Write to the Point!

A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Archive for the tag “Mark Twain”

Twain Studios 2013 Anthology

Anthology cover

This is the cover of the 48-page anthology of work by the Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios. You can see the whole thing by following the link below.

For six weeks in July and August, 2013, a dozen teenagers from diverse backgrounds, different schools and towns, came together as a group at The Mark Twain House & Museum.

This group, the newest of the Neighborhood Studios of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, originated with a great conversation between the arts council and Julia Pistell, who is part of the Mark Twain House communications team.

Led by Master Teaching Artist Jackie Majerus, the teens practiced reporting, interviewing and writing creative non-fiction. They learned about Mark Twain, his Nook Farm neighborhood and neighbors past and present and about each other. Lasting friendships formed. They explored Nook Farm and the state Capitol and learned from an array of guest speakers.

The program was called Write to the Point! and the students, who were writing apprentices, called themselves The Jakes, their shorthand for “Journalism Kids.”

The teens, who ranged from age 14 to 18, worked individually and cooperatively on all sorts of non-fiction writing. They wrote a lot. Most of it is on this blog. Much of their best work was printed in a 48-page anthology – their crowning achievement distributed at their showcase last month, where the youth read their work aloud to an audience of family, friends and others interested in the arts.

Besides the written work, and some artwork of the youth in the studio, the anthology also includes many photographs of these wonderful young people throughout their summer adventure. It is impossible to fully capture a lively group of creative young people on a blog or on a printed page, but this blog, and the anthology, should offer a glimpse into an amazing summer experience.

Thank you for taking time to explore this blog and the anthology.  Comments are welcome, too!

To see the anthology in PDF form, follow this link:

 Twain Studios 2013 Anthology

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Lady Gaga: A Forgotten Genius

By June Tran

Writing apprentice

Mark Twain Studios

The bubble dress-wearing mega pop star Lady Gaga, topped the Forbes list of “Top Earning Celebrities under 30” over the summer.

This might come of a surprise since her latest release before the single “Applause” last month was the 2011 release Born This Way.

It seemed as if Lady Gaga had dropped off the face of the earth, as if America and the world had grown tired of her crazy shenanigans.

Although as a singer Lady Gaga does not have a wide vocal range or capability, as an artist she is unique in crafting her work.

Craftsmanship does not necessarily relate only to her musical work. Though her lyrics are often sparse of meaning or symbolism, it is her music videos and celebrity personality that really captures the audience.

Portrayed as a freak by the media, Lady Gaga would often be caught donned in a strange or unusual outfit.

Most notable of these ensembles were the meat dress worn during the 2010 MTV Music Award and the 2011 Grammys egg.

It is important to realize that there are two elements to Lady Gaga’s celebrity personality. The first is the symbolic significance of her creations and gestures.

Her outfits and music videos spark conversation about abstract topics such as acceptance, the entertainment industry and political movements.

In her “Born this Way” video, Lady Gaga featured an upside down pink triangle, a symbol for gay rights originally used by the Nazis in concentration camps to identify homosexual men.

There is also a symbolic gesture towards the end of her performance at the 2011 Grammys.

It’s a magnificent and powerful scene where Lady Gaga and her dancers gathered around a warm light and slowly each of them reached and stretched their whole body towards the light.

Aside from these various moments within her music videos and performances, some of Lady Gaga’s actions are just random and made for the shock factor.

It is hard to reason that Lady Gaga truly believes in the conventionality of her outrageous creations.

Rather, she is poking fun of what society views as typical standards of a celebrity. She has innate understanding of fame and its marked consequences.

Through her antics, Lady Gaga makes fun of the entertainment industry for its hypocrisy and treatment of celebrities.

Her genius does not lie in the fact that she was the first person to act out of standards, but she is the first person to make a point of it.

She is not trying to make the viewer take more notice of her, but rather for them to not pay attention at all.

The central focus should not be on the author but rather the work itself. This translates to all types of art, whether literary or musical.

