope he will eventually publish some version of this for
others to read.
Next was Miriam Shillingsburg of Mississippi State University, with a paper
entitled "The Influential Mr. Blank." Miriam is attempting to solve a puzzle
from Mark Twain's Australasia tour, documented in _Following the Equator_.
The puzzle involves the identity of a person called "Mr. Blank" in that book,
an Irishman who takes credit for everything that happens to Twain in the town
of Bendigo, Australia. The evidence and chronology is complicated, including
a faked Mark Twain funeral in Melbourne set up by an imposter and a Mark Twain
Club that met in Ireland in the 1870s. At this point, Mirian suspects one
Frank Hearn of being Mr. Blank, and some historical and textual evidence she
presented points to him. I was especially convinced by her mention of
mumerous puns on "frank" in the text. But to make sure, she was leaving from
the Charlotte airport immediately after our session to travel to Bendigo for
further research. (What a pleasant research task!) I found this to be a fun
and funny paper.
Last was Barbara W. Taylor of the Cornell University Law Library. Her paper,
Olivia Clemens' Influence Considered," was an insightful look at Olivia
Clemens' education, tracing carefully her life-long devotion to learning. I
was especially impressed by the depth of Livy's education in science. Jervis
Langdon was very concerned that Livy receive the most up-to-date education
possible, and he sent her to a very progressive school in Elmira. Barbara's
paper traced Livy's education into her early married years, when she devoted
herself to learning financial mamgement, personnel management, and French and
German, up until 1879, when she began to devote more of her energy to the
children's education. Barbara's paper was a help in a further understanding
of Olivia and her influence on Samuel Clemens.
The session was well-attended (12 or so at an early session), and a lively
question and discussion period followed. I was glad to have the opportunity
to chair the session and meet fellow Mark Twain Forum members.