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Updated: Sep 23, 2020

From the Center for Mark Twain Studies: A testimonial from Max Cavitch regarding his recent Quarry Farm Fellowship--an experience we at the Mark Twain Circle can't recommend enough. Max is Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also an affiliated faculty member of the programs in Comparative Literature, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, and Psychoanalytic Studies.

A Quarry Farm Testimonial

As a specialist in early American literature, I’ve been reading, teaching, and writing about Mark Twain for almost three decades. Yet—although I was aware of Quarry Farm as one of the author’s homes—it wasn’t until 2018 that I heard of the Quarry Farm Fellowship Program. One of my former graduate students asked me to write a letter of recommendation for his application; thus it was from him that I learned of the program and, subsequently (his application having been successful), of the splendors of living and working there. I applied the following year, and it was my great good fortune to be able to spend most of the month of July 2020 in residence, working on Twain’s gargantuan Autobiography.

I’d first written about Twain in my 2007 book, American Elegy: The Poetry of Mourning from the Puritans to Whitman. Twain’s caricature of sentimental elegy in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was one of the touchstones of my book, and, in my “Introduction,” I explore the significance of Huck’s relationship with the lugubrious “poetess” Emmeline Grangerford (including his own failed attempt to write an elegy for her) and the rest of the Grangerford family, with whom he seems finally to have found a place that feels like home—until, that is, he’s forced to watch helplessly as the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons slaughter each other in the name of a forgotten grievance. I was well aware, at the time, that the character of Huck shared much in common with his author—not least, a childhood full of illness, death, and trauma. But it wasn’t until I delved more deeply into Twain’s life and the three-volume, authoritative edition of his Autobiography, published by the University of California Press between 2010 and 2015, that I recognized the full scope of the misery and trauma that filled Twain’s life along with the attendant symptoms of what we might now recognize as manic depression.


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