In a way, Lady Gaga is doing her audience a favor. The viewer or reader should have the ultimate power in the interpretation of the work.

Lady Gaga’s fame points out the damage of this shift of focus away from the art and onto its creator.

We, as consumers, are so fixated on the commercial aspect of music that we drive out diversity within the industry.

Such an inbred industry is prone to volatile changes and leaves us vulnerable to record companies eager to make money off of the consumer.

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.”

Mark Twain: Working Class Hero and Capitalist Protégé

By Molly Miller

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Between his lavish Nook Farm home and his reckless business ventures, Mark Twain could easily come across as a greedy capitalist, a man who could care less about the thousands of workers who could lose their jobs to the Paige Compositor, so long as it could keep his wallet fat.

In Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, Justin Kaplan wrote that Twain signed an agreement in 1889 which bound him to paying James W. Paige about $160,000, plus $25,000 a year for 17 years, in exchange for all rights in the compositor, which Twain referred to as “a magnificent creature.”

Twain thought the machine would give returns of about $55 million a year.

The Paige Compositor did not pay off as Twain thought it would; instead, it left him bankrupt.

And though Twain did work his way out of bankruptcy by giving lectures and writing novels, he also got by with a little help from his friends in high places.

Henry Huttleston Rogers, for instance, helped bail Twain out of his typesetter troubles. Rogers was a chief architect of the Standard Oil trust, and despite Rogers’ questionable business practices, Kaplan wrote that Twain called him “the only man I care for in the world; the only man I would give a damn for.”

In fact, Twain admired Rogers for his faults.

“He’s a pirate all right, but he owns up to it and enjoys being a pirate,” said Twain. “That’s the reason I like him.”

Kaplan wrote that steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie spoke about  Twain’s recovery in terms of admiration and approval: “Our friend entered the fiery furnace a man, and emerged a hero.”

It may not be accurate to describe Mark Twain as a friend, or even a member of the elite.

“There were definitely people in Hartford who looked down on him because he came from a different area,” said Patti Philippon, chief curator of The Mark Twain House & Museum.

Twain married into and lived among the upper-middle class, but he still had to work to gain approval.

He was less of a friend, and more of a protégé.

Twain took the advice and earned the approval of the great robber barons, and had a hard time turning down get-rich-quick schemes.

And yet in March, 1886 at the Monday Evening Club, in the company of the most distinguished gentlemen in Hartford, Twain spoke of the worker in high esteem, and condemned the capitalist.

“Who are the oppressors?” Twain asked, according to Philip S. Foner’s account in Mark Twain: Social Critic. “The few: the king, the capitalist, and a handful of other overseers and superintendents. Who are the oppressed? The many: … they that make the bread that the soft-handed and idle eat. Why is it right that there is not a fairer division of the spoil all around? Because the laws and constitutions have ordered otherwise.”

Twain valued the consent of the governed and the power of the workers.

“If the banded voters among a laboring kinship of 45 million persons shall speak out to the other 12 million or 15 million of a nation,” Twain continued, “and command that an existing system has in that moment, in an absolutely clear and clean and legal way, become an obsolete and vanished thing, then it has utterly ceased to exist.”

In fact, Twain’s Monday Evening manifesto almost sounded Marxist in its declaration of the inevitability of a revolution, once the superstructure falls away and the working class becomes aware of its destiny.

“When all …  the myriads of toilers in whom is slumbering the reality of that thing which you call Power … when these rise … a Nation has risen,” Twain is quoted as saying in Foner’s book.  “The working millions, in all the ages, have been horses – were horses; all they needed was a capable leader to organize their strength and tell them how to use it, and they would in that moment be master.”

Privately, Twain wrote that men were “half murdered by overwork,” and condemned “capitalist-employers” who demanded that eight-hour work days should be voluntary, not mandated by legislation, according to Foner’s book.

In thought and word, Twain was a staunch supporter of the budding labor movement. According to Kaplan, he saw himself as a sans-culotte, fighting for the common man.

