VISIONS OF HISTORY AT QUARRY FARM

From the Center for Mark Twain Studies: A testimonial from Stephen Pasqualina regarding his recent Quarry Farm Fellowship--an experience we at the Mark Twain Circle can't recommend enough. Stephen's research focuses primarily on American modernism and critical theory. His current book project, Mechanical Failure: Modernism, Technology, and the Mediation of History, examines the role of speed and visual media technologies in the US modernist historical imaginary.




A Quarry Farm Testimonial


The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice. Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar from Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)

I arrived in Elmira on July 21, exactly 137 years and a day after Mark Twain developed a children’s game that first piqued my interest in Quarry Farm. On July 20, 1883, Twain developed the game to help his daughters memorize the dates of English reigns from William the Conqueror to 1883. He measured 817 feet of what was then a roadway that ran in front of the porch and up toward his study, one foot for each year. Here is how he described the game’s layout:

From the house-porch the grounds sloped gradually down to the lower fence and rose on the right to the high ground where my small work-den stood. A carriage road wound through the grounds and up the hill … Abreast the middle of the porch-front stood a great granite flower-vase overflowing with a cataract of bright-yellow flowers … The vase was William the Conqueror. We put his name on it and his accession date, 1066.

At Twain’s now-iconic “work-den” was the present—the space in which he was then writing Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and in which young Clara and Susy Clemens could see the ongoing reign of Queen Victoria. As he described it in “How to Make History Dates Stick” (1914), this history roadway game allowed his daughters to place “eight hundred and seventeen years of English history under [their eyes] at once!”


For that summer, Twain turned the space of the roadway into time, turning historical time into domestic space.


Before I visited Quarry Farm, I lacked a clear picture of Twain’s act of picturing (he included an admittedly inaccurate drawing in his essay). But while inhabiting the space for two weeks—scrutinizing his global travelogue and his critiques of imperialism, spending mornings and evenings taking in the serene surround from the porch where he reread his day’s work—I came to not only have a clearer picture of his children’s game but a deeper understanding of what it means to revisit the past at Quarry Farm.



Click here to read the rest of the article at marktwainstudies.org.

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