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A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Archive for the tag “Harriet Beecher Stowe”

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Hartford House is a Real Home

Apprentices at Stowe

The Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios visiting the Harriet Beecher Stowe House next door.

Lina Allam

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

     Upon entering the home of the famous author and wonderful mother Harriet Beecher Stowe, viewers can see the difference between a home and a house.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe home is nothing like the Mark Twain House. It depicts the nature of a woman who is both working on becoming one of the most elite authors of all time, and the typical wife and mother of her time.

Stowe had seven children, and only three outlived her. After the loss of her son Samuel Charles Stowe, who died at the age of two, she began understanding the feeling and emotion a mother felt when they saw their child sold into slavery.

Her son’s death became the inspiration for one of the most famous novels of all time: Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was widely read, becoming the second best seller of the time, second only to the Bible.

This novel portrayed slavery in its truest form instead of portraying the political and economic side of the inhumane act. Stowe portrays slavery as an inhuman, horrific act that must end.

She describes events in the novel as she saw them in real life. Because this novel received worldwide attention, it helped strengthen the abolitionist movement.

The Duchess of Southerland was so inspired by this novel that she traveled all over Europe gathering over millions of signatures from women who agreed with abolitionists and encouraged them to continue their work.

Stowe wrote 30 books in 30 years, and completed multiple paintings, including some of magnolias, since she said this flower was like her: strong in the roots.

Today the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, where Stowe retired, is a museum dedicated to the works of this acclaimed author.

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Information Age Cheapens American Language

By June Tran

Writing apprentice

Twain Studios

     Americans are idiots. The land of America is home to the popular term “YOLO – you only live once” and the constant usage of hashtags and abbreviations.

     We Americans are at the pinnacle of bad grammar and spelling. As demonstrated by the daily tweets spewed out by our regular Twitter addicts, the American language has taken a turn for the worse.

Going back more than a century to the time of literary giants Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe, we see a different type and view of the American language.

Twain, a celebrated American author, completely changed the way the rest of the world viewed the American language.

Joe Nunes talking

Joe Nunes

Patti Philippon, chief curator of The Mark Twain House & Museum, said what really elevated and characterized Twain’s and the American language was his use of “slangs and colloquialisms.”

Twain had the ability to put into words the way that people sounded, presenting the American language as something that is syntactically beautiful and admirable.

The act of crafting a piece of writing was not only practiced by Twain or by the esteemed classes – craftsmanship can be seen even in letters written by everyday civilians or even soldiers.

“People took time with their language and speech,” said Steve Courtney, publications editor at The Mark Twain House & Museum. Back then, he said, people would write 15 pages and take their time crafting it.

With the introduction of mass media technology during the 21st century, letters were replaced by a faster and more efficient medium of communication.

News surrounding a recent event can be received and understood by people in seconds.

Twitter, with its 140-character limit, emphasizes the need to be succinct and to the point.

Information utilized and passed by these sources, however, isn’t always informed and correct.

What is more striking than the degradation of the American language is the abuse of information by the media.

Twain praised the American press in a letter to British poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold penned in the late 1880s, writing, “Its frank and cheerful irreverence is by all odds the most valuable quality it possesses.”

Christine Stuart

Christine Stuart

But there is a fine line between worthy and unworthy news.

As described by Donald Bliss in his book Mark Twain’s Tale of Today: Haley’s Comet Returns — Celebrated Author Critiques American Politics,  “like the newspaper of Twain’s time … there are lots of opinions and little fact-investigations. The more negative and sensational the opinion, the higher the ratings and advertising revenues.”

For serious journalists such as Christine Stuart, the editor of CTNewsJunkie, “being credible is more important than being timely.”

The language itself does not merely have to confine to a specific style or structure, but must exude the truth to its readers.

All writing, especially in journalism, will eventually shape the public opinion.

Writing something with a “purpose [is what] makes it all worthwhile,” said Joseph Nunes, a former editor at The Hartford Courant who is writing a book about the history of the newspaper.

Language would have no purpose as a method of communication if its receiver does not learn anything from it.

Learning is useless, Mark Twain wrote in his 1900 essay, “English as She Is Taught,” if the students’ memories “had been stocked but not their understanding.”

Meet The Jakes of Twain Studios

Jakes on the Clemens porch

The Jakes, on the porch of The Mark Twain House, July 2013. From left: Indira Senderovic, Ashaya Nelson, June Tran, Nick Sherman, Meaghan Szilagyi, Molly Miller, Alan Burkholder, Cecilia Gigliotti, Rae Martin, Lina Allam, Ambriel Johnson, Grant Henry, Jahyra White

Editors’ note: The work published in August 2013 in a printed anthology that was not previously published on this blog follows in this and subsequent entries on the Twain Studios blog.