Twain saw himself as a working class hero, and probably a self-made man. He did his part as a writer and lecturer to elevate the workers and denounce the management, but he never put his money where his mouth was.

Instead, Twain put all of his money in the Paige Compositor, even though he knew that, if successful, the machine would put thousands of printers out of work.

He tried to research the membership and organization of printers’ and compositors’ unions, but Kaplan wrote that Twain did so through an intermediary to keep his name out.

Twain referred to capitalists as “oppressors.” Yet when he tried to make millions off of the Paige Compositor, he relied on capitalists to help him pursue his dream.

He relied on their help again after the Paige Compositor left him bankrupt.

The Grating American Novel

By Grant Henry

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

For a nation so proud of its literary canon, the most popular books in America tend to be nothing to write home about.

William Faulkner and Mark Twain are among the many skilled authors that have defined the standards for the novels and nonfiction writing of the nation. But when checking The New York Times bestseller list, you will never find books of the caliber of American Classics listed.

The erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey succeeded in selling a million physical copies in only 11 weeks, and that is not considering the millions of sales on digital e-readers like the Kindle. Meanwhile, there likely are hundreds of potential instant classics that get ignored every year.

Back in the 1990s, according to the Lakeland Ledger newspaper, the Delray Beach Public Library in Florida had little space in the library and used the frequency a book was loaned out to decide which stayed on shelves and which were archived in a back room.

To the discomfort of many, the number of times novels by Tom Clancy or Stephen King got checked out was high enough for those books to stay openly available while works by Hemingway and other classic authors had to be stored away, only obtainable by asking a librarian for access.

Stories like these are not rare. The reading habits of the average American seems to contradict what they learn in their high school English courses. Those who are angry about this are incredibly vocal about their thoughts on the matter.

What audacity writer James Patterson must have, to write cheap thrillers meant to mildly entertain people on airports! He should put his talent – and team of ghost writers – on the task of creating something meaningful that will last against the changing tides of cultural fads! It is the saddest thing to learn that those books get read more than critical darlings and classics, many fans of literature and struggling novelists might say.

Folks on the side of high-brow literature fight a mean fight when given the chance. They cannot fathom the stark contrast between the opinions of critics and the reading habits of consumers.

What needs to be considered when addressing the topic of high and low art is the criteria and amount of time required for something to be regarded as “important,” and how public perception and awareness of a work of art can change drastically over extended periods of time.

Let’s look at Mark Twain’s novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Though it paved the way for the modernist movement, the novel’s controversy existed right from publication.

The language, for example, was criticized. In Huck Finn, Twain portrayed the common language of Missouri rather than the idealized Oxford way of speaking commonly seen in literature. Today, English majors and writers alike see this as a milestone in literature, but at the time of release, people saw the phonetically spelled words an inconvenience that got in the way of telling the story.

Critics hated the handling of race as well. To some, the runaway slave Jim comes off as a caricature and the heavy use of the word “nigger” is still a tough issue today.

Stephen King, Patti P

Stephen King at The Mark Twain House in July 2013

But over time and many readings, the consensus grew to see the novel as incredibly anti-racist, vilifying the communities that owned slaves and raised children to morally accept it.

The world could easily have shrugged Huck Finn aside after its publication, and the book wouldn’t be seen as the achievement it is today. But the test of time proved it a classic and a high contender for the Great American Novel. It’s unfair to compare classics like Huck Finn to most modern novels because contemporary fiction doesn’t have the volumes of in-depth analysis Huck has.

It took decades for The Great Gatsby to gain the legendary status it has today, and A Confederacy of Dunces was published posthumously long after John Kennedy Toole’s suicide. We will not know what novels will define our generation, just as people didn’t know how Huck Finn would be remembered a century ago.

But even so, is it worth throwing a fit over people reading paperback romance novels rather than complex contemporary fiction? Should we care when Twilight sells more than a Murakami novel?

Many people believe that people shouldn’t sweat over books that don’t strive for greatness. The popular novelist Stephen King calls himself “the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.”

