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A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Archive for the tag “Gilded Age”

Mark Twain: An Estrangement with Religion

By Rae Martin

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

     It’s no secret that throughout Western history – before the rationalist and secular movements of the past few centuries – organized religion has held massive sway over humankind.

By Rae MartinMark Twain, for his time, was quite progressive in some of his views on religion – and obliquely depressing in others.

It’s surprising, on both accounts, considering he was born in a conservative small town, which typically leads to a strong sense of faith.

Being born in Florida, Missouri today would be hard enough, but during the 19th century? Unfathomable. It’s simply stunning that Mark Twain grew to criticize religion, an establishment still venerated by some today.

“If you think something is important, and it’s going the wrong way, you get really passionate,” said Steve Courtney, publicist and publications editor of the Mark Twain House & Museum,

Passionate is a meek word for some of Twain’s last writings on religion and life.

If his appreciation of the importance of religion comes from his social environment growing up, then his amiability in terms of differing beliefs comes from his mother, Jane Clemens.

She was not a puritan in any sense, but a sampler of religion who brought her son along for a taste of faith at different houses of worship.

And from church, to cathedral, to synagogue; she sampled religious tastes. And if you can’t already tell, that kind of thing simply didn’t happen.

“His attitude toward religion changed considerably,” said Courtney.

With that history in mind, it now seems unlikely that Twain would have grown up to be anything other than open-minded when it came religion and slavery, the two biggest social conventions of the day.

Patti Philippon, chief curator of The Mark Twain House & Museum, described Twain as “very spiritual.”

It’s clear to me that Twain did believe in some sort of god, and his rants against that god is more to disparage the church of the day and as an expression of feelings stirred by the deaths of three of his four children.

The untimely deaths of all but one of his children, coupled with increasing American imperialism, the hypocrisy of Gilded Age culture and immense worldwide fame built up a mocking critique of bullshit dogma from religious institutes.

If Twain was alive and writing today, he would probably be agnostic.

Mark Twain “gravitated between two views,” said Courtney, either believing that God didn’t exist, or thinking God is a sadist.

He’d have possibly railed against the contemporary church even more than he did against the church of his time, due to a surge in anti-religious and anti-church thought that has swept through the Western world.

If he had been born in contemporary times, he would be a Christopher Hitchens-type figure, relentlessly questioning and challenging organized religion.

Twain was not only a magnificent writer of prose but a well-versed public speaker on all issues of culture and society. Not only jabbing at religion, but also foreign policy, class warfare, social and economic dispositions.

His provocative inquiries would likely ignite hatred and threats of personal violence as his distinct boldness in the oral and literary arts is marked by a refusal to back down in the face of cultural taboo.

Another parallel is the surprising friendship that the atheist Hitchens found with Pastor Douglas Wilson. Twain found close counsel in the Rev. Joseph Twichell of Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, where the Clemens family attended.

In today’s extremely polarized society, Twain’s caustic demeanor would certainly have been drawn out even more than in his day. He would have been right at home in contemporary pop culture, a place ripe for the pickings of a satirist of Twain’s caliber.

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Guilded Age Included Luxury Fashions

By Ashaya Nelson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

The Gilded Age following the Civil War, is known for women wearing corsets, so they could have the perfect silhouette, with long heavy skirts. Men’s outfits were set off by spiffy bowler hats.

American author and humorist Mark Twain created the term “Gilded Age.” At the start of this time, the country experienced a rapid increase in the population and growth in the economy.

But Gilded Age fashions were for those who could afford it. The upper-class wore these extravagant costumes.

I believe that clothing at this time was valued more than fashion is today. In the eyes of the people, fashion wore was like art. Women wore luxury fabrics, and dresses were detailed and fitted.

According to Patti Philippon, chief curator at the Mark Twain House & Museum, people wore a variety of outfits for different occasions in the Gilded Age, which ended in 1893 because of the bad economy.

Women would have a different costume for going to an opera, visiting or doing work such as washing clothes.

Fashion even mattered in times of grieving. There were stages to the mourning costume. For mourning or funerals, black dresses with pansies were worn, Philippon said, explaining that pansies were flowers that represented thoughts and remembrance.