By Molly Miller and the Jakes

Writing Apprentices

Twain Studios

Five and a half weeks ago, we were just a bunch of crazy teens staring at blank Microsoft Word pages, unsure of what to say to each other, let alone to the world. But through our shared love of the written word, we quickly became best friends, dubbing ourselves the “Jakes” (short for J.K.s, which is short for Journalism Kids.)

The Jakes went on all kinds of wonderful adventures together, through haunted houses, the Connecticut Public Broadcasting recording studios, and the basement of the Immanuel Congregational Church. All of these places inspired our writing.

We honed our interrogation skills by hammering the governor of Bermuda, the world’s strongest librarian, and a photojournalist from Uganda with all the tough questions. We learned to avoid passive tense like the plague by listening to and meeting Stephen King. Journalists from The Hartford Courant and CT News Junkie told us what it was like to work professionally as writers, and taught us tips for acing interviews. We received expert advice on the art of writing resumes and managing money.

In no time, our blank Microsoft Word pages became saturated with our thoughts and research on everything from the mysterious allure of bad boys to Victorian fashion, from One Direction to Harriet Beecher Stowe, and we shared our work with the world through our blog, TwainStudios.com.

We now present an anthology of our finest works in this literary journal. We’d like to thank our teacher Jackie Majerus, who worked hard to put this booklet together, and everyone at The Mark Twain House who taught us about Mark Twain and let us use their space. We’d also like to thank the Greater Hartford Arts Council, and all of the sponsors who made this program possible. We hope you enjoy reading our work!

Stowe’s Skillful Balancing Act

Stowe house, Cecilia.2

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s home on Forest Street in Hartford, Conn.
Photo by Cecilia Gigliotti

By Ambriel Johnson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Harriet Beecher Stowe, born June 14, 1811, was always a balancer.

From the day this great American novelist was born until she died on July 1, 1896, she was always searching for a way to balance her work with other important things.

Whether it was finding a way to spend more time with her children, paint, or work on her now-world-famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe always strived for a balance.  She sought a way to do her best in anything and everything she did.

This author is not only known for her book which changed the face of America forever, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but other bestselling novels such as Oldtown Folks and The Minister’s Wooing.

As most Americans probably know already, Uncle Tom’s Cabin expressed Stowe’s opposition to slavery. Not all people in Stowe’s time agreed with this view, however, and she became despised by many.

This hatred never stopped her from writing. Stowe enjoyed the craft; she wrote her entire life, from childhood until her death.

Stowe sometimes used writing as a way to escape her life when things got rough. Her beautiful Connecticut mansion wasn’t always a place of comfort as it is talked about. She lost more than one of her children at a young age and used her writing as a way to deal with the sadness.

She enjoyed art almost as much as she enjoyed her writing.  Her paintings are prominently displayed at her home in Hartford, Connecticut, where she moved with her husband and children in 1873.

This extraordinary woman was not only the author of 30 books – one containing advice for homemakers – but a painter in her free time. She did most of this hobby painting while visiting her winter home in Mandarin, Florida. Connecticut became too cold for the Stowe family during the winter, so they spent the season in their Florida home.

It’s obvious to visitors that Stowe enjoyed painting landscapes. The decorated hallways of her estate are lined with her art. All the way from portraits to a number of still life paintings, Stowe did it all.

In the front parlor of her home, sophisticated pastels of garden life and country homes adorn the walls.

The home also includes paintings by at least one of Stowe’s daughters, who were aspiring artists like their mother.

The front parlor is the space where the Stowe’s guests would be entertained in the evenings. It is also the space where Stowe herself did most of her writing, at a small wooden desk tucked away in a corner.

Her husband Calvin, a professor of religion, had his own study in the upstairs of their home, tucked between the bedrooms. Despite the fact that Stowe was wildly more successful than he, she was reduced to a microscopic desk in the family living room.

Stowe made more than $1,000 on her first novel. In her time it was unusual for the woman of the house to make more money than the man, however Stowe’s husband was very supportive of her career.

Stowe’s family spent time together in the back parlor of her home. This room included many extravagant decorations, including a painting given to Stowe by a duchess who was a big fan of Stowe’s work.