During a recent appearance at Hartford’s Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, King explained that he dislikes people who willingly avoid the kind of pop-literature that often includes his own work. He compared those people with children who try to keep different types of food on their plate from touching.

Sculptor Joe Keo brought insight, pointing out that art is a business just like anything else. An artist, Keo said, is more than a pretentious person wearing a beret.

An artist is anyone, and the few artists that become household names are incredibly uncommon.

An actor isn’t only those seen on the Hollywood screen or Broadway stage, either. There are thousands of actors trying to make a living doing what they love.

To bash books that become financial successes despite sub-par quality is to put up an imaginary distinction that does not exist.

Joe Bun Keo

Joe Bun Keo

One of Mark Twain’s primary focuses when writing was to make money.

In an 1887 letter to William Dean Howells, Twain wrote, “High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.”

Had it been impossible to make money from book sales, we wouldn’t have James Patterson OR Mark Twain.

Time sorts out the imbalances we observe in present-day art. You likely don’t know the name of the novel that will be known as this generation’s greatest literary achievement. That book will be analyzed and read extensively in literary journals and English classes everywhere.

50 Shades broke sales records, but that won’t go on forever. As long as you wait it out, you will find the early 21st century’s Great American Novel, but for now, don’t sweat about it.

Mark Twain’s Style of Humor Lives On in Today’s Comedy

By Alan Burkholder

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Almost everyone in the world loves Mark Twain. There’s no denying that his work has had quite an impact on society, both in the past and in the present.

Don’t lie to me. You’ve heard the name Tom Sawyer before. If you know who Tom Sawyer is, you probably also know about his friend Huckleberry Finn. These two troublemaking brats have become two of the most famous child characters in all of literature. I say two of the most because a certain young woman from England has recently had more success in the way of children’s literature.

However, Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the name Mark Twain, is arguably the most celebrated author in classic American literature.

Being from a small town in Missouri, Twain had an American upbringing, and as such Twain’s books are very American in nature. These stories range from a story about a notorious gambler in Nevada who gets too cocksure about a jumping frog, to a man from Connecticut who winds up face to face with King Arthur and builds an industrial empire which later ruins their society. Whoops.

His books varied in message and tone, but Twain always had one quality which set him apart from other writers of the time: a sharp and dry wit. Twain was at heart a humorist, and he never stopped trying to be the witty gentleman, even in old age. He was aware of his humanity, and often poked fun at his own flaws.

“We ought never to do wrong when people are looking,” he wrote in “A Double-Barrelled Detective Story.”

But where did Clemens get his inspiration? What was the source of Twain’s persona as a witty individual?

Part of the blame can be pinned on Sam’s mother. While his father was strict and humorless, his mother was always the unconventional woman. She was humorous in nature and she bounced around from religion to religion, even once taking her son to a temple rather than a church.

According to Steve Courtney, publications editor at The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, Sam and his mother would often joke a lot with each other, probably trying to see if they could outwit one another.

“This disposition to experiment is an inheritance from my mother,” Twain said in a Feb. 28, 1901 lecture reported in the New York Times.

Twain was also inspired by a lot of other people in his life. He based several characters in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on his boyhood memories in Hannibal, Missouri. His mother became Aunt Polly, his childhood sweetheart became Becky Thatcher, and several troublemaking boys combined to make the ever-bothersome Huckleberry Finn. He also based the runaway slave Jim on his butler, George Griffin.

Twain wasn’t just about characters, though. He was also heavy into politics and could never keep his mouth shut about anything. The grand result of this love of satire was a book called The Gilded Age, in which Twain practically tore American values of the time apart at the seams and revealed the ugly truth beneath all of it, all the while never letting up or apologizing for his actions.

Despite his controversial nature, however, Twain was not a troublemaker. He was simply a rabble-rouser, and he always had a good reason for writing every shocking sentence he ever put to paper.