Teenage girls had to dress as women in long dresses. The younger girls would wear shorter dresses.           Toddlers and babies – both boys and girls – wore embroidered dresses that were very detailed, Philippon said.

Women would either go to their own seamstress or go to a boutique to get new clothes. The Clemens family bought their clothing from Arnold Constable & Co. in New York. They also sometimes had their clothes made for them.

Olivia, Mark Twain’s wife, had a woman in Paris who created her dresses.

The dresses were so big and bulky; they couldn’t fit into a closet. There also weren’t hangers at this time. So they used wardrobes to store their clothing.

Clothes brushes were use for dusting off dresses. Also in this era, washing machines were not yet invented.

During the winter, everyone wore dark clothing, and in summer, they wore light colored clothing.

Upper class men wore dark suits that Mark Twain called “crows,” but in old age, Twain didn’t follow these customs.

He often wore white wool suits out of season, sometimes with colored socks. Twain called it his “don’tcareadamnsuit.”

In February of 1906, he wore the suit because he knew it would attract attention before testifying about copyright before a Congressional committee.

In a Gilded Age exhibit at the museum, a bicycle and clothing are on display.

Bike importer Colonel Albert A. Pop of Boston created the “Drop Frame.”

It was a safer bike for women that was lowered for skirts. The Divided Skirt and Bloomer Costumes were made for women who rode bikes.

The Divided Skirt looks like a flared skirt, but are actually pants. Bloomers were made for women who wanted to engage in activities.

The bloomers are still worn for athletic purposes, and also for fashion. They’re used for toddlers and infants to cover their diapers.

The accessories, just like the clothing, were interesting. The women wore hair combs, hair jewelry, and extensions.

Hair was weaved and made into jewelry and was given to someone else, symbolizing remembrance and mourning.

Some of the unique fashion of the Gilded Age has been revived today. Women still wear hair extensions and combs. Harem pants were inspired by the style of bloomers.

Fashion shows the evolution of history.

Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain

By Meaghan Szilagyi

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Who was Mark Twain? A novelist? A newspaper reporter? A famous author? A popular speaker?

Mark Twain was a “persona” in the eyes of Patti Philippon, chief curator of The Mark Twain House & Museum. He was a mask that was worn by a man named Samuel Clemens.

Samuel Clemens was a real person: family man, father, son, husband.

Philippon said that Clemens’ daughters disliked Mark Twain. The world saw their father as the humorist he presented himself to be, when he was really so much more than that. He was caring and loving. Clemens would do anything for his family but when people saw Mark Twain, they didn’t see the family man he truly was.

Sam made mistakes. Any real person makes mistakes. A few times, before his years as a husband, Clemens spent a few nights in jail for disruptive behavior and disorderly conduct, according to a Ken Burns documentary about Twain.

Clemens grew up as a rowdy young fellow and had no trouble seeking out adventure. He had many memories of his childhood friends that he later used in his stories.

Samuel Clemens traveled the world during Mark Twain’s great lectures. Samuel Clemens fell in love with and married Olivia Langdon. And Samuel Clemens became the mastermind behind Mark Twain.

While leading a tour of the Mark Twain House, Grace Belanger, assistant manager of visitor services at the museum, said that when the Clemens’ had guests over, Mark Twain was present.

Samuel Clemens treated Mark Twain as his job, nothing more.

Mark Twain was a one-dimensional character. Sure, you could go to the theater and watch him in 3D but it wouldn’t really be him, would it?

Twain presented himself as a humorist – that much is clear.

Twain House publicist Steve Courtney even goes as far to call him a “stand-up comedian.” But was he anything more than that?

Could Samuel Clemens have had multiple personality disorder?

Philippon and Courtney think not. Since it was common for people to have pen names in the Gilded Age, they believe that Clemens was a person with a pen name and that’s it.

So who was Mark Twain, really?

Now that he is long gone, I guess we’ll never know the real story. But that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? Mystery adds intrigue and who was Mark Twain, if not a man of mystery?

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