Stowe was sometimes forced to give up time when she could be working on her art to pursue other things. After all, she did have seven children. This did not stop her from becoming a great American novelist, a role model for writers and an icon for all people.

Stowe, who expertly balanced her work and busy family life in her marvelous Hartford home, will forever have an impact on our world.

Stowe’s Home is Welcome Contrast to Twain’s Mansion

Stowe House, Cecilia photo

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford / Cecilia Gigliotti

By Molly Miller

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

A tour of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house is a nice antidote to the excessive grandeur and lurid extravagance of her Nook Farm neighbor, Mark Twain.

That’s not to say that her home was by any means plain or unimpressive; it was merely more reflective of the prolific, independent-minded woman who lived there.

I ought to preface this with a caveat: I knew almost nothing about Stowe before I toured the home in which she spent the last 23 years of her life. People in every region of the world are reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin in one of the 60 languages it’s been translated into over the years.

I live in the country of its origin, and although I’ve learned about its historical significance, I’ve never actually read it.

I now know a bit more about Stowe than I did before visiting her home, but any statement I make about her character will be brash and highly uninformed.

From what I know of her, I like her quite a bit more than I like Twain. She was from a different generation, and unlike Twain, she was born into a prominent and well-off family, so she lacked the outsider complex that may have led Twain to overcompensate with gaudy furniture and an excessive amount of décor.

Stowe was born into a family of 11 children in Litchfield, Conn. in 1811. Her father, Rev. Lyman Beecher, wanted all of his children to be educated to the same level, regardless of gender. All of Stowe’s brothers became preachers, and Stowe attended, and later taught at, the Hartford Female Seminary.

Her father’s principles might have been what led her to be a supporter of women’s rights.

She believed that women were society’s architects, and she encouraged women to take ownership of their households. This is perhaps why she only had two servants at a time, as opposed to Twain, who had about a dozen servants.

She was considered a “Martha Stewart” of her time, and published books about homemaking. Her expertise in this area showed in every room of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. In the 19th century, gardening was the only science that women could practice, so of course Beecher practiced it to the fullest extent possible. She kept ivy in the bedroom, in order to bring more oxygen in the house.

Her love of plants and flowers showed not only in her garden and bedroom, but also in her many paintings throughout the house. She painted wildflowers as well as magnolias, and identified with the magnolias’ strength and toughness.

While the house itself is smaller and less elaborate than the Twain House, both houses had a few of the same showy affectations. For instance, the nicest and largest bedroom in both houses was the guest room. Both writers probably wanted their guests to feel welcome and appreciated, but it’s likely that they also wanted to show off their wealth.

It’s not entirely fair for me to evaluate the character of these authors based off of their homes; at least, they can’t be evaluated to the same degree. Stowe lived in her Nook Farm house at the end of her life, while Twain had his house built as he was becoming an established literary figure.

Stowe lived in seven houses before moving to Nook Farm, and while she was living in Hartford, she had another home in Florida where she spent her winters. She went on three tours of Europe, and brought home two Raphael paintings.

She by no means lived humbly, and yet I can’t help but feel like she was a more down-to-earth person than Twain. Her husband, Calvin Stowe, encouraged her to keep her real name as her pen name. He believed it was important for everyone to know that she was “a literary woman,” and this might be why she seems more sensible and less fantastical than Twain.

Like Twain, Stowe used her own experiences to help her writing. She wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin after her 18-month-old son Samuel Charles died of cholera.  After losing him, she said she understood what mothers must feel when they lose their children to the slave trade. Like Twain, fewer than half of her children survived her.

But perhaps I was overly critical of Twain. He didn’t grow up with the same educational advantages or privileges as Stowe, and maybe he couldn’t help it if he didn’t have the same level of comfort with his identity as she did.

According to our tour guide, Stowe was Twain’s mentor. I’d rather imagine that they were close friends. In my fantasy world, Twain would bring lemonade and biscuits to Stowe’s front porch. The two would discuss politics, travelling, art, and Nook Farm gossip, making snarky comments about their neighbors passing by on Forest Street.

Harriet Beecher Stowe House Reflects Her Inspiring Life

By Ashaya Nelson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

HARTFORD, Conn. – Walking into Harriet Beecher Stowe’s home, just knowing she’s a famous American writer, I was curious about her life.

I walked out having more knowledge about this wonderful woman.

Stowe was a writer, painter and abolitionist born to a big religious family in Litchfield, Conn., in 1871.