“Always do right,” Twain wrote in 1901. “This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

Twain’s work, to this day, continues to both gratify and astonish readers all over the world. Part of the reason is the way Twain presents his humor.

Mark Twain House & Museum Chief Curator Patti Philippon said Twain tended to write how people actually sound.

Instead of being flowery and poetic, Twain wrote his books in plain English so that the message wouldn’t be lost.

“You can understand (Twain) a lot better” than most writers of the time, Courtney said.

People had written plainly before Twain, Courtney said, but he was “the first to make it a point.”

Twain, however was never completely blunt. He realized that in order for the audience to get the message, he had to make it interesting. He didn’t tell you to be honest. He simply said, “when in doubt, tell the truth.”

Twain is not the only person in the world to use humor as a selling point, however. Modern entertainers borrow heavily from Twain’s method of telling stories like they happened. Good humor is always a welcome addition to any story.

Most modern comedies realize that in order to be funny, there doesn’t need to be a lot happening.

Shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, and Louis CK’s Louie draw a lot of praise and laughs basically having a small group of people who have a small focus, but a lot of insight. I like to refer to this kind of humor as “Seinfeldian,” after the show (and comedian) that made it popular.

One person who’s familiar with this style of humor is Patrick Skahill, the producer of WNPR’s The Colin McEnroe Show, a Connecticut-based radio program that deal heavily with satire and wit.

Before each show, Skahill said, the producers and stars of the shows “keep an eye out for weird stories,” and then “brainstorm and think of ideas” that they want to discuss.

“Most of it is on the fly,” Skahill said.

Humorists don’t always script everything. Often, they just come up with ideas and work with them from there. This was certainly true of Huckleberry Finn, which started out as the sequel to a boy’s book and turned into one of the most humorous and heartfelt books in recent history. A lot of modern humor is based on social satire. Twain was not shy about social satire.

Twain did a lot of lecturing in his time, which was basically the 19th century equivalent of stand-up comedy. He would go out on stage, start telling a tale, and leave the audience roaring.

Off the stage, Clemens was shy and hated talking to people. On stage, he was a social commentator who seemingly knew more about the country than every politician of the era combined.

Philippon said Twain and Clemens were the same at the core, but Twain was more of a “persona.”

Twain used this persona when writing jokes, because Twain was much funnier. The same can be said for a lot of modern comedians. Everyone adopts a sort of stage persona, whether it be the loudmouth who loves to judge people, the quirky girl who observes a lot of crazy stuff happening, or the good-natured fat guy who likes to poke fun at himself.

All have a character on the stage who represents an exaggerated version of themselves. They earn bonus points if they act like this off of the stage as well.

Comedy writers also like to indulge in exaggeration for comic effect. Twain was a master in this field, especially when it came to his satire. Early in his career, Twain wrote in a newspaper about a “Terrible accident” that hadn’t actually happened, a satire on the sometimes alarmist nature of the news. Alarmingly enough, this kind of satire still holds up today, as several members of Saturday Night Live could easily attest.

Twain’s humor is timeless, touching on topics that are still relevant after about 150 years. To this day, people still follow his lead, in comedy, drama and in writing overall.

In his story, “Green Hills of Africa,” novelist Ernest Hemingway wrote, “All of modern American literature can be traced back to … Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

It seems rather ridiculous to place this much credit upon one person, but Twain was brilliant enough to deserve it at the time.

And he still deserves it today.

Distinctly American, Twain’s Style Celebrated the Vernacular

By Cecilia Gigliotti

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Do you speak American?

Mark Twain did. In fact, he is credited with pioneering the presentation of a distinctly American language as literature.

At the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Patti Philippon, chief curator, and Steve Courtney, publicist and author, had much to say about the forward-thinking 19th-century literary superstar. According to Philippon, Twain’s use of the vernacular – “slangs and colloquialisms” peculiar to certain geographical regions and races – is what makes books like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn stand out.

“It’s putting into words how people from that era sounded,” Philippon said.

