Definition: Someone who is passionate about Mark Twain (although Shania Twain fans use the moniker too).
I count myself among the multitude who admires the man and his writing. Thomas Edison said, “An American loves his family. If he has any love left over for some other person he generally selects Mark Twain.”
Papa Hemingway held this superlative opinion: “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”
I’ve been a Twainiac since I was a boy, but rediscovered him while working on my doctorate at Louisiana State University in the 1980s. Here’s an amusing passage from Life on the Mississippi where Twain shares his opinion on the Old Louisiana State Capitol building which sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.
Sir Walter Scott is probably responsible for the Capitol building; for it is not conceivable that this little sham castle would ever have been built if he had not run the people mad, a couple of generations ago, with his medieval romances….It is pathetic enough that a whitewashed castle with turrets and things…should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place; but it is much more pathetic to see this architectural falsehood undergoing restoration and perpetuation in our day, when it would have been so easy to let dynamite finish what a charitable fire began, then devote this restoration money to the building of something genuine.
Mark Twain clearly felt this Gothic Revival “architectural falsehood” was inconsistent with the cultural landscape of the lower Mississippi Valley, and said so in language that we recognize as pure Twain.
Fast forward 30 years. I died and went to Heaven; I got a Quarry Farm Fellowship at the Center for Mark Twain Studies. What a rare opportunity. The committee awarding the fellowship accepted my proposal to research the topic “Mark Twain on Architecture.” The best part of the fellowship was that I got to spend two weeks at Quarry Farm, September 1-15, 2016.
As you can see from the historical marker above, Sam and Olivia Clemens spent their summers with Olivia’s sister at the Langdon family home. A Langdon descendant willed the home and property to Elmira College, and it now functions as a writers retreat. What a thrill it was to have the place to myself for two weeks. To eat, sleep, read, and write in the same space as Mark Twain! Here are some pics:
This octagonal gazebo was Mark Twain’s study at Quarry Farm. Sam’s in-laws built it for him in 1874, and it is where he wrote major portions of his best known works. In 1952, it was moved to the campus of Elmira College.
My article “Mark Twain on Architecture” appeared in the Mark Twain Journal in 2017.