The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, an abolitionist, was her brother. She married an American biblical scholar, Calvin Stowe, in 1836. They were the parents of seven children. One of Stowe’s daughters was named after her husband’s late wife, a common practice at the time.

But Stowe lost four of her children before her death. She used writing as a way to cope with their deaths.

Stowe had a home in Mandarin, Florida, where she stayed in the winter. She wrote her famous anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin while at the

house in Florida. At the time, the novel became the second most popular book, after the Bible.

Stowe garden

Some of the flower garden at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House

At Stowe’s home in Hartford, she was the neighbor of another famous author, Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain.

The only type of science that women could study then was gardening, so Stowe did.  Her home today still has a beautiful garden that I found a pleasure to walk through.

Stowe was inspired by plants and included them in most of her paintings. Magnolias were the flowers she said she could identify with because it represents strength and she was a strong woman.

One of her daughters inherited Stowe’s talent for painting. In the master bedroom of their Hartford home, a self-portrait the girl created – her face inside a sunflower – is hung next to the desk where letters were written.

A traditional wife, Stowe believed that a woman should know how to operate everything in her house. When the husband went off to work, there work was at home. Stowe had two servants working at her house, some were emancipated slaves. Her servants lived in the attic of her home.

But having servants didn’t stop Stowe from doing her womanly duties around the house. She cooked and cleaned. She was a part of the women’s rights and suffrage movement and included this issue and many other topics in her writings.

Stowe also wrote travel books, textbooks and more, producing a book a year, for 30 years.

Under five feet tall, she was a little woman, but left a big impact on not only literature, but history.

With Her Legacy Intact, Stowe House Had Nothing to Prove

By Rae Martin

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

HARTFORD, Conn. – My visit to the Harriet Beecher Stowe house didn’t start as auspiciously as the trip I made to the Mark Twain residence.

As we exited the Twain center for the Stowe tour, the first thing I felt was a hazy heat tickling my face and any other exposed pieces of skin that typically go uncovered for the duration of the summer months.

My fellow students wanted to walk around the front, which would have only served to further expose us to the sun, so naturally I thought it wise to say we should walk around the back, past the Twain house. It would have been a longer walk, yes, but a shady one; and the shadier path is always the more bearable one. No sooner had I said that did everyone else begin to walk towards the sidewalk, from which the former driveway to the Stowe center diverted.

I didn’t really care, personally. I had bigger concerns, much bigger; an empty stomach, prompting me to absorb as much information as possible in as short a time as I could with the hope of returning to our classroom and eating my lunch.

We entered the Stowe center, finally, and quickly met our tour guide. The guide was a round-faced woman, Caucasian, and looked to be in her mid-twenties. Her voice was not as loud as the Twain house guide’s was, but it was not difficult to listen to, which made up for having to walk in the heat to the door.

The exterior of the house itself was remarkably and boldly plain in contrast to the remaining historical Nook Farm neighborhood residences. The outside was colored a monochromatic shade of cream. A completely unremarkable color. Memorable exactly for its unexceptional nature. Without its Victorian architecture, it would have been bearable solely due to the history of the family who called it home.

Against the backdrop of the Twain house interior, the memory of the inside of the Stowe residence already has begun to fade as of this writing, whereas Twain’s is still firmly in my mind’s eye.

The ceilings appeared much lower, though whether that is the result of an actual difference in height or taller furniture, I don’t know. The wallpapers, carpets, and furniture were all presented in a simpler way, although to say that the house was unadorned would be far from the truth. It still boasts art pieces that most today only dream of having. Some, our guide told us, were bought on one of her three “grand” treks through Europe, and Stowe did many of the other paintings herself.

Many of these differences between the Stowe and Clemens estates can be attributed to generational differences between the two; with Stowe born in a period where Victorian influences on culture were still strong.

This accounts for the more traditional sophistication presented in an almost unshow-offy manner. Twain, being a strong byproduct of the Gilded Age, goes to excessive lengths to keep up appearances. That accounts for the pomp and grandiose style of presentation and architecture Twain specifically sought.

While I’m on the topic of presentation and appearances, it is worth noting the variation in panorama as well.

From the roadside, the Twain residence turns heads. It’s an unforgettable Victorian architectural vista. If we live on in the memory of others, than as long as the Twain house stands, Samuel Clemens will scarcely be forgotten as the visionary he was.

Not to discredit the memory of Harriet Beecher Stowe, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the roadside view of her dwelling is a bit wanting. This complaint can also be rationalized – this time to age differences. Twain came to Nook Farm to begin his legend in earnest; Stowe came to retire in hers, having already become an international literary icon. For his part, Twain wouldn’t attain that status for a few years still.