Of course, oftentimes people didn’t sound so nice. Huckleberry Finn is defined today by the censorship and controversy surrounding Twain’s extensive use of the racist word “nigger.”

At New Britain High School a few years ago, a teacher in an American Lit class began to teach the novel – but not before closing the door. She introduced the book in hushed tones and told students not to mention it if they ran across the principal. She never said why.

Today, teachers across the state and the nation are working to combat this sensitivity.

Prof. Kerry Driscoll, who teaches English at the University of St. Joseph, is a longtime Twain enthusiast. She taught a summer class on Huckleberry Finn at the Twain House, where she has lectured a number of times.

Kerry Driscoll

Prof. Kerry Driscoll

In her experience teaching the book, two major dialectical barriers have stood in Driscoll’s way.

“At the level of comprehension,” she said, “It’s hard for students to understand.”

Sometimes, it helps students to hear the language rather than read it.

“What I recommend is that if there’s a word or sentence that you don’t understand, say the sentence out loud,” Driscoll explained.  For instance, when the character Jim says “gwine,” what could g-w-i-n-e possibly mean?

“Sound it out,” Driscoll said, and the reader realizes that Jim is saying ‘going to.’

The accuracy of Twain’s characterization through dialect is astounding. Driscoll often asks her students’ opinions on why Twain includes, before the first chapter, a list of the seven dialects used throughout, such as ‘rural Pike County.’

“This is a realist book,” Driscoll said.

In using local dialects, Twain is holding a mirror to the lifestyle of those regions.

The other obstacle in Twain’s use of dialect is harder to conquer. The racial slur, Driscoll said, is what “makes the book so controversial.”

But she said it is key to understanding the “evolution of [Twain’s] own racial attitudes” and those of the times.

A recent edition of Huckleberry Finn in which the word ‘nigger’ is replaced with the word ‘slave’ is “an appalling decision,” Driscoll said. “That’s not the book Mark Twain wrote.”

As a teacher, she said, it is her responsibility to use the word in class discussion and stay true to Twain’s motives.

“The word appears 219 times in the book for a reason,” she said. “I’m going to read what Mark Twain wrote. It’s deliberately ugly, and I want students to hear it.”

Her determination has occasionally come at a cost. A student once complained that she was a racist teacher forcing the class to read a racist book.

But Driscoll has no intention of abandoning her approach.

“There’s no magic cure or fix,” she said, adding that the best teachers can give their students is “background preparation” – the word’s historical context and the obvious differences in tolerance of the word between the 1880s and now. Still, this is sometimes not enough to alleviate the soreness.

There’s been soreness for a while, and for a number of reasons. Since its publication, school districts and libraries in 28 states have banned the book.

But in 1885, public outrage stemmed from the opinion that Huck was not a proper role model for children. People were taken aback at Huck, the “irreverent” narrator, said Driscoll.

Driscoll described Huck as a “white-trash kid [allowed to] tell his own story on his own terms.”

In a pivotal scene, Huck decides to protect his friend Jim, a runaway slave, despite childhood teachings that the act would condemn him for eternity.

“All right, I’ll go to hell,” the boy resolves.

Huck was “a bad boy,” said Philippon, and Twain’s adult readers had a problem with that.

Driscoll pointed out the irony that while the objection in 1885 was not to the language used but to Huck’s offensive behavior, it has only been since the New York City school board banned it in 1957 that Huck’s character is celebrated and the language is found offensive.

The civil rights movement of the ‘60s, Courtney said, was a turning point for the racial slur. That was when it evolved into “a fighting word,” he said.

But Driscoll holds fast to her image of Twain as a “careful wordsmith.” Whatever words he chose, he wanted, she said.

In an 1888 letter, Twain wrote, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Lightning can be both amazing and frightening to behold. It is an energetic force capable of destruction, but it plays a necessary role in the ecological cycle, and nature certainly would not be complete without it.

Using his charged language, Mark Twain infused our literature with a little more lightning, a spark that is uniquely American.