A Traveler’s Guide to Hartford’s Harriet Beecher Stowe House

By June Tran

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

HARTFORD, Conn. – A narrow pathway way cuts through Harriet Beecher Stowe’s garden leading us towards the front patio. Long and thin shrubberies lined the pathway towards the front door. As we passed by, their long finger tips tugged at our pants and legs; preventing us from further entry. At the end of our path we encountered a tall and magnificent white house. Symmetrical overall with a defined protrusion in the front, the white house stood in contrast with its emerald surroundings.

Upon entering the house, our eyes focused on the steep staircase that connected the lower floor to the upper. Arriving at the parlor, our guide quickly introduced us to the many paintings of flowers and plants hanging on the wall.

As the tour guide kindly told us, Harriet Beecher Stowe was somewhat of a “hobby painter.” The paintings hanging across the wall were created during her various trips to her other home in Mandarin, Florida.

During her winters in Florida, Stowe painted flowers and plants native to that area and brought them back to be showcased above the two or three bookshelves that lined the curved wall of the parlor. Simple decorations – family portraits and small statues – were scattered over the room. Probably the most notable item on her book shelf was a bust of her famous brother, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.

From the outer parlor, we walked through a large doorway to the inner parlor, a cramped space reserved for family with bookcases covering the walls. On the far left side of the room stood a bookcase filled with Stowe’s works.

Compared to her prolific neighbor, Mark Twain, Stowe was also a very busy writer, publishing 30 books in her lifetime. Her most celebrated book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was not only the second bestselling book in the 19th century, but also served as a catalyst to the 20 volumes of signatures gathered on anti-slavery petitions by the Duchess of Sutherland.

In addition, to being a gifted writer, Stowe was also a talented musician. As demonstrated by the black piano that sits as the centerpiece of the inner parlor, Stowe would often play it as entertainment in this room.

The dining room of the house was no different from rest, with a welcoming feeling radiating from the room. Unlike Twain’s house, which sparked a more distant and extravagant feeling, Stowe’s house, with its simple decorations and low ceilings, felt less intimidating and opulent.

In Stowe’s home, the walls are covered with paintings and pictures of her family members. A distinctive painting of magnolia flowers hung on the left side of the dining room. For symbolic reasons, Beecher felt a connection to magnolias, which are known for their resilient and tough roots. As a writer and woman in the 19th century, Stowe identified with these traits as her own.

Symbolic items resonated throughout Stowe’s house, and a sense of authenticity and simplicity permeated it. In the bedroom Stowe’s adult twin daughters, Hattie and Eliza shared were two small beds, a medium wardrobe and a small vanity.

Despite having suitors, these two never married. In their eyes, marriage was not seen as an ‘opportunity.’ Instead, these two women opted for a job with their parents: helping them write manuscripts.

Entering the guest room – a lavish room easily mistaken for the master bedroom – we encountered the first and only closet in the entire house. In the 19th century, closets were taxed as a complete room, but Stowe did not hesitate to include one in her guest’s bedroom.

Despite leaving Connecticut for the winters, she still furnished the room with a fireplace – something her daughters’ room didn’t have.  This goes to show Stowe practiced Victorian conventions despite her involvement in revolutionary movements such as the women’s rights movement and women’s suffrage movement.

Stowe’s own simple bedroom did not reflect her busy schedule. Similar to the room her daughters shared, her bedroom displayed austere decorations such as small framed pictures and a self-portrait of her daughter, Georgiana.

Sitting at the end of Stowe’s bed was a strikingly beautiful wardian case. Encapsulated within it were a myriad of bright green plants.  Ivy vines with thin leaves hung above, draping over the entirety of the glass window. Calvin Stowe, her husband, had a study room adjacent to her bedroom. An intriguing painting hung above his writing desk.  It featured a grey winter owl with a backdrop of a simmering South American tropical forest. While the painting itself scorches with contradiction, it is, however, another symbolic item in Stowe’s house.

Since Stowe was supposedly greeted by President Abraham Lincoln as “the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war,” her husband theorized that this owl painting might have been a gesture to connect both the South and North together once again.

Described as perhaps the busiest person who ever lived, one certainly does get that impression from Stowe’s house. In comparison to Stowe’s gravitas – she participated in three national movements while at the same time taking care of her seven children – the spirit of Mark Twain dims in contrast.

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