Mark Twain’s House Has Always Had a Certain Ring To It

Mark Twain House, July 2013

The Mark Twain House, July 2013

By Ambriel Johnson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

    Hearing the ring of a telephone has become a regular sound in the American household, something easily taken for granted.

However, in Mark Twain’s time, the Gilded Age, this harsh ring was out of the ordinary. Only the wealthiest of households had these new-age communication devices installed in their homes.

Fascinated with modern technology, Twain himself had a telephone in his Farmington Avenue mansion. He didn’t use the phone much, though he complained about the quality of the phone calls endlessly.

The member of the household who used the phone most was the family butler, George Griffin.

The 25-room home built for Samuel Clemens, his wife and daughters – Mark Twain was Clemens’ pen name – was a showcase.

“They were an up-to-date, sophisticated family,” said Steve Courtney, author of The Loveliest Home That Ever Was: The Story of the Mark Twain House in Hartford.

The Victorian Gothic Revival house features a breathtaking grand hall with decorative arts by designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, a glass walled conservatory overflowing with green plants, a cozy library, and a third floor billiard room where Clemens wrote his world-famous novels.

Tiffany supervised the interior decoration of the house and designed most of the glasswork.

Legend says the home was designed to look like a riverboat to mimic the theme in Twain’s masterpiece, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Designed by architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, construction began in 1873. The house rested on a large parcel of land when Twain owned it, even more than the museum owns today.

“There was a much more rural landscape then,” Courtney said.

The family moved into the house in 1874, three years after Twain decided to build a home in Hartford.

The house in Hartford’s Nook Farm neighborhood had hot and cold running water, central heat, gas lighting and other modern conveniences common in the day.

“Any middle class home had indoor plumbing by 1874,” Courtney said, adding that gas lighting wasn’t new, either.

The Clemens family had all these things.

“In general, it was a time of tremendous change, a very dynamic time,” Courtney said.

Gas lighting, which eliminated the problem of smelly whale oil and weak lights that would damage the eyes, was popular.

“Central heating was pretty new,” said Courtney, as were the speaking tubes the Clemens had in their walls.

Family members used the speaking tubes to communicate with household staff in different parts of the house.

The telephone made communication with those outside the house easier.

Twain’s house was one of the first in Hartford to have a phone, Courtney said, and the listing for Samuel Clemens was one of the first in the local phone book.

Before people had phones, Courtney said, “To talk to someone, they would have to ride their horse downtown.”

Courtney said there were odd noises coming over the phone line, possibly because people didn’t know how to install the wiring.

Twain kept score, Courtney said, of the various noises he heard on the phone. He tallied them as “cannon fire” or “thunder” and subtracted the number of times he heard them from the balance of his phone bill.

“There were definitely things that went wrong,” Courtney said.

Courtney said Twain was always interested in inventing and once invented a game for his daughters so they could learn about British royalty.

Twain also invented a self-pasting scrapbook, Courtney said, that proved quite popular in his time.

Twain invested in items that were familiar to him, Courtney said, such as the typesetter and the Paige Compositor. Courtney said Twain lost $300,000 on the Paige Compositor.

Despite his interest in technological gadgets, Twain remained old fashioned when it came to his work.

Twain had a typewriter, Courtney said, and it made writing faster. But Twain didn’t like using it. He did have other people type his stories for him, Courtney said, but preferred writing in longhand himself.

“It was fashionable to have new and updated technology,” said Courtney, and Twain loved to keep up with the latest trends. “He was interested in fads.”

The Clemens family lived happily in their home until 1891, when mounting debt forced them to leave. In order to pay off his debt, Twain was forced to go on a lecture circuit.

Some of the family went with Twain on his circuit and others stayed elsewhere. They never lived there again.

In the 1920s, the home was sold to real-estate investor J.J. Wall and survived a number of different owners, including a boarding school for boys.

Katharine Seymour Day’s Friends of Hartford campaign ultimately saved it from demolition, restored it, and made it the popular museum that it is today.

In 1963, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

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.

